...And knowing is half the battle.
I found G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra to be one of the more pleasant surprises of this past summer. It’s not going to be in my year-end top 10 list or anything, but it’s a solid popcorn blockbuster that entertained the hell out of my inner 12-year-old. It’s big and dumb enough to be fun, but not so much so that it insults viewers’ intelligence. It’s the sort of movie I tend to enjoy on repeat viewings, so I dutifully picked up the Blu-ray when it came out (I actually appreciated it a bit more the second time, though the film obviously has its flaws; Citizen Kane this ain’t).
That sense of fun carries through to just about the entire cast. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a great young actor, is clearly having a ball as a scarred scientist who evolves into Cobra Commander (one of the DVD featurettes opens with him in full costume reciting Hamlet with the aid of his plastic Cobra Commander mask), and Dennis Quaid is having the time of his life channeling John Wayne to play General Hawk. I even found Marlon Wayans tolerable, and I usually hate that guy. The only real problem in the cast is, unfortunately, the lead: Channing Tatum, who I’ve been told more than once is actually quite a good actor, is wooden and mush-mouthed as Duke, as if he’s the only one in the cast unaware of what kind of movie he’s meant to be in. Hopefully in the sequels (which are coming, as this thing made some pretty decent coin at the box office), he’ll get with the program. The other guy who deserves a shout-out is Ray Park as Snake Eyes; there isn’t really much “acting” here, as Snake Eyes doesn’t talk, but Park, who will be a geek icon forever and ever after playing Darth Maul in Star Wars: Episode I, is a lot of fun to watch in the fight sequences. Snake Eyes gets a lot of the “wow” moments in the movie, and it was the only real aspect of The Rise of Cobra that turned my nostalgia crank (everyone who grew up with G.I. Joe knows that Snake Eyes is the coolest one; its an immutable rule of G.I. Joe.)
The Rise of Cobra looks pretty sweet on Blu-ray; movies with a lot of fast action and quick edits, I find, tend benefit from high-definition, as the sharper images make it a bit easier to follow all the on-screen motion. (Unfortunately, HD is not as kind to some of G.I. Joe’s frequent green-screen shots; some of the scenes look like they're from a movie made in 1997.) And given that the appeal of this movie is essentially purely visual, that counts for quite a bit.
But as much as I dug The Rise of Cobra, it wasn’t even the best G.I. Joe DVD I bought that day. That honor goes to the animated G.I. Joe: Resolute, which began as a web series of five-minute episodes, assembled here on DVD into an hour-long story. The angle of Resolute is that it’s basically the more grown-up interpretation of G.I. Joe geared more towards the hardcore fans of the cartoon and comic series, who are now, like me, in their 30s. Guns fire real bullets, not lasers, and people – including the Joes – die. It's the version of G.I. Joe that grown-up geeks have been waiting for.
G.I. Joe: Resolute was written by British comic writer Warren Ellis (a personal favorite of mine), and he gives the proceedings a sense of near-future realism he injects into a lot of his comics. Ellis is big on research, regularly drawing inspiration from magazines like Scientific American, and Resolute feels far more like it’s set in the real world than Rise of Cobra in terms of the technology used. Resolute still has a sci-fi edge, but nothing here is as out-there as the wacky stuff seen in the feature film. Ellis is great at writing smart, capable, clever characters, and the dialogue in Resolute run circles around the Rise of Cobra script. And Ellis’ take on Cobra Commander, who manages to be both funny and scary at the same time, is probably the best version of that character I’ve seen in any incarnation of G.I. Joe.
It’s a bit odd that the actual cartoon version of G.I. Joe is more realistic and hard-edged – and just all-around better – than the live-action movie, but there you have it. The world of movies (particularly movies based on a cartoon based on a toy line) can be a strange place.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra: B
G.I. Joe: Resolute: A
Labels: animation, Blu-ray review, geek alert