Film Flashback: “G.I. Joe – The Rise of Cobra” (2009)

GI Joe Rise of Cobra Snake Eyes, Rachel Nicholas as Scarlett, Heavy Duty and Marlon WayansI’ve seen far worse movies than “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” but very few have managed to leave me so irritated, frustrated and annoyed.

If Michael Bay did anything remotely right in 2009 it was making “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” such an unholy quivering piece of cinematic rubbish that anything by comparison seems not nearly as awful. But this gave it much closer competition than expected and without Bay’s debacle, ROC would be my solid lock for worse movie of the year.

G.I. Joe Rise of Cobra movie image Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Gordon-LevittBut in a lot of ways, ROC is a far greater insult to Joe fans than Bay’s “Bayification” of the Transformers universe. At least Bay got the core elements of the saga correct, but Director Stephen Sommers and company don’t seem to have any clue how to make a G.I. Joe movie any different than any generic action movie. ROC plays out more like a direct to video “Starship Troopers” sequel than the fresh kickoff of a potential new franchise. GI Joe Rise of Cobra Channing Tatum as Duke and Marlon Wayans as Ripcord

The biggest affront is when characters literally put on super-armored suits and run around like superheroes. I’m guessing Sommers failed to land the “Iron Man” gig and simply wanted to find a way to work out his men in armor dream.

The film has three credited screenwriters, naturally as it’d be impossible for one writer to so completely screw up such an easy to translate into a film property.GI Joe Rise of Cobra Snake Eyes, Scarlett and Breaker

Their butchering of the source material is baffling as there’s no reason to bother acquiring the license of a beloved property only to dump 97% of why people care about it in the first place other than to piss fans off. That’s the one area the film greatly exceeds expectations.

I’ve seen some terrible films based on licensed properties, but this is the worst as it almost seemed like the filmmakers spent more time determining how they could work around the license to make a completely different movie. GI Joe Rise of Cobra Storm Shadow and Baroness
While transporting special equipment, U.S. soldiers Duke and Ripcord — an earnest Channing Tatum and miscast Marlon Wayans — are ambushed by a terrorist group led by The Baroness (a game, but ill-suited Sienna Miller) and Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee). They’re rescued by an elite special mission force — G.I. Joe — and General Hawk (Dennis Quaid) offers them a spot on the team to help agents Scarlett (Rachel Nichols, “Star Trek”), Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Snake-Eyes (Ray Park) and Breaker (Said Taghmaoui) retrieve the stolen goods from mastermind James McCullen (Christopher Eccleston).

The screenwriters convolute the Joe mythos further by having Duke and Baroness sharing a romantic past, Ripcord trying to woo Scarlett while Duke’s thought killed in action pal, Rex (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is in McCullen’s clutches and may could end up commanding all of McCullen’s forces and giving them a snake theme. Joe didn’t need a “comic-book origin” movie treatment, especially one showing how the bad guys come together.GI Joe The Rise of Cobra The Doctor and Destro

Ellen Mironjnick’s costume design is truly uninspired. From members running around in camouflage, football jerseys and even barefoot and bare-chested, the Joes’ attire has always helped distinguish the characters and gave them an extra dose of personality.

Mironjnick scraps that for the standard, boring everyone wears black mindset, which diminishes the coolness factor of Snake-Eyes — one of the few good guys who wore black before it became the comic-book movie standard. Worse, Snake-Eyes has a goofy plastic muscle suit, leisure suit pants and lips — for the character who can’t talk…sigh. GI Joe - The Rise of Cobra Snake Eyes, Scarlett and BreakerIt looks like a cheap child’s Halloween costume instead of the more elaborate movie version.

I’ve always complained about comic book movies featuring characters without colorful costumes because that’s an important element to the comic, but with hack designers going all black leather is the easy and at this point expected way out. But with the Joes, these guys for the most part just wear regular clothes. How hard was that to screw up???

A member shows how easily Scarlett's outfit could have been modified to resemble the comic/cartoon/toy attire.
A member shows how easily Scarlett’s outfit could have been modified to resemble the comic/cartoon/toy attire.

