Saturday, August 8, 2009

Movie Review: G. I. Joe

It’s rare in this day and age for a summer blockbuster to stay with you beyond the parking lot. Usually you drop your dime to get in, relax for a couple hours of mindless escapism and then head home, having already and blissfully forgotten the insignificant details of whatever it is you just watched. Were there guns in it? Girls? Was that Jonah Hill or Seth Rogen? Nobody knows and nobody really cares.

But every so often, a movie comes along that presents something so mind-blowing and so unexpected that it sears itself onto your very soul and no matter how hard you try, you just can’t get it out of your head. G.I Joe is such a film, leaving its audiences grappling with one indelible image sure to haunt them forever: Snake Eyes’ giant fake lips.

Yes, move over, Batman’s nipples, because another rubbery non-sequitor has come to share your limelight, and for once I don't mean my junk. For reasons that are beyond me, fan favorite Snake Eyes wears a mask throughout this film that has huge, perfectly sculpted lips on it. At first they horrified me; then they puzzled me. But by the end of the film they simply fascinated me. Big, unused, pouty lips. They looked so lush and ridiculously fake I expected to see Brad Pitt attached to them and I began to find them strangely compelling. And strangely... hypnotic...

Big… fake… lips…

AAAAHHHH! Sorry, where was I? Oh, yeah. Well, the down side here is that everything else was kind of overshadowed by Snake Eyes’ lips, which in a way tells you all you need to know about the film. Yet once you get around his lips – which, trust me, is going to take some doing what with them being so big and inexplicable – the rest of the movie isn’t really as bad as you might expect, assuming you were expecting a total turd sandwich. It’s not great, but it could have been worse.

For example, it’s not nearly as terrible as the fellow toy based film Transformers, and one of the main reasons is simply that it’s not trying nearly as hard to be “good” or “entertaining” and it doesn’t pretend to, you know, “make sense”. Instead, it seems to be pretty much exactly what it is: a live action version of the cartoon. The characters are cartoonish, the action is really cartoonish and the entire thing pretty much seems to have been done by ten-year-olds for ten-year-olds; characters even yell stuff like “Yo, Joe!” and say “Knowing is half the battle” and it probably would have been just as realistic if it had been done entirely using stop-motion action figures.

By comparison, the first Transformers movie had a bunch of tedious backstory to make Sam “sympathetic” and was so glacially paced that Megatron was literally stuck in a glacier as he waited for the plot to get around to freeing him. G. I. Joe isn’t like that; it’s dumb, pointless action from start to finish, which means that while it serves no real purpose, at least it ends quickly.

There are a few plot points that older fans of the franchise may find puzzling, the strangest of which is a budding romance between Scarlett and Ripcord (played as a standard “black guy comic relief” character by, of course, one of the Wayans… Ken maybe?). But nitpicking plot elements is beside the point; none of them really matter anyway, all that matters is that Snake Eyes fights Storm Shadow, Destro is played by Dr. Who (Christopher Eccleston) and Sienna Miller looks way hot as the Baroness. And if most of the major plot points seem to be cribbed from the original G. I. Joe animated miniseries, well, that’s all for the better, because that was pretty much the high water mark of the franchise.

Yes, hardcore fans might be left wishing that they had taken less inspiration from the cartoon and more from Larry Hama’s seminal run on the comic book instead, but if the end result makes you want to go reread those comics, well, that’s kind of a positive too. Because if there’s one thing we can state with certainty about Hama’s G. I Joe, it’s this: at no point, under any circumstances, does Snake Eyes sport a giant pair of perfectly sculpted fake lips.

And trust me. That’s definitely the other half of the battle.

My Grades: The movie gets a C-, while the cartoon gets a C+, but an A- for the original mini-series. Hama’s comics get an A- as well (we’re talking first fifty issues) while the action figures get an A+ for blowing those stiff, rubbery Star Wars figures all to hell and back.

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