When comparing "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" to that awful fellow Hasbro monstrosity "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," "Joe" plays out like a goddamn Federico Fellini film. Coherent plot, well established characters, discernible action sequences (Also: no racist robot caricatures, so there's that). It's always kind of fun to write a negative review - especially when the studio doesn't screen it for said writer, early. Unfortunately, for those purposes, "G.I. Joe" is kinda, sorta ... good (!?) This wasn't the way it was supposed to be. THIS WASN'T THE WAY IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE!

The film starts in France circa 1641 (naturally) with the capture of a notorious arms dealer, nicknamed Destro, accused of selling arms to both sides of a fight - a big no-no. Smash-cut to the near future, James McCullen (Christopher Eccleston), - a direct decedent of that 17th century arms dealer who's still in the family business - just finished giving a speech to NATO about the creation of a new weapon, Nanomites, which have the ability to eat away any known metal. After the demonstration, the transport of this new weapon is put in the hands of a military unit led by Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans). The unit is soon ambushed by assassins - sent by McCullen himself -- led by Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun) and The Baroness (Sienna Miller) - who we learn has a history with Duke.

The assassins are unsuccessful thanks to a rescue staged by the international, so secret they don't exist, super squad G.I. Joe led by Snake Eyes (Ray Park) - who has his own history with the aforementioned Storm Shadow - Scarlet (Rachel Nichols)and Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). Soon, Duke and Ripcord are asked (sort of) to join this elite force by commander General Hawk (Dennis Quaid). The rest of the film inter cuts between the plot - McCullen/Destro attempting to strike fear into the nations of the world with his weapons - and flashbacks that explain the relation between all these characters.

Here's where we get nerdy. Larry Hama's involvement in this film - who penned the quite brilliant G.I. Joe Marvel comic in the 80s, as opposed to the quite silly cartoon series - should have been the first hint that this wasn't going to be the abomination once believed. Many tips of the cap to the old comic are here, but changed. G.I. Joe headquarters, The Pit, used to be under Staten Island. Now, it's under the desert in Egypt, but it's still The Pit! And Breaker (Saïd Taghmaoui), man, it's hard to resist a smile once he blows his trademark bubble gum bubble.

OK, let's talk about Cobra Commander. See, Cobra doesn't quite exist, hence the, you know, "Rising" part of the title. If there was one thing that struck curiosity, it was the treatment of Cobra Commander. In the comic-book, he was ruthless. In the cartoon, he was a buffoon coward that usually foiled his own plans. This Cobra Commander is beyond ruthless. Joseph Gordon-Levitt - who, other than in flashbacks (yep, he's got a history with some other characters, too) is almost unrecognizable - plays a downright sinister lackey of Destro, only referred to as The Doctor, who specializes in mind control. You see, The Doctor, knows exactly what he's doing. But why be the front man for a terrorist organization until that organization is in place? Destro plays that part, for now, perfectly! Why put yourself at risk until that plan - involving master-of-disguise Zartan (Arnold Vossloo) - is implemented? Now, this is a Cobra Commander we can believe (other than perhaps the late in the film full Cobra Commander uniform which is a bit, well, strange).

It's possible that the law of low expectations was in effect here. Hell, it probably was. But, wouldn't you know: this is a pretty damn entertaining film - which, in turn, ruined a day that was supposed to be spent writing a review based on absolute vitriol. It's still hard to believe that last sentence exists. Because, honestly this wasn't the way it was supposed to be. THIS WASN'T THE WAY IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE!

Grade: B

Image © Paramount Pictures

(Mike's Pulse)

"Mike's Pulse" is a column written by transplanted Midwesterner and current New Yorker Mike Ryan. For any compliments or complaints -- preferably the former -- you may contact Mike directly at miker@starpulse.com
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