Monday, November 23, 2009

The Box

Director: Richard Kelly
Starring: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella, Sam Oz Stone, Holmes Osborne
Running Time: 113 min.
Rating: PG-13

★★★★ (out of ★★★★)

"Your house is a box which you live in. The car you drove to work is a box, on wheels. When you return home from work you sit in front of a box with moving images. You watch until the mind and soul rots and the box that is your body deteriorates, when finally you are placed into the ultimate rest under the soil and earth."

Was there ever any doubt critics and audiences would hate The Box? Seriously, any doubt at all? Burdened by belonging to a genre that doesn't get any respect, made by a director few want to see work again, and starring a polarizing A-list actress, minds were already made up. This never stood a chance. And if that wasn't enough, how many times have we heard the phrase, "It's like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone" as a supposed insult aimed at high-concept sci-fi or mystery/suspense thrillers? There's no doubt critics' mouths were watering at just the thought of bashing a movie THAT ACTUALLY IS based on an episode of The Twilight Zone.

The nerve of some filmmakers today, using one of the best written shows in television history as a template for their movie. But it turns out writer/director Richard Kelly's third feature can in no way be described as merely an extended version of anything.  There are movies being made right now that are genuine garbage, and worse, seem to lack ideas and passion. This film isn't for everyone but it's not fair to say it isn't for anyone or the person who made it doesn't deserve to make movies anymore because it confused you. It confused me too. It also frustrated me. But not just for the sake of doing it. It takes an incredibly creative person to craft a film like this, then actually have the guts to follow through and make it. I'd never imply it's over anyone's head or they "didn't get it," but I would advise anyone who isn't a hardcore fan of sci-fi to stay as far away as possible.

For most, this just won't be their thing, which is fine. And even those who were big fans of either of Richard Kelly's previous masterworks, the cult classic Donnie Darko and/or the unjustly maligned Southland Tales, can still easily find themselves hating this. With a relatively straightforward premise, the presence of A-List talent and one huge box office flop behind him you'd be forgiven for thinking Kelly was ready to concede defeat and start playing by the studios' rules for a change. But really, we should have known better.

Norma (Cameron Diaz) and Arthur (James Marsden) Lewis are a married couple living above their means but barely making ends meet in Langley, Virginia circa 1976. Arthur works as an engineer at NASA, where he's just been rejected from the astronaut program after failing the psychological exam, while Norma is a high school English teacher whose job might now be in jeopardy due to cuts in the tenure program. A potential cure to their financial ills come in the form of a small wooden box with a red button delivered by a facially disfigured stranger named Arlington Steward (a creepy Frank Langella). His offer is simple: Press the button and they'll be handed a payment of one million dollars... tax free. The catch is that someone somewhere in the world whom THEY DON'T KNOW will die. They have 24 hours to make a decision or it's off the table. Should they choose not to press the button, Steward will just move on and make the offer to someone else THEY DON'T KNOW. I'm not spoiling anything by telling you that Norma presses the button. It's what happens after that where things get blurry.

The film is loosely based on acclaimed science fiction writer Richard Matheson's 1970 short story, "Button, Button," and was later adapted into a 1986 episode of the The Twilight Zone, which the movie's first 30 minutes don't stray very far from. Until the button is pressed we're being set up for a conventional, high concept thriller, but after that the rug is completely pulled out from under us. Interested in doing much more than simply expanding the source material, Kelly presents an existential parable on the human race featuring:

-The Mars Viking Lander program
-Amputated toes
-Space and time teleportation
-Water portals
-Government conspiracies
-Holmes Osborne
-Usher Syndrome
-Handy reference manuals (like in Darko)
-Cackling demonic waiters

And that doesn't even begin to cover all the craziness. In what has unsurprisingly caused frustration for audiences, this concept was put in the hands of a director actually interested in exploring the philosophical implications of Steward's offer...on the largest scale possible. Those who have seen the film are probably scratching their heads wondering how I could say anything is explored at all. But it is.