There’s a few glimmers of the actual Joe property audiences were likely expecting when the project was announced. The ninja duel between Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow is great and the two big fight scenes at the Joes’ and Cobra headquarters are sufficient big screen fun.GI Joe Rise of Cobra Storm Shadow vs Snake Eyes

For a property where the cartoon characters could never hit anything, there’s a surprising amount of violence as characters get ninja stars thrown at their eyes and get gutted by knives and swords. That’s not a bad thing in this case, but it made me wonder how much better this film could have been with less emphasis on making the Joes superheroes and more highly trained soldiers, which would have made for an excellent G.I. Joe movie. GI Joe - The Rise of Cobra Rachel Nicholas as Scarlett

Nichols comes the closest to realizing her character from the cartoon or comic book and of the cast, she, Park and Lee are the only essential carryovers for the hinted at sequel that I want absolutely no parts of it if Sommers is involved.

He represents a threat to G.I. Joe far more deadly than anything Cobra could conceive — a dull, passionless take on a property that any fan could have outdone with half the budget. Noooo Joe.

Rating: 1.5 out of 10


24 thoughts on “Film Flashback: “G.I. Joe – The Rise of Cobra” (2009)”

  1. ” there’s no reason to bother acquiring the license of a beloved property only to dump 97% of why people care about it in the first place ”

    That’s what i thought.
    The movie could have been a LOT better than it was. They changed so much it was hard to see where GI JOE came into it…
    I am not sure if you noticed, but Snake Eyes practically had a different costume each time he was seen.
    And on the subject of Snake Eyes, i must be the only GI Joe fan out there that hates Snake Eyes.
    A total non-character for me(and i read all the comics when i was younger, and had all the toys). I never saw him as any more than a temporary annoyance to the plot whenever he surfaced. He never seems to operate on a human level. It’s the “James Bond Effect” that Snake Eyes is so good at everything, and always comes out on top that i switch off when he shows up and start watching when he goes off screen.
    Snake Eyes would be more watchable if he were a ninja robot.

    1. Exactly. They put so much time changing everything GI Joe that it was a waste. I’ve seen way better fan videos on youtube.

      SE is a character I’ve always liked so long as he’s not super Snake-Eyes. Larry Hama started to fall into that late in the Joe run, but I think more people liked the ninja aspect so he just did what the fans wanted to read. I always like him better as a compliment. The SE in Resolute was probably the worst in terms of unstoppable hero.

  2. I think it’s just that when i see a character that has zero flaws and perfect technique, he seems totally unreal to me.
    I know we are talking about a character from a comic book but a few flaws helps to keep the character grounded.
    Irony of ironies, i found SE more watchable in GI Joe Renegades. There was an element of humour in him in that show.

      1. I liked it primarily because Cobra was a corporation that everyone thought was on the up and up. Kind of a Walmart corporation, but that really has a sinister world-conquering agenda and only the handful of Joes know it.
        Perhaps that’s meant to be true of Cobra in the wilder world of Joe, but it seemed to be such a core part of this incarnation that i enjoyed the different spin of it.

  3. Is the new movie G.l. Retaliation making you like this more in comparison? For everything it did wrong, at least The Rise of Cobra had the pumped up feeling of fantasy/military/sci-fi that I got from watching GI Joe as a kid. And it was fun! All of the butt hurt fans complain about details that really don’t matter or make sense – Snake Eyes iconic action figure had lips did it not, in the comics Cobra Commander was a used car salesman who’s brother was killed by a drunk who’s son grew up to be Snake Eyes (WTF!??), the Baroness’s brother was killed by US soldier and she blames Snake Eyes for this (WTF??). How is that any less convoluted than what they did on screen? They gave Rex/Cobra Commander motivation. The accelerator suit scene was cool at only took a few minutes of screen time. My only gripes with the film are the black suits for all (boring), CC’s mask at the end of the movie (ugly) and Channing Tatum’s non resemblance to the Duke I remember. But I watch is movie all the time – it’s as fun as the cartoon was and Scarlett is hot as heck.

    1. After seeing Kick-Ass 2, I get your name now. I think Sommers tried to do an action movie with as little ties to GI Joe as possible and that’s what ultimately hurt the film. If it wasn’t called GI Joe you’d never think it was a Joe movie.

      Retaliation was more of a Joe movie to me, which is why I’m kinda surprised it didn’t do much much better than ROC.

      We do completely agree about Scarlett though! 👍

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