Don’t watch G.I. Joe, it’s about as appealing as an abortion. This isn’t realistic/serious G.I. Joe, and it isn’t pure cartoon fun G.I. Joe. No, this is a third variety; this is pure, unadulterated shit. It’s hard to imagine how, with such a wealth of source material to cull from, a person could create something so profoundly awful. There is a lot of blame to go around, but I’ll split it up into the triad of idiocy, in order of terrible influence; Channing Tatum as Duke, Marlon Wayans as Ripcord, and Stephen Sommers, a director by name only. These forces, gangrenous by themselves, join to create a Chimera of vomit inducing cinema the world has never known.
First and foremost, Channing Tatum makes an abomination out of the character of Duke. Tatum wastes no time shoving his ridiculous slurred speech and mock thug swagger (wherein he appears to be leaning back and peering through squinted eyes at absolutely all times) into everyone’s face. You may expect such school yard antics to elicit derision, but Duke gets only the utmost respect for his nonsensical mannerisms. You can almost smell the Brute cologne, and hear the Air Jordan necklace jingling around his neck. Tatum is a gigantic ham. I don’t know what it would have cost to put Kiefer Sutherland in the role, but it would have been worth it. Even Thomas Jane (or anyone) would have been a better choice, an older take on the part. In the cartoon, Duke was the shit. In the movie, Duke is just shit. I’ve given each Joe a new codename for this review, and from here on out, Duke’s codename is ‘Dook.’
Second, Marlon Wayans is awful as ever, and this is no surprise. The Wayans have always been terrifically terrible in everything they ever made, Marlon more so than any of the Wayans. Why would you cast such a blowhard? For comic relief? Martin Lawrence could have single handedly turned this into the comedy hit of the summer! To appeal to black audiences? Surely there is a more charismatic choice than Marlon Wayans. The noticeably aging Wayans comes in as the second worst character behind Dook, mainly because while Channing Tatum is ignorantly confident, Wayans is trying too hard. Ripcord (codename ‘Shithorde’) has a specialty in flying, but I think the real talent is in aggravation. It is a well known principle of filmmaking that you should never, under any circumstances, cast a Wayans brother. If this were a movie where the Joes had to undergo sex and ethnicity changes to crack a terrorist plot, I might feel differently.
Third, Stephen Sommers incompetent handling of this movie rounds out the pack. Small elements of the film prick out like little shards of glass, irritating the senses and creating the deep sense of unease. One glaring example is the strange set of plastic lips on Snake Eyes face plate, never seen in any incarnation of the characters, and bizarre beyond belief. Who said, ‘you know what Snake Eyes needs? He needs a pair of plastic lips, since he never talks, ya’ know!’ Another is Scarlett, played by Rachel Nichols, whose new codename is ‘Tits McGee.’ Tits McGee is presented as a feminist character, too smart and tough for relationships, violently independent. From this introduction, she turns into a giggling schoolgirl, her shirt always unbuttoned, armor always protruding, eager for the attention and protection of Shithorde, a wholly idiotic buffoon. Surely she could do better, and surely the character deserves better, but instead we are treated to her jiggling bosom, as she runs on a treadmill, for a well over a minute. This gem of a scene takes place in a workout room where Joes can lift weight topless and look at dumb motivational posters. Baroness (codename ‘Ol Leather Skin) is no better, another strong woman, who turns out to be completely dependent on men for her identity. In G.I. Joe, women are property, owned by competing idiot males, and they are only too happy to swoon in their man’s arms. Maybe in the sequel we’ll get to see the far superior Lady Jay, but I doubt it.
Sommers also delivers some of the worst CGI of the summer, and the CGI takes up a goodly portion of the screen time. G.I. Joe blatantly steals so much from Iron Man and Halo. The accelerator suits are poorly animated, but far from the worst. The design cues are ripped straight out of the aforementioned popular franchises. Slow mo’ scenes are on display to evoke the first Transformers film, and the pyramids are shown fleetingly to try and steal some epic cred from Transformers 2. Instead of trying to be everyone else, the movie should have found its own identity. Furthermore, you can kiss the American part of G.I. Joe goodbye. In this reality, it’s a NATO like force, chartered by many nations, and located in (laughable) Egypt. I’m sure Egypt would have no problem with an international military base in the desert, especially when the inevitable Israelis/Arab war breaks out. If nothing else, G.I. Joes were Americans, albeit with their quirks, and this by itself is a huge bastardization of the franchise.
Heavy Duty (codename Ambiguous Sexuality) is British! He is meant to be ‘super tough’ but is faking it so bad, and is so fashion conscious, turns out to be the only gay member of G.I. Joe, save for Breaker, who I suspect is a eunuch. In the G.I. Joe I remember, Heavy Duty was named Road Block, and he made hilarious rhymes about blowing up the forces of Cobra. When Cobra breaks into Joe HQ, you’d think they would take the time to kill General Hawk, maybe cut off his head just to be sure. The force field guns Cobra uses does evoke the deathless nature of the cartoon battles, where everyone jumped out of the tank right before it exploded. Man, what I wouldn’t give for a HISS tank though. The vehicle design is downright lazy, maybe for easy toy manufacturing, but Tits McGee’s stint fighting in an optic camo suit at least made me daydream about a Ghost in the Shell movie.
The movie has exactly two good things going for it. First, Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a great job. He is a great actor after all, usually attempting weightier stuff than this, but the bad movie doesn’t steal his thunder. From his time in Dook’s squad, when Dr. Mindbender seduces his scientific passion with new weapons technology, to his turn as Cobra Commander (where he looks unfortunately like a cross between Keanu Reeves and Darth Vader with his helmet off), he makes the movie bearable. He understands how to play a world domination bent bad guy with flair. The best action scene in the movie, a flashback where Dook and Cobra Commander (Rex) fight through an African shanty town (I’m pretty sure they stole some stock footage from Blackhawk Down) gives a nice sense of ‘real’ combat sans force field cannons, with a modicum of danger. Second, Storm Shadow is completely true to the characters roots, played by Lee Byung-hun, with ridiculous self seriousness and athleticism. Storm Shadow is the right mix of brooding introspection and bombastic braggart. But that’s it; these are the only bright spots in the whole sordid affair.
On the whole, G.I. Joe as a counterterrorist team is a huge failure. Zartan (Arnold Vosloo, The Mummy, and Marwan from season 4 of 24) manages to kill and replace the President. Despite destroying plenty of Paris, the Joes fail to stop Cobra, and the Eiffel Tower is still felled. G.I. Joe HQ is easily penetrated, and the senior command easily neutralized. What a shitty team. The appearance of the USS Flagg is a nice finishing touch, but it’s too late. It makes me nostalgic for the 1987 animated movie, which had more art and originality in a single frame than this entire movie. To top everything off, Cobra’s base is destroyed by ‘sinking’ ice. A horrible rap song plays over the credits. I caught some of the lyrics. “I’m so 2008, you’re so two thousand and late.” Stephen Sommers, Channing Tatum, and Marlon Wayans can all go to hell. They’ve done enough damage, taking their time molesting my childhood icons.