In his recent assessment of the film, Roger Ebert made an interesting point about the "test" Steward seems to be conducting, comparing it to 1961's famous Milgram Experiment in which subjects administered lethal shocks to strangers in another room just simply because they were told to. I remember seeing that gripping video years ago, wondering in the back of my mind the result if that idea was ever fully fleshed out in feature film form. Now it has, but with more far-reaching scope than could have possibly been anticipated. A moral dilemma presented to husband and wife morphs into the ultimate test for humanity's salvation, where our ultimate destroyer is us. In a film packed with overt religious and literary symbolism, an early classroom scene with Norma teaching her class Sartre's 1944 existentialist play "No Exit" hints at this idea and can be seen, at least in purpose, as mirroring Drew Barrymore's lecture on "The Destructors" that took place at the start of Donnie Darko.

With NASA and the Mars landing playing such a huge role in the story you're almost sure the film is going in an extraterrestrial direction but Kelly's too smart for that. Or at least he's too smart to come right out and tell us. And while the scattered clues don't necessarily confirm or deny that suspicion, enough is left open-ended to drive audiences crazy and generate wild theories. We find out a lot about Arlington Steward in terms of his past and motives for the "experiment", but again, much of that is implied and similarly open for interpretation. Key information is given, but not too much, requiring the viewer to fill in the gaps however they choose. Five viewings probably aren't enough, but many will have problems just making it through one.

The Box is an achievement in mood and atmosphere, deliberately paced but never boring. Set in the 1970's (the ugly wallpaper gives it away) it could easily pass itself off as being made in the time it's set, mimicking the look and feel of psychological horror thrillers of that era. Arcade Fire's menacing musical score sounds like a cross between Bernard Hermann's for Psycho and Jonny Greenwood's for There Will Be Blood, only enhancing the terror level, while the party scenes play like something straight out of Kubrick's The Shining. If Southland Tales was Kelly's Dr. Strangelove then this is his 2001: A Space Odyssey. The ideas in the latter heavily influence this, but since neither film is the most accessible, many won't lose sleep pondering the similarities.

For whatever reason Cameron Diaz tends to really rise to the occasion when given insane, trippy material (think Being John Malkovich and Vanilla Sky) to work with and this is the best example yet of that. James Marsden, who's been showing real promise in some thankless supporting roles for the past few years, nails his first leading dramatic one and proves here he's got all the necessary acting chops to stick around for a while. Even more importantly, both share great chemistry and are completely believable as a married couple in crisis.

Frank Langella just might have the most difficult part because he has to rise above what could have just been a hokey gimmick of "death" traveling door-to-door that in the wrong hands could have easily come off as a Final Destination rip-off. But the brilliance of his work is how he subtly conveys that he's carrying out a higher purpose and doesn't necessarily want to do this, but has to. He plays him as twisted and determined, not evil, and you can tell he kind of likes the Lewis'. More than anyone, he doesn't want to see them hit that button but this entire situation is bigger than all of them. He delivers that depressing quote above (so depressing that someone in the film even remarks just how depressing it is), but does it in such a way that you believe no one is more saddened by its possibilities than him.

Since Kelly grew up in Virginia during the 1970's and his dad worked for NASA it's been called the director's most personal project yet. But to categorize it as that requires a deeper understanding of what the word "PERSONAL" probably means to a filmmaker as unique as Richard Kelly-- Uncompromisingly making this movie the way he wants, regardless of the fallout. Recently, the market research firm CinemaScore gave The Box an "F," with its President declaring it a "real stinker," specifically singling out the ending as a major bone of contention (which I figured would have been the only thing audiences liked). Since CinemaScore polls "average moviegoers" it's generally thought of as one of the more accurate measures of a film's quality. Of course, these are the same "average moviegoers" who pushed Transformers: ROTF past 90 billion dollars this summer and just made The Twilight Saga: New Moon one of the highest grossing films of all-time, so you can take that statistic for what it's worth. Its results are especially irrelevant when it comes to a film like this, which was never made to court public acceptance anyway. But by refusing to offer up easy answers and provoking real thought, The Box becomes every bit as chilling as the classic science fiction that inspired it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Whatever Works

Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson, Ed Begley, Jr., Henry Cavill, Michael McKean
Running Time: 92 min.
Rating: PG-13

★★★ (out of ★★★★)

Could there possibly be a better idea than having Larry David star in a Woody Allen movie? He does a better Woody Allen than Woody Allen. The only idea I can think of that comes close is casting Evan Rachel Wood as his wife. Your level of appreciation for Allen's latest New York-set comedy, Whatever Works is entirely dependent on how you feel about David as a comedian. If you love the brand of self-loathing comedy he dishes out on Curb Your Enthusiasm, this movie is your dream come true. If not, then you'll hate it. It's that simple. Me? I think he's a comic genius and was counting down the days until he was given an opportunity to finally star in a feature film. The teaming of these two comic minds doesn't disappoint. But what's even more hilarious than anything that happens in it is Allen actually thinking he would attempt to give a real performance. He had to know that his star would just make fun of the material.

