Disclosure time, I never actually got around to watching GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra. I was initially curious about it because as a kid I used to play with the Joe figures and vaguely remember the cartoon, and I’m a fan of big dumb blockbusters and Stephen Sommers’ work, but I think i got wind of the Joe’s using some kind of crazy super suits which put me off, and also despite a few actors I like (Dennis Quaid and Christopher Eccleston) it couldn’t quite outweigh the fact that Marlon Wayans had a major role in the flick.
However, despite missing the first Joe movie I was keen to see the sequel, mainly due to the presence of Dwayne Johnson, but also because the trailers implied that it would be robo-suit free and more of an old school action flick.
The film kicks off with unrest in Pakistan after their president has been killed, in the interests of safety the elite GI Joe unit is sent in to retrieve the country’s nuclear weapons. Headed up by Duke (Channing Tatum) and his right hand man Roadblock (Johnson) they rescue the nukes and are awaiting transport in the desert when their base is attacked, leaving most of the team dead, including Duke (I don’t count that as a spoiler, the trailers make it pretty clear Tatum wasn’t going to be in the movie for long).
Roadblock and the two other survivors Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), haul ass and discover that the President of the US (Jonathan Pryce) has denounced the Joes as traitors and installed their dreaded enemy Cobra as his security force. The President has actually been replaced by shapeshifting villain Zartan (Arnold Vosloo).
Ninja assassin Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) poses as masked Joe Snake Eyes and allows himself to be imprisoned so that he can bust out Cobra Commander (body Luke Bracey, voice Robert Baker) with the aid of another Cobra operative Firefly (Ray Stevenson). The real Snake Eyes (Ray Park) then takes new Joe recruit and Storm Shadow’s cousin, Jinx (Elodie Yung) to get Storm Shadown and uncover Cobra’s plans. Along the way Storm Shadow learns about his past and that his allies in Cobra may have lied and manipulated him.
The Joes then reunite and get ready to make a move on Cobra Commander and co. as their plan will come to fruition with a summit with all the nuclear powers. To aid them they enlist the original Joe, retired General Joseph Colton (Bruce Willis).
Can the Joes expose the plot, stop Cobra’s plan and avenge their friends? And what is the mysterious “Zeus” weapon that Cobra Commander has planned?
As the plot tells you this is a fairly generic action movie- good guys are screwed over and must fight back and stop villains from causing mass destruction and obtaining global domination.
But it really works as a piece of goofy blockbuster fluff. The action sequences are pretty well done and it has an enjoyably cartoonish quality- ninjas fight on cliff faces and deflect bullets with swords, guns never run out of ammo and many boots are put to asses.
The film’s major strength is Johnson as Roadblock. I’m a massive fan of Johnson and I think aside from Jason Statham he’s probably the best action star around. He definitely looks the part and he also has this easy charisma, he can deliver quips with the best of them and despite convincing as a badass, there’s a sense of humour to his performance and you can’t help warm to the guy.
He has good chemistry with Tatum and the two bicker to good effect and he does a good job of conveying the sense of duty and anger after the death of the Joes while also holding it together to rally what’s left of his troops.
The rest of the cast do their jobs well enough, Tatum is as charming as ever as Duke, Bruce Willis isn’t stretched in his extended cameo but does okay with what he’s got.
Ray Park and Byung-hun Lee do their jobs as dueling ninjas well enough and their sequences together are rather good fun.
The only real weakness is D.J. Cotrona as Flint. The role feels underwritten and a few half hearted hints at more with Lady Jaye aside he brings nothing to the table. Well, not exactly. Due to his whining and Cotrona’s oddly shifty performance I was expecting a double-cross which never arrived.
The villains are pretty fun. Pryce is clearly having a ball hamming it up as the President’s doppelganger, but this is blown out of the water by Ray Stevenson’s performance as Firefly. Stevenson really sinks his teeth into the part of the crazed bomber and it’s helped along by an OTT and ever-so creaky Deep South accent.
Stevenson is also a big guy and so he provides the perfect enemy for Roadblock to go toe-to-toe with.
I don’t want to big it up too much, however, because the movie is at times unbelievably stupid and some of the dialogue is so cheesy those suffering from lactose intolerance should probably steer clear. But it still kinda works as a fun blockbuster and it ticks the boxes of an entertaining romp.
It’s also quite nice to have a few different elements mixed in- you get ninjas, some brief espionage bits, sci-fi gizmos and then tons of old fashioned beat and shoot em’ ups.
It’s also got a kind of old school, Bond-ish aspect to the threat of massive nuclear war. Yes, I did just kind of express nostalgia for movies based around atomic bombs. (Although there are a few North Korea jokes which given the current climate feel a little misjudged). Oh, and when did London become the go to city to get destroyed in movies? It gets leveled a lot, I miss when it used to be Paris that always got wasted.
So, it’s not perfect and it’s stupid, but it’s a good movie to pass the time with and it’s a damn sight better than some other action movies I’ve seen recently (A Good Day to Die Hard and Battleship). Johnson carries the whole thing rather well and continues to impress me as an action hero, and it’s rejuvenated the franchise.
And at least it has this going for it- it’s the best movie based on toys since Clue.
Verdict: It won’t change your life, but it’s all rather good fun and most of the cast do well with what they’re given. The action sequences are handled well and the plot moves along well enough. Johnson is as good as ever and it’s a decent knuckle-headed blockbuster. 7/10
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.