August 10th, 2009

there!, Hello

Is he . . . is he monologuing?

My relationship to G. I. Joe is a complex one. Yeah, I collected the toys and watched the cartoons and read the comics when I was wee (heck, I still do; collect/read the comics, that is; the new toys look so damned slipshod awful it hurts). Larry Hama's long run writing the Joe comic was pretty fab, adding some depth and characterization to the action, and I still lovingly remember individual issues [including #21: the iconic Snake Eyes issue told completely without dialogue/words, as well as #34, where Cobras Baroness and Wild Weasel took on Joes Ace and Lady Jaye in aerial dogfights over suburbia and the moving, climactic panel features the two pilots in their blown-to-hell fighters respectfully saluting one another instead of taking the Final Shots] much the same way I recall passages of novels/short stories/plays that were important to me (I think the only comics I read to ruin more than G.I. Joe were Groo: The Wanderer). However, my relationship with G.I. Joe isn't simply buying toys and comics . . .

For me, Girls and G.I. Joe have never really been separable. One of my great friends from the East Detroit neighborhood I grew up in (Shelly Augusta) would bring her Barbies, and I'd bring my Joes, and we'd play with them all together. Weird experience, since my figures were about a third the size of hers. Storytelling, however, provides the answers for any dilemma, including one of such, ahem, odd proportions. [BTW: Tea parties are so much more interesting with tanks in place, wary for any Intranational (sic) Incidents.]

Of course, there were girls in the G. I. Joe universe, too, and as I grew older, I found them to be terribly sexy. If I'm lying to myself, I of course say this is due only to the confidence and intelligence they exhibited; when I'm a tad more honest, I'd have to concur that the way they were drawn also had something to do with nabbing my interest (though not necessarily holding it, since even as a wee lad, if a character was b-o-r-i-n-g, then it was to be ignored; see Luke Skywalker). Oh, I'm certain that comics were tied quite nicely into my sexual development, and G.I. Joe is certainly part and parcel of that. The brilliant, bad girl brunette-in-glasses Baroness remains a firm part of what I find sexy to this day (imagine my consternation when I encountered Dorothy Parker's delightfully witty wisdom that "men seldom make passes / at girls who wear glasses", which did not apply to me at all), as does the fiercely intelligent, butt-kicking, redhead Scarlett [I'll spare you talking about my attraction to silent-type, capable men (Snake Eyes) and to funny, strong guys who know how to cook (Roadblock) and to confident science geniuses (Destro) and to . . . Even when I was wee, I knew I liked boys and girls in the same ways; it was only when I got a little older (end of elementary/beginning of junior high) that I "learned" to be ashamed of this "abberant" orientation; it was only when I got older still -- undergrad college -- that I learned to accept this part of myself (thanks, in no small part, to the fiction of Poppy Z. Brite) . . . Boy, have I digressed]. Does this "explain away" those interests? Nope. Reviewing Queensryche's Operation: Mindcrime album does nothing to explain away my fetishistic attraction to religious iconography. However, it is neat for me to go back and see what was going on in my life while I was discovering these parts of my headspace/soulspace . . . Damn, I have gone from one digression to another, haven't I?

Where was I going with this?

Hmmm. G. I. Joe [. . .] read the comics, incorporated much of the mythology into myself and my state of mind [. . .] important part of my development [. . .] still part of who I am today. Right. Got it. Back on track.

(Quite the build up for a movie review, huh? Probably more than anyone ever wanted to know about me.)

So, when I started hearing about the movie coming out, I was pretty geeked. Of course, I had to see who was playing who and this led to . . . disappointment. Sienna Miller playing the Baroness? That chick from Stardust? (Heartbreak! Heartbreak! I wanted to see Jennifer Connelly vamping it up with a crrrazy and indeterminate Eastern European accent!) And who's playing Scarlett? Hmmm. While I adored Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in Lost (Mr. Eko!!! So dreamy!) and loved Christopher Eccleston in Dr. Who ("Fantastic!"), I was hesitant . . .