As David would be more than willingly admit, he isn't necessarily a good actor, but he's perfect for the role and the entire reason the film succeeds. This is an unproduced script Allen dusted off from the 1970's and it really feels (and even looks) like it, with dated humor and references that when delivered/mocked by David all of the sudden become a lot less dated and much funnier. We can congratulate Allen for not only realizing he was too old to play the role himself, but casting a youngster who does a better job than he ever could in not just hiding the flaws in the script, but making them work in the movie's favor.

The primary appeal of the film is that David seems as befuddled as we are that he's starring in a Woody Allen movie. As Boris Yelnikoff, an eccentric chess teacher from Greenwich Village who "almost" won the Nobel Prize for physics, he even pauses to break the fourth wall and tell us how befuddled he is in the opening minutes. When he's not complaining about life, he's berating kids, dumping chessboards on their heads and insulting their mothers. A cynical misanthrope prone to panic attacks, his most memorable one caused him to jump out of his apartment window and shatter his leg after his wife told him she was leaving him. He now walks with a limp, which David hilariously overplays.

Boris' world of rigid routine and order is disrupted when a runaway from Mississippi named Melodie St. Ann Celestine (Wood) shows up outside of his apartment looking for a place to crash. After some coaxing he agrees and discovers the bubbly, airheaded beauty pageant contestant is just about the only person he's ever met not just willing to put up with his neurotic behavior, but loves it. Naive and unaffected by everything around her, she views his petulant diatribes as brilliant nuggets of wisdom and develops a serious crush. Just the thought of that is hilarious in itself, but how Boris' handles the information is even more priceless. They get married with Melodie becoming more his caregiver than wife. With the arrival of Melodie's estranged parents Marietta (Patricia Clarkson) and John (Ed Begley Jr.), the film goes from being funny to being so stupid that it's funny.

The introduction of all these supporting characters relatively late in the game (including a potential love interest for Melodie played by Henry Cavil) does kind of throw everything off balance, but in sort of a good way. That's because David is there to mock them and Allen's attempt to tie life lessons up in a bow before the final credits roll. There's this underlying feeling running through the third act that Allen, who's completely stuck in an Annie Hall time warp, thought he was making an enormously important picture about the transforming energy of New York and that in the face of self-doubt and chaos everyone has to find their place in the world and do "whatever works" best for them. But what's so funny about that is Allen's seemingly silly message becomes digestable and almost strangely profound because of David's himself. Or rather a slightly nastier version of the "himself" he plays on Curb Your Enthusiasm. He makes it okay for us to go along for the ride because he never takes anything seriously. Wood, more known for playing sullen teenagers, tackles a type of role we've never seen her in and perfectly compliments David's neurotic insanity. She plays it completely sweet and sincere and it's a surprise to discover she's this good at comedy.

It also helps that Patricia Clarkson is such a lively presence as Melodie's uptight, religious mother and, as usual, the underrated Ed Begley, Jr. steals the few scenes he's in as the ultra-conservative but clueless dad. Both their sub-plots are ludicrous, but they sell it like pros and David's sarcastic reaction to their arrivals helps a lot. Ironically, the end result seems close to what Allen must have been aiming for and it could be considered his most enjoyable comedy in years, ending a string of lackluster efforts interrupted only by the drama Match Point in 2005. All he had to do was dust off one of his old scripts and insert Larry David. Maybe we should just insert David into every movie from now on. At least we'd be guaranteed to laugh, if nothing else. Hardly a minute went by when David was onscreen that I didn't. Insults are just funnier when delivered in his dry, deadpan style.

