1641 is the year. We begin in France, where everyone, perplexingly, speaks English.
A Scottish man is sentenced to wear a red-hot iron mask for the rest of his life after being discovered supplying weapons to Louis XIII’s opponents. Cut to “the not-too-distant future,” when the man’s descendant, Christopher Eccleston, is giving a presentation to some Nato workers about newly weaponized flying metal bugs.
“Originally designed to isolate and kill cancer cells, we discovered how to program nanomites to do almost anything at MARS industries. For instance… consume metal.” Because it turns out that “nanomites” may be inserted into rocket warheads, the backstory and concept of GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra can be explained in under a minute.
The opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the film: fast-paced, irony-free B-movie action drivel, delivered with the efficiency of a Friday night Big Mac. And if that means Christopher Eccleston has to give a PowerPoint presentation so we can go back to watching helicopters blow up in slow motion, then so be it. Furthermore, this specific Big Mac is stuffed with… Channing Tatum is a well-known actor.
Despite earlier acting successes such as the Step Up dance flicks and grinding topless in the backdrop of Ricky Martin’s She Bangs video, Channing Tatum stated in a 2012 interview regarding GI Joe, “I fucking hate that movie.” Fortunately for us, Channing Tatum signed a three-film contract with Paramount in 2009 and was obliged to take the GI Joe role in order to avoid being sued.
Regardless of his distaste for the picture, Channing Tatum is Channing Tatum, and he and his big arms give it their best — plus he’s attended Michael Bay’s School of Turning Around in Slow Motion While Holding a Machine Gun. After slowly turning around, he and his colleague Marlon Wayans load several nanomite warheads into a vehicle and instruct a squad of strong male troops to “mount up.”
Everyone, fasten your seatbelts.
What follows is a storyline so bizarre, with such a large cast of characters (IMDb counts 144 in all), that it’s comprehensible that it took a PowerPoint to put it up. After a long battle in which many members of elite army unit GI Joe parachute in to rescue the day, Tatum and Wayans are taken to an underground camp in the Egyptian desert to engage in a training montage soundtracked by the UK band Bus Stop’s dance rap version of T-Get Rex’s It On. (Fun fact: Bus Stop was led by Darren “Daz” Sampson, a rapper and professional football manager who went on to represent the United Kingdom in the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest.)
Channing Tatum defeats GI Joe’s resident masked ninja, Snake Eyes, in a gladiatorial pugil stick battle, and the guys celebrate by stripping down to their underwear.
As Scarlett O’Hara jogs on a treadmill while reading a book on quantum physics, a semi-naked Marlon Wayans tries to woo one of the Joes (they are generally referred to as “Joes”). (Don’t worry if it’s unclear why she has to read a book on quantum physics when her job entails knocking people up.)
Tatum dons a Delta 6 accelerator suit and heads to Paris to stop Sienna Miller from blowing up the Eiffel Tower, before sprinting down the Champs-Élysées chasing tanks, leaping through bus windows, and flipping Renault Méganes. Using a CGI snake in a glass cage, Joseph Gordon Levitt seems to teach cobras to everyone (“They are vicious”). Chaos reigns supreme.
Although GI Joe contains a more noughties post-Transformers fixation on guns and machinery than those two films, there is a similar air of fun, unapologetic action campness throughout. Writer/director Stephen Sommers was also in charge of both The Mummy and the 90s B-movie classic Deep Rising, and although GI Joe contains a more noughties post-Transformers fixation on guns and machinery than those two films, there is a similar air of fun,
This is the picture for you if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief to its utmost and relax into 1 hour and 58 minutes of revolving door characters, narrative conveyed through flashbacks and comically hammy language, plus Channing Tatum blowing stuff up in slow motion. Any day of the week, I’d rather watch Big Mac nonsense than po-faced “serious” movie action.
Thanks to Rob Freeman at The Guardian whose reporting provided the original basis for this story.