BnB Shame #1: GI JOE: The Rise of Cobra

Ever thought about putting your house up for and AirBnB?  If so, did you ever give a thought to the judgment potential renters might give you from your DVD collection?  You don’t know how it got there.  Maybe it was a gift.  Maybe you got it at a 3 for $5 sale at Wal-Mart.  Or, perhaps worst of all, maybe you actually like it.  Welcome to “BnB Shame”.

Exhibit A:

GI JOE: The Rise of Cobra

Why make it:

Hey, Transformers was a huge hit that made a lot of money, what other nostalgia properties in the Hasbro stable can we make movies about?  Honestly, GI Joe is a no-brainer.  It and Transformers were two sides of the same coin, constantly battling for the eyeballs of young boys in the 80’s.  We knew the name of the the most minor characters by heart, same as kids today can probably recite all 650+ Pokemon.  We knew all their skills and attributes: medics, enlisted shipmen, helicopter pilots, and body massage experts.

However, there’s that “Real American Hero” thing.  Cinema has gone global now, and patriotism the late 2000’s just is not the same as it was in the 1980’s.  It’s why Marvel can’t ever make a Captain America movie, right?  Imagine: making a movie about a star-spangled man clad in the patriotic red, white, and blue!  That’s not going to sell t-shirts in China!  So, in a nod to the New World Order, GI JOE (now “Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity”, which is about as clumsy of an acronym as you can invent) will be composed of elite soldiers from the world’s top military forces.  And they’ll be headquartered in Egypt… even though most of the operatives seem like they hail from the Heartland of America.

Then it goes to the scriptwriters, who go, “Hey, there’s no plot to these dumb toys!  I mean, it’s an elite fighting team trying to combat… what, a snake cult?  Founded by what seem to be Lovecraftian horrors from ancient times? Who’s this guy in the inflatable snake costume?  No kid would willingly go to the movies to watch that!  Let’s get some real human drama in here.  What if… the main hunk soldier guy used to be in love with… the main villain lady!  Only he failed to save her brother, and it ruined their relationship irrevocably!  Now that is something we can write a story around!  Not some dumb adventure mission where they’re trying to stop a ruthless terrorist organization trying to take over the world.”

In the cartoons, Duke is this stalwart soldier who is a leader of men.  That doesn’t fly these days.  Instead we get morose, glum, emotionally damaged Channing Tatum in his first major role since the Step Up movies.  He’s in love with Ana (Sienna Miller), who is now the iconic and catsuited Baroness.  Because stopping terrorism is such an old fashioned notion.  He’s got to get his girl back!

Oh, and Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, Scarlett, Ripcord, Cover Girl, Breaker, Heavy Duty, General Hawk and Brendan Fraser are doing GI JOE stuff, too.  (By the way, I’m looking through the IMDB, which credits 85 people.  Liana Mendoza is credited as playing “Lieutenant Girlfriend.”  Holy crap… did she pick her own callsign?)

Missed opportunity:

On the ersatz-Cobra side, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a character called “The Doctor.”  Now, considering he’s got something that looks like a monocle, and it’s revealed that he’s SPOILER ALERT actually bald, we assume that at this point that he must be a reference to Doctor Mindbender.  Clearly they weren’t using the name because, hey, even for a character created in the 80’s for a toy line it is kinda silly.

Only, we find out, in a flashback, there is another character whose name was… Doctor Mindbender.  Referred to by name, even.  Who looks less like Doctor Mindbender than Gordon-Levitt does.

Here’s the biggest missed opportunity, though: neither The Doctor nor Doctor Mindbender are sporting his fabulous pro-wrestling gear.  Given that GI JOE: Retaliation rectified the Cobra Commander costume, I imagine that had Kevin J. O’Connor reprised his role we would’ve see him wearing a cape with no shirt underneath.  At least O’Connor did sport an adequate Mindbender-esque soup strainer!