Not surprisingly, public response to the film has been unfairly harsh and it's fun to imagine how much worse a review David would give it and himself than the critics who trashed it. They missed the point. He doesn't have to be a good actor. He just has to be himself. A big monologue comes at the end with Boris telling us what he's learned. Yeah, right. It's Larry David. We know he never learns anything. But thanks to him, Whatever Works works.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Director: Pete Docter
Starring: Edward Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, Bob Peterson, Delroy Lindo, John Ratzenberger
Running Time: 96 min.
Rating: PG

★★★ (out of ★★★★)

Immediately after watching Disney/Pixar's Up I briefly visited the internet movie database and noticed something very interesting. Despite being the most universally acclaimed animated film since, well, Pixar's last universally acclaimed animated film, and riding a tidal wave of critical and commercial support as well as a potential Best Picture nomination, the movie somehow managed to be "Down 50%" in popularity the week it hit DVD. The relatively simple explanation for that: People like me who (wisely) chose to skip it this theaters are just now seeing it and probably feeling slightly disappointed. "Pixar has done it again." We keep hearing that but the connotation isn't as positive as you'd like to believe. They've essentially been repeating themselves over and over again, but exceptionally well. Only this time their effort isn't exceptional (at least from a writing standpoint) and is a far cry in depth and complexity from last year's Wall-E, which, in a way, could be viewed as a positive. Kids will eat this up even if the middle portion of the plot resembles anything they could catch on Nick Jr.

The opening minutes are magical and moving until it settles into a familiar groove and the film has some difficulties following through on its own promise, struggling some to reconcile the more serious, adult issues with the silly adventure nonsense that pads the rest of the picture. It's fun, but predictable fable that's only partially about an elderly man coming to terms with his wife's death and learning to embrace life again with the help of a little boy. The rest of it is filled with endangered birds, diabolical explorers, dog pilots and a sub-plot that plays like something out of Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Of course, because it's Pixar and they are the best at what they do within this genre, they get away with it and make it seem important. It's recommendable, if just barely, because it succeeds in being an animated feature the whole family can enjoy. Beyond that, it accomplishes very little. Best Animated Film? Maybe. But Best Picture material this isn't, no matter how many extra nominees there are.

It begins with a touching romance between childhood friends Carl (Edward Asner) and Ellie as they bond over their shared passion for exploring and disgraced adventurer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer), who we learn through newsreel footage was accused of being a fraud. In a narrative approach never employed in an animated film, in just a few silent minutes we flash forward in time to see Carl marry Ellie, fix up their dream home, take respective jobs as a zookeeper and balloon salesman, endure personal tragedy and save up to one day travel to Paradise Falls in South America. Ellie passes away before they can.

This entire sequence is as powerful as anything I've seen in an animated feature and the rest of the movie works largely because those images never leave the mind. Now a lonely, bitter old man cut off from the world, Carl grieves over the loss of his late wife, turning their run down house into a memorial even as recent neighborhood industrialization threatens to destroy it and send him to the Shady Oaks Retirement Home via court order. Rather than face that, he uses thousands of his helium balloons to lift the house from is foundation and send it soaring into the sky. Accidentally coming along for the ride is Russell (Jordan Nagai), an 8-year-old Wilderness Explorer trying to earn his final merit badge for "assisting the elderly."

The adventure that unfolds when they arrive in South America is fun, if also totally pedestrian, at least when stacked against the magical set-up. It mostly involves them rescuing rare, flightless bird named Kevin from the evil clutches of Carl's childhood idol Charles Muntz and his pack of wild dogs with talking translators for collars. The talking collars are more creepy than inventive. Why not just have the dogs talk? It is an animated film. Were they worried it would seem too unbelievable in a story where an old man attaches helium balloons to his house so he can fly out of the country?

In spite of my reservations during this section of the picture (at which I occasionally caught myself clock watching) the story is bolstered greatly by the friendship that develops between the two characters. The opening minutes of the story are so powerful and the central idea of escaping life's problems by just flying away in your house is rendered perfectly onscreen. Carl is curmudgeonly but the script smartly doesn't go too far by painting him as an inaccessible scrooge. Supposedly, Carl Frederickson is at least partially inspired by Spencer Tracy while you could easily say young Russell is based on every cute, but sometimes annoyingly precocious 8-year-old kid you've ever met.

