There's been a lot of chatter in the past few months about "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra." More than is usual for a highly anticipated summer blockbuster, that is. First there were some negative early reviews. A dash of controversy too, over a rumor -- untrue, and quickly debunked -- that director Stephen Sommers had been fired. Those bad vibes were followed by a general unease over some of the stuff revealed in trailers and clips, particularly the much-talked-about Accelerator Suits.
Then, all of a sudden, the clouds broke a couple weeks ago. Test screening reviews emerged that put a much more positive spin on things. It was only a momentary respite, as complaints arose last week over the studio's decision to skip advance screenings for critics. And now, the weekend reviews bring with them a flood of negativity. Perhaps a few critics felt slighted by the absence of advance screenings? No one can say. All I can tell you is this: I saw "Rise of Cobra" two weekends ago, and as a longtime fan of the cartoon series I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
I'm not here to rant at critics and their negativity. Michael Cassutt did a great job with that yesterday, speaking on the media response to "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" on Sci Fi Wire. I'm just here to set a few things straight about "Joe," and hopefully give you readers a better idea of why it so appealed to me. It's safe to say that there are spoilers ahead. But maybe, if you're still uneasy about "Joe," a few spoilers'll do you some good.
The thing that struck me most about "Rise of Cobra" was how it captured the fun, over-the-top spirit of the cartoon series, only with a more mature attitude. Even as a child, I always wondered why people on "G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero" never bit the big one. For all of that red and blue weapons fire -- a color scheme which is well-preserved in the movie -- no one ever seemed to get hit and explosions always had a long enough pause for everyone to get clear.
That's not the case in "Rise." People die. They get shot, crushed, eviscerated, pummeled, blown up... violently killed in a variety of ways. I'm not some sick sociopath, but it is extremely refreshing for this "Joe" fan to see troops on both sides paying the ultimate price for their convictions. It adds a level of honesty to the movie which was frankly absent in the TV series. These Real Multi-national Heroes feel like they're actually fighting in the world.
Then there's the fan service. The vehicles are especially pleasing, with impossibly designed hoverplanes, submarines, jetpacks, tanks and more. The uniforms suffer the most, though the Accelerator Suits aren't as bad as critical fans have made them out to be. They really play a major role in just one key action sequence. And it's not as if the ability-enhancing tech doesn't fit within the "Joe" universe.
I certainly don't agree with every license taken. The new look Cobra Commander sports at the end of the movie is nothing less than jarring. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance is on point; I very much enjoyed his new take on Cobra Commander's voice. But the newly redesigned Cobra Commander -- a mantle Gordon-Levitt doesn't assume until the end of the movie, is pretty painful to look at.
I think "Rise of Cobra" has quite a bit in common with Bryan Singer's first "X-Men" movie. They both sort of lay the groundwork, introduce these key characters and conflicts that we'll be seeing in the many sequels to come. That's why "Rise" sort of demands a sequel; Sommers and writer Stuart Beattie do a great job of introducing us to this new, 21st century Joe, but their story merely sets the stage for the larger battles that lie ahead. Ultimately, I much prefer "Rise of Cobra" to Singer's "X-Men."
To those of you who have seen "Joe," what do you make of all this? Am I alone in seeing these positives? I really think a lot of the critical backlash from the weekend is rooted in the lack of advance screenings. I don't necessarily think that critics were harder on the movie because they felt slighted; more that the deliberate absence of advance screenings introduced a certain amount of bias into the review process.
The movie is out now however, and the court of public opinion is what ultimately makes the final judgment. So what do you all think? Was "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" really as bad as some are making it out to be? Or is it a decent summer blockbuster that's being unfairly victimized?