Missed Opportunity #2:

They have Destro introducing the story behind his mask in the very first scene… then proceed to do the rest of the movie with him NOT wearing a mask.  What in the world?  That’s like doing ten seasons of Superman without him once wearing the cape and tights.

Missed Opportunity #3:

Despite the climax taking place in the Arctic, it is not revealed that Cobra Commander is a snake man from ancient times.


COBRA’s plot to take over the world:

So James McCullen, a.k.a. not-yet-Destro, a.k.a. Christopher Eccleston, has sold a bunch of nanomites to NATO, which are capable of destroying whole cities.  Duke and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans, who’s a better actor than a lot of people think) are assigned to protect these weapons during the delivery.  Suddenly, Cobra jumps in and steals the warheads.

This plot makes no sense.  Cobra already had the nanomites in their possession.  Why are they stealing them back?  Is Destro double dipping by selling the weapons and then stealing them?  Does he need to money so much?  I mean, somehow he was able to fund an underwater Arctic base and an army of henchmen.  Is Cobra’s real crime a violent Ponzi scheme?

Somehow, creating a new leader by stealing the DNA of the world’s greatest megalomaniacs is proving to be a more rational plan.

Understated thing I love:

The Baroness is named such because she married the Baron deCobray.  OK, so first off, can’t she just be The Baroness because it’s a cool codename?  I make have missed something, but I’m pretty sure that Duke didn’t turn out to have a duchy. Though… if that does turn out to be the case, must the Baroness defer to Duke according to the system of peerage?  Maybe female operatives can only choose literal codenames: Scarlett, Cover Girl, Lieutenant Girlfriend, et al.

Secondly… “Baron deCobray”?  There was a snake-themed baron before a snake themed organization?  That’s crazy!

Also, B-movie mainstay Gerald Okamura is in this as “Hard Master.”  The sequel, by the way, is worth it alone to hear The RZA say “Hard Master” as if it were serious business.

Indelible review that for some reason stuck in my brain:

I loved trawling reviews back in the day. I distinctly remember one writer thinking that the movie was based on the original dolls with the kung-fu grips and the realistic hair.  (And indeed, Marlon Wayans does deliver a line referring to it.)  The writer missed the whole decade where GI Joe was also a Saturday morning cartoon, a comic book, and a whole military team.  It blew my mind.

It made me think of my own mortality: some day, I too will assume that the kids are talking about a property four-decades old, when really all they know about it is the remake.  It’s getting to be that way with Star Wars, to be honest.

I mention this, by the way, that I strongly suspect that the movie reviewer and director Stephen Sommers may have approached the material from the same perspective. I would not be surprised at all if it turns out Sommers was shocked to find out that the main character was not named “Joe.”

Potential BnB renter assessment:

The characters are completely unrecognizable if it wasn’t for their names.  All the JOEs are wearing matching black tights, all the rage when Blade and X-Men were trying to camouflage their superhero origins but dated as 2009 started to embrace more color.  Cobra Commander looks like a piece of chewed bubble gum because his cartoon costume looks a little too much like a Ku Kux Klan mask.    Channing Tatum, despite proving to be quite charismatic in later roles, is a bit of a cold fish here.  And Shipwreck is nowhere to be found.

On the plus side you get some ninja action in characters wearing fairly faithful costumes. Jonathan Pryce is hamming it up as only Jonathan Pryce can.  There are some pretty memorable action pieces, such as the run through the streets in Iron Man suits. Sommers gives you bang for your buck in turn-your-brain-off entertainment.  If GI JOE: The Rise of Cobra and Transformers are on at the same time but on different channels, I’m tuning in to GI JOE ever time.  It’s a lot more fun and far less exhausting.  All my snark in this review comes from a place of love: I enjoy putting it on and MST3K’ing the hell out of it.

Potential renters will assume you got this cheap as a DVD double pack with GI JOE: Retaliation.  This movie will raise zero hackles.  Unless your renter is Larry Hama.

However, you can also save yourself time and watch the much more satisfying Funny or Die 3-minute “The Ballad of GI Joe” instead.