A bout with an entirely new illness (to add to my five-week-long tussle with sinusitis) has left me with little desire to do anything productive with my time (to be fair, this illness is partly defined by severe lethargy). Thus I’ve taken time to catch up with a few movies and TV this weekend (including a sizeable chunk of Season 5 of Castle).
I could wax lyrical about the moral cesspool of How To Sell A Banksy. I could reminisce about the very first time I saw GoldenEye (aged about 8: a very eye-opening experience). I could even deconstruct everything that’s a little off about Marcus du Sautoy’s pseudo-mathematic miniseries The Code. Instead, a brief disquisition on the other high art piece I was fortunate enough to catch up on this weekend: GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra.
Dennis Quaid and Channing Derp-derp are hardly headliners for cinematic gold. Throw in Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Christopher Eccleston, and Jonathan Pryce, though, and my ears start to twitch. Aided by Marlon Wayans, Rachel Nichols, and Ray Park, Derp-derp and Quaid must overthrow Scottish warlaird Destro (played by Eccleston) and Cobra Commander (somewhat inexplicably played by Gordon-Levitt).
Let’s not leave the bush unbeaten: this film is terrible. The nanobites are kind of interesting, but that they can destroy entire cities as well as provide superhuman strength and mind control capabilities is somewhat far-fetched. For some reason, one corporation has built a top-secret secure bunker under the White House and half the world’s infrastructure, granting its lone CEO (Does Destro not have a board of directors? Or are they all under the nanobite spell too?) the capacity to control the world. Add the underwater base hidden beneath the ice caps and we’ve roundhouse kicked one faceless goon too many.
The film suffers, as many contemporary action films do, from an overly complicated plot that isn’t actually that interesting to begin with. There’s a bit of a love thing happening between Derp-derp and Sienna Miller’s character (The Baroness: don’t even get me started), but time is barely spent on it before we’re catapulted back underwater, or to a laboratory in Paris, or to the GI Joe headquarters under the Pyramids. The plot plays second fiddle to set-pieces.
Don’t get me wrong: set-pieces are fine. But if all your different set-pieces line up perfectly with each of your different plot points, you’re a lazy scriptwriter. And I cringe having to say that, because the main scriptwriter of GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, is a local, Stuart Beattie. GI Joe is part of a sickness that is creeping across modern action cinema, where decent storylines are being subsumed into spectacle. The audience cannot be wowed by the spectacle (as directors and screenwriters hope they will be) because they are not invested enough in the plot to suspend disbelief. It comes down to believable characters that audiences can care about. I find it very hard to empathise with the lumbering hulk of Channing Derp-derp at the best of times, but struggling to find his place in the world by reclaiming his lost love Sienna Miller? Not without some damn good dialogue, which — spoiler alert — this film does not have an abundance of.
I had grand plans of using the GI Joe franchise as my next Dan-defends-awful-films endeavour. But I’m afraid some cinematic sins are unforgivable. If you’re given a great cast (I hear even the Derp-derp shows some chops in Magic Mike), and nearly $200 million, you don’t piss it away on something like this.