I'm not entirely sure why I found myself watching G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009, directed by Stephen Sommers) earlier this evening. Pain and drugs, I suppose. A desire for something uncomplicated maybe. I mean, I've shunned much better directors than Sommers for cinematic offenses a LOT less vexing than Van Helsing, after all. For that matter, given the state of the world even here in the (barely) first world, the resources spent on this movie seem kind of, I dunno, obscene. And still, I watched it. All. The. Way. Through.
And for a while, it wasn't half bad. I mean, it was all sound and fury--explosions and special effects without the weight and danger of real actors performing real stunts--but it wasn't as aggressively in your face as, say, a Michael Bay movie. No more so than any given Bond movie, though without Bond's wit and ruthless charm. To its credit, the movie goes to Larry Hama's (surprisingly good) comic books rather than the eighties cartoon for its inspiration. The producers even give Hama a cameo in the film. Nice of them. This follows two protagonists into the shadow world of secret wars fought with ridiculously high technology. These are Duke and Ripcord, who are tasked with transporting nano-tech warheads to their final destination for NATO. Their convoy is attacked, and the warheads are stolen. Duke comes face to face with an old flame, now reinvented as arch-villainess, The Baroness. Arriving to thwart the attack are an elite band of super soldiers called the Joes, who manage to retrieve the warheads and take them to their secret base. The minions of COBRA are the enemy in all this, under the command of shadowy arms dealer James McCullen, who fancies himself as Destro, the destroyer of nations. COBRA manages to retake the warheads and succeed in launching one at the Eifel Tower in Paris, amid much vehicular wreckage. The Joes succeed in tracing COBRA to its secret base beneath the polar ice cap and launch an assault. Mayhem ensues.
The weird thing about all of this is the almost complete absence of an ideology on either side of the equation. It's ALL about personal grudges: The Baroness has a grudge against Duke, Storm Shadow has a grudge against Snake Eyes, Destro has a grudge against, well, everyone. It's almost like watching a family spat writ large with special effects. What does COBRA stand for? What is their intent once they rule the world? Dunno. They're just evil, and we know they're evil because they're led by assholes and mutilated monstrosities. The Joes? They're the good guys by default, I guess, even if they're exactly the same kind of secret army as COBRA. They owe fealty to nation states, though.
But concerns like these fled my mind when I got to the big finale, when the Joes invade the COBRA base, because that's when it really started to insult my intelligence. For example: the Joes see a couple of missile launch tubes ahead of them as they approach underwater. Why not take them out right off? Instead, they allow the missiles to launch. Later, COBRA's high command blows the ice sheet above the base and it starts to rain down on it, in spite of the fact that ice floats. I was already grousing about the corset dilemma by this time, too, given that The Baroness is done up in high fetish fashion complete with corset and fuck-me heels, a la Kate Beckinsale in Underworld, and manages to kick ass anyway. I swear to god, screenwriters have never actually worn a corset or heels...*
At this point, too, I had already figured out why Joseph Gordon-Levitt decided to waste all that wonderful indie cred he had built up on this piece of crap. He gets to chew the scenery while remaining, essentially, unrecognizable and cash a big paycheck for a franchise movie. He has his cake and eats it.
*This is speaking as someone who collects corsets and is kind of a snob about it. Take it for what it is.
Also, I came upstairs and decided that I would do the National Book Week meme that's running around Facebook right now, the one where you grab the nearest book and post the fifth sentence on page 56? The book nearest to me was James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and that only emphasized how immoral a movie G.I. Joe: The Rise of COBRA is, not just because it's one of the pinnacles of American literature, not just because it's a searing socialist indictment of what Agee called "a criminal economy," but because Agee was a pretty fine film critic, to boot, and I can only imagine what he would have thought of a film as artistically bankrupt as this one is.