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Technology might seem helpful to you, with its cell phones, computers and life-saving medicines. But those are just things technology uses to lure you into a false sense of security while it secretly molds itself into nuclear warheads, self-flushing toilets and Twitter.
Now, in G.I. Joe's world, we've got nanomites. They are not the cuddly-but-inane stars of an animated Nickelodeon show. They are not the latest accoutrement in hip-hop gear. They are, in fact, microscopic computerized insects—the repellent offspring of African termites and iPods. Once powered up, they're able to devour anything and everything in their path—unless their path happens to be the human circulatory system. Once inside a person, they stop eating and instead do one of these three things:
A) Transform their host into an evil, remorseless zombie.
B) Encourage "their" body to regenerate and encase itself in a shiny sheath of metal.
C) Allow the human to disguise himself as anyone he wants.
That makes them irresistible to the dastardly evildoers in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra who want utter dominion over Earth. So they steal the tiny creatures from NATO, slap them into nifty, glassy warheads and aim them at the world's best-known cities.
At the head of this cackling cadre of chaos is McCullen, Scottish boss of the M.A.R.S. weapons manufacturing company. As the man behind the creation of the nanomites, you'd think he would've just kept the microscopic beasties for himself instead of selling them to NATO, then undertaking an expensive operation to steal them back. But no one argues with McCullen—not even his host of creepy, flashily dressed compatriots: Not the mysterious Doctor who has a strange fascination with cobras; not Storm Shadow, the white-dressed ninja; and not Baroness, the slinky, leather-clad lady whose main claim to fame may be her nifty sunglasses.
Who can stop these villains from unleashing masses of nanomites on an unsuspecting world? Why, the fearless fighting men and women of G.I. Joe, of course. The Joes, as they collectively call themselves, are elite military personnel from around the world who sacrifice their lives, futures and normal names (there's Hawk, Heavy Duty, Duke, Ripcord and Snake Eyes) to be part of an ultra-exclusive team.
G.I. Joe seems, at times, to take cues from Star Wars. An example: Everyone, be they good or bad, seems to know or be related to someone on the other team. For instance, Duke—the story's main good guy—was once engaged to Baroness before she turned to the Dark Side. But there's still some chemistry between the two, and by the time the credits roll, we've seen Baroness save Duke, Duke save Baroness, and the two of them save each other.
The rest of the folks over at G.I. Joe headquarters seem to enjoy one another's company and exhibit many admirable traits. Snake Eyes embodies perseverance as well as loyalty to his murdered martial arts master. Ripcord sacrifices pricey hardware and nearly himself to save Washington, D.C., from certain destruction. All of them, of course, are courageous to a fault and willing to put themselves in harm's way for the sake of others.
"When all else fails, we don't," G.I. Joe leader Hawk says. They're very sweet people, really