When you’re creating the live-action movie version of a children’s toy and cartoon product, there are many approaches that you can take in how you develop the story. But two things must be absolutely certain: (1) You’ve got to take an absolutely over-the-top approach, creating a surreal and imaginative world that is clearly not our own (see any Tim Burton film for an example of how this plays out, or even “Lord of the Rings” or “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” where fantasy is not meant to be reality), (2) You’ve got to work hard to incorporate all of the elements of the original source material, no matter how wacky the characters or costumes or sets. If not, why make the live-action version to begin with?
But here’s the problem with “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” a movie that I was actually looking forward to, mainly because the director–Stephen Sommers–had so much fun in reviving “The Mummy” and “Van Helsing,” putting a new and interesting twist on old characters, and achieving that over-the-top style that I mentioned above: “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” doesn’t really seem to care about creating a surreal and imaginative world; it seems more akin to these new “Transformers” movies (which are terrible, no matter the box office gross, or 13-year-old outcries that they’re, like, the greatest movies ever) rather than the fun and adventurous “Mummy” films and Tim Burton movies. “Transformers” tries to exist in the real world, which is preposterous. Think about the concept for about five seconds, and you’ll agree that it is preposterous. There’s a reason that it was created and marketed to children in the ’80s (kids don’t care about plot holes or logic, they just want to be entertained and then play with the toys), while “The Terminator,” another robot-oriented film, used violence and realism to target an older audience. The reason? Because “Transformers” is inherently silly and adheres to no real-world logic!
“G. I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” makes a similar mistake in execution, as it also tries to exist in the real world, taking the preposterous premise of an elite fighting unit and a serpent-based terrorist unit who both have seemingly unlimited money and technology, etc., and trying to find real-world reasons that both could exist. Don’t bother! Don’t try to explain it! Let fantasy exist in an over-the-top fantasy world, and save the United Nations realism for a serious political thriller.
That’s the inherent problem with the film, of course. It tries too hard to be serious, to be real, and so it doesn’t have very much fun.
But the other problem is this: It doesn’t seem to care about all the old comics and cartoons and toys. I wanted a film that would make me nostalgic. I wanted a film that would put Cobra Commander and Destro on the screen, that would show me Shipwreck, that would make me want to scream “Yo Joe!” even though I’m thirty years old. This movie? It’s like watching the old Dolph Lundgren version of “The Punisher,” the one where the Punisher doesn’t even wear the uniform with the giant skull on his chest. What’s the point of watching a G.I. Joe movie where the characters don’t feel like G. I. Joe? If you grew up with this, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re 13 and you think “Transformers” was the absolute height of cinema, then you probably disagree with me. And that’s too bad for you.