Friday, August 7, 2009

Internet I do not get you




In the desolate wastes of the most remote corners of Internetia lie small pockets of near-civilization, where forgotten, empty shells of humanoids dwell who remember fondly an animated series of the 80s called GI Joe. Paying no heed to the fact that very cartoon was designed solely to sell them toys, these husks of men will tell you the Joeniverse (I made that up, maybe there's another term, I don't care) has a rich mythology made up of complex, multi-layered characters.

A fan favorite is Snake Eyes. Snake Eyes is a silent ninja who never reveals his face or, indeed, speaks. He is one of those ultimate blank slate characters geeks can project all their insecurities upon. Other examples of such awful non-characters are Master Chief and Boba Fett. Fett is probably the worst example of nerddom latching on to someone who "looks cool", since his greatest achievement is calling the cops on Han Solo. At least (movie) Snake Eyes and Master Chief kill a million dudes.

Which brings me to G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Stephen Sommers' new opus. My morbid curiosity lay not only in the fact that G.I. Joe was inherently an extremely silly concept, but also the fact that Sommers was involved. Here was a guy who, a few years ago, took the premise of Van Helsing battling Dracula, the Wolf Man and made a movie that no doubt still resides securely within the bottom 10 of all theatrical movies I have ever seen. In the immortal words of William Hurt in A History of Violence: "How do you fuck that up?"

So how epically was Sommers gonna fuck up a concept this easy to fuck up? Well, as it turns out, he made it kinda awesome. Not awesome in a good way, mind. The film is very much the cinematic equivalent of playing with your action figures in the back yard. The funny thing is, Sommers really captures that chaotic vibe of "not having them all" and also using He-Man figures or maybe Jurassic Park dinosaurs and shit we broke a vase don't tell mom we're on a mission here.

The plot is a very perfunctory affair, obviously just designed to get you from set piece to set piece. Heck, we even start out in 17th century France, probably because Jimmy had a knights playset he really wanted us to use. Well, okay, sure!

What really makes the film fun are the retarded character backstories we're given in little snippets throughout the film. The main character Duke and his relationship with the evil Baroness is pretty tied to the main plot, but for some reason Sommers thought it necessary to also give us a glimpse into the past of Snake Eyes and his nemesis Storm Shadow (a much snappier dresser, internet).

Their relationship adds literally nothing to the plot, nor does it give you any insight into a character that actually matters. It does probably provide most of the films laughs, as we learn that Storm Shadow was a vindictive and evil child, stabbing fat, benevolent ninja masters in the back during their lunch break with huge katanas. I was wondering when I first saw the fat man who was supposedly both superninjas' master how that gentleman could be a Master Ninja. Getting stabbed in the back by a kid carrying a huge fucking sword, the fellow confirmed my worst suspicions. This man wasn't a very good ninja at all. Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes must have had awesome ninja textbooks. Well, if the girl from Crouching Tiger got that good from a textbook...

Other amazing moments:

*Scarlett, GI Joe's cute redhead, does not believe in emotions. She literally does not believe they exist. Also graduated college at age 12.

*Sgt. Stone is a happy retarded man they keep around the base for some reason. He is played by Brendan Fraser in a montage where his only contribution seems to have been yelling stuff like "OOOHHHH DATS GOTTA HURT! YEAH GOT YA THERE! DAT'S JOE STYLE!" I like to imagine Brendan Fraser also hangs around movie studios like this and occasionally gets cast in things.

*People are called Dr. Mindbender.

*Destro is a French word meaning Destroyer of Nations.

*Ninjas are trained to run like fags.

In the end, it's kind of amazing how much the final status quo of the movie is similar to the one at the end of the first X-Men: the big villains are incarcerated but still very confident (THIS IS MEEEEERELY THE BEGINNING DUKE!) and one shape-shifting henchman has taken the mantle of a figure of authority. I can't lie, the movie kept me very entertained. This was mostly due to the extreme melodrama everything was handled with and some fine actors who knew exactly how to play the material (Miller, Gordon-Levitt, Eccleston, Lee).

I'm actually very glad Sommers decided to spend so much time servicing fans and devoting a small portion of the movie on Snake Eyes' idiotic background. This is one case where a literal translation to screen was the right decision. Not because it was good in any way, or even made much sense, but because it was so amazingly entertaining. I'd see it if you have a sense of humor about these things. I have included a small litmus test below:

Destro and Baroness GET MONEY Song

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