As per the norm with Pixar the animation is astounding, this time with an even more vibrant color palette, even if I found Michael Giacchino's musical score overbearing at times. For what its worth, I do think they went in the right direction following up Wall-E with a lighter effort likely to have more broader appeal and be less to digest thematically for kids. It does deal with serious issues like death and child abandonment, but the social topics aren't all encompassing like they were in Wall-E, which could have been categorized as a Disney movie doubling as an adult science fiction parable. This isn't. It's very much a kid's movie with some appeal for adults. Obviously, I saw this in its regular format, but imagine the gimmick of 3-D would be more likely to lessen than bolster its impressive visuals.

While the actual adventure at the movie's center seems average compared to what leads them there I'd have a tough time coming with any alternatives that would have worked better. It is what it is. If this seems to be just about the most unenthusiastic endorsement I could possibly give a film, in its defense I had very little interest going in and had problems mustering up much excitement at the prospect of Pixar repeating themselves again. They've gone as far as they can go and you've got to wonder what's even left. I enjoyed myself, but aside from the opening minutes, didn't share in the deeper experience everyone else seemed to have watching the picture. Up is a good time, but not much more.

Monday, November 9, 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

Director: Stephen Sommers
Starring: Channing Tatum, Marlon Wayans, Rachel Nichols, Ray Park, Christopher Eccleston, Sienna Miller, Lee Byung-hun, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dennis Quaid
Running Time: 118 min.
Rating: PG-13

★★ 1/2 (out of ★★★★)

It isn't often I approach a movie in the mindset of a whiny fanboy but in the case of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, I feel entitled. As a childhood fan who watched the cartoon, collected all the figures and knew every character, I both eagerly anticipated and dreaded this big screen interpretation. Ever since the project was announced I had my suspicions of it and based just on the trailers and early promotional materials, severely questioned the direction the project was going in. In fact, I was so certain a cinematic disaster was on the horizon that I even promised a letter of apology to director Stephen Sommers if he could somehow pull this off. He doesn't, but this "re-imagining" of my beloved franchise is far from a bastardization and comes dangerously close to working, getting a few key elements right (the pitch-perfect rendering of some major characters), but unfortunately others dreadfully wrong (an embarrassing performance from a veteran actor).

While I can't get on board with the decision to aim the film at 10-year-olds and the script is nearly a sham, the movie does strangely capture at least some part of what made G.I. Joe special. What that part is I'm almost afraid to admit, but the movie is fully aware of its goofy charms and mostly succeeds in what it's trying to do. If something like this raked in the money that Transformers: ROTF did this past summer I'd at least understand. I wouldn't necessarily agree, but I'd understand. It almost accomplishes everything that the other Hasbro adaptation failed at doing, and perhaps partially due to low expectations, is much better than I expected.

On one hand my familiarity with the source material helps, but on another it doesn't because I'd helplessly hold the film to a standard it could probably never meet, even under the best of circumstances. I took the small victories where I could get them with this one and wondered whether my opinion would have been any different if this didn't carry the "G.I. Joe" name tag and all the childhood memories accompanying it. In a way, the movie never really had a fighting chance, which is a shame because there are some good things here and it'll likely be more fun for uninitiated, less demanding audience members.

After a centuries old flashback sequence, the movie opens in the not-so-distant future where weapons expert and head of the M.A.R.S. program, James McCullen (Christopher Eccleston) has created nano-technology warheads he's selling to NATO. In charge of transporting the weapons are U.S. Army soldiers Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans), who find themselves under attack from Cobra forces hell-bent on intercepting them. They're led by Anastasia DeCobray a.k.a. The Baroness (Sienna Miller) who shares a personal history with Duke that's never quite as interesting as the movie wants it to be. Duke and Ripcord are rescued by General Hawk (Dennis Quaid, beyond awful) and acclimated into his G.I. Joe secret ops team. They'll team with the black-masked ninja Snakes Eyes (Ray Park), leather-clad Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), and the authoritative Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) to do battle with McCullen, The Baroness and their Cobras, consisting of Snake Eyes' childhood nemesis Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun), the diabolical Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) and the deformed "Doctor" (Joseph-Gordon Levitt) who will go on to become Cobra Commander.