And the director? While Stephen Sommers did remake The Mummy (which I rather loved) and helmed the finest Lovecraftian Monster Attacks a Cruise Ship While Robbers Try To Nab Loot movie ever made (Deep Rising), he also made the odious Van Helsing and the meh The Mummy Returns (which, if you look closely, has a very Baroness-type character). Of course, those last two movies were lacking the subtle genius of "character actor" Kevin J. O'Conner (who also played the only worthwhile living character in Zombies on a Plane). Hmmm. It could be fun, or it could suck really, truly badly.

Then I saw the trailers. "Hmmm," I thought, "It looks like it's going to suck really, truly badly." Then, "But The Baroness looks pretty hawt, if cleavagey. Why doesn't she have any lines in the trailer? Is her acting THAT BAD?" Then, "Well, Christopher Eccleston looks great. He gets lines and looks like he's having fun." Then, "Okay. Suck or no, I'll have to see this one. Hell, it can't be worse than Transformers: Rolling on the Floor Rise of the Fallen, can it?"

So, opening Friday, I went to see it. And dragged hntrpyanfar with me (I went to see Wolverine with her, so she agreed to go see Baroness G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra with me). My expectations for the flick were low, low, low. And I was pleasantly surprised.

Was it great cinema? Not a chance. It was entertaining enough popcorn fare, though. Overall, I say my five bucks were well spent.

Boy do they muck up the characters as I knew them. There's still the tragic backstory between ninja Storm Shadow and ninja-commando Snake Eyes. In fact, everyone of interest in the movie have either Visualized Tragic Backstories (from the Baroness to Destro to The Character Who Would Become Cobra Commander) or Alluded To Tragic Backstories (Scarlett) . . . Too bad the choice of protagonist (who is Rilly Good At His Jawb except when he's a git) is so damned B-O-R-I-N-G (his Tragic Backstory is lacking anything remotely Tragic and his acting skills are of the "one face, many feeeeelings" variety). Sort of like the white boy in Forbidden Kingdom, this movie is best when Duke is getting his ass handed to him or when he's not around. However, they added in new character relationships, revised (or is that "reimagined") most of the characters, killed off some . . . and added Power Armor? Huh? What? (Well, I suppose the Sigma Six cartoon series had power armor too, whatevah.)

This ain't the G.I. Joe of Larry Hama's original run. Nor is it the UK comics (which renamed the Joes "Action Force"). Nor the Devil's Due run. Nor the recent IDW comics run. Nor any of the cartoon series I have seen (yet another tangent: I have to say the recent Warren Ellis scripted G.I. Joe: Resolute on Adult Swim was also a total blast; which is neither here nor there). But there are little snippets from many of those sources peppering the movie like dangling treats. And I was a sucker for them.

For me, the story resonates on the same frequency of fun as John Ringo's military fiction (particularly the occasionally awful, often high-larious Paladin of Shadows/Kildar/Ghost/whatever the series name is these days). Lots of Flashy Things Happen, not too much Military Jargon, plenty of Inside Jokes, Exotic Settings Aplenty, a few Tooootally Unexpected Twists, some Great Antagonists, and an enjoyable Sense of Play. There was some bad, bad, bad science and plot holes, but I forgive much for a nice Sense of Play.

Case in point: When given the chance to monologue before captive Good Guys (as Evil Doers Are Wont to Do), Destro doesn't. Instead, he gives an Eccleston grin and says "Ah dunnah want to rew-in thah sue-prise." But Cobra Commander DOES monologue without ANY PROMPTING WHATSOEVER. As it was happening, I thought "This is wonderful! Fantastic! Joy!" and grinned like a damned fool.

As hntrpyanfar has said best, I left the theatre feeling stupidly amused.

I had no epiphanies, but I grinned and chuckled and hoped Duke would die, die, die (alas, I was disappointed on this front), and I look forward to the sequel. There's gotta be a sequel. Two of em, in fact: G.I. Joe: The Crest of Cobra followed by G. I. Joe: The Fall of Cobra, duh. If we're looking for the full sinusoidal experience, the fourth can be G.I. Joe: The Trough of Cobra but by then, the franchise may well have played itself out.