Surprisingly, many of the performances are adequate...with one HUGE exception. From the first moment he appears onscreen as General Hawk (laughably in the form of a Princess Leia type hologram) Dennis Quaid has this expression on his face asking, "WHERE'S MY PAYCHECK?" He looks embarrassed and physically uncomfortable even though there really isn't anything he should feel humiliated about, aside from maybe his costume. The movie isn't THAT bad (at least when he's not onscreen) and there shouldn't be THAT much shame involved for appearing in it. In a film full of clunky dialogue it always seems to sound clunkiest when it's delivered by the befuddled Quaid who flatly recites his line readings without the slightest bit of confidence or conviction, and a permanently blank expression etched on his face. He's done great work in the past which is why it scares me so much that he's capable of giving a performance worthy of a Razzie Award. Things don't improve much for him in the second half either when he's called upon to do virtually the same thing, except in a wheelchair. When the leader of your dangerous secret special ops unit can't be taken the slightest bit seriously it creates a major problem for the story.

On the flips side of that is Sienna Miller as The Baroness, who captures everything fans could have imagined that character to be on the big screen and then some. She's treated as a huge deal by the screenplay not only because she's a pivotal character in the franchise's mythology, but Miller's take on her warrants that attention. Unfortunately, a decision is made in the final act that's a complete betrayal of the character's methodology and it's no fault of Miller's that she can't do anything for the forced and sometimes ill-placed flashback scenes to her pre-Cobra days as Ana. Besides taking great liberties with the G.I. Joe folklore (which I actually didn't mind) many of the film's backstories, as entertaining and informative as they sometimes are, don't do a whole lot to flesh out the characters and play almost like a cheap soap opera. The one that plays best involves the origin of the Doctor but the studio kind of shot itself in the foot before the film was released by revealing the identity of Cobra Commander.

Despite Joseph-Gordon-Levitt being hidden under layers of makeup and a mask and impressively doing a deeper, more serious variation on Chris Latta's voice from the '80's cartoon, the revelation of who he is and his relationship to Ana is telegraphed very early on. A smarter script would have worked harder to conceal the information and paid it off as a big twist. At least it would have been a better twist than the lukewarm cliffhanger we're given in the film's final minutes, even if the intended audience for this likely couldn't care less. His transformation, as well as McCullen's into the infamous Destro, strangely felt very sudden instead of something that was brewing the entire film. And I don't even know what to say about Eccleston's bizarre, high-pitched attempt at a sinister Scottish accent.

Of all the performers, Miller and Levitt have the strongest grasp on the material they were given and the material benefits because of it. They showed up to play, not phone it in like Quaid who keeps finding ways to make the screenplay seem stupider than it is, which is no small chore. Luckily, the same can't be said for Lee Byung-hun as Storm Shadow, whose longstanding feud with the Snake Eyes (fitted in a really silly looking mask) is one of the more successful backstories conjured up for the film. The decision to have all the characters in essentially the same uniforms wasn't a great call in terms of distinguishing them but it isn't the horror I expected when I first saw the promotional posters. Tatum, Wayans and Nichols do a fair enough job giving each of their characters distinctive personalities that it doesn't become an issue. So while their casting looked suspect on paper, all three carry their load just fine with a fun, if predictable interplay developing between Ripcord and Scarlett.

My worries about the CGI sequences were mostly unfounded. That's not to say they're necessarily that well done or believable looking but they accomplish what's necessary for this kind of popcorn movie. I have to admit my eyes were glued to the screen and many of the fight scenes and chase sequences (especially one with the Joes speeding through Paris in their "accelerator suits") are compulsively watchable despite of their cheesiness. Given the tone of the movie, I can't think of another way they could have done this and it be as effective. Even though the final act goes on slightly too long and devolves into an air assault on the senses, the movie, at its best, contain elements reminiscent of Star Wars. There's holograms, a weird sibling dynamic, a face-off that recalls the lightsaber battle in The Phantom Menace, a Vader-like transformation and the Cobra vipers are basically interchangeable with storm troopers. It's a credit to Sommers that it feels more like an homage than a rip-off.

That this is even a close close call for me is miraculous considering all the ingredients were in place for this to be a complete disaster and completely tarnish the brand. I wasn't necessarily left looking forward to another installment but the franchise does have some potential moving forward if they continue to develop already existing characters and add intriguing new ones. There's at least a framework to build on, even if I have doubts the filmmakers are actually interested in exploring it. We all knew the juvenile direction they'd go in and to an extent it worked well as that, but anyone who thinks it didn't have the potential to be more is kidding themselves. This is a mixed bag that will please younger fans while reminding older ones of the fun they had playing with the toys and the movie they imagined could eventually come of it. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra only suffers from not being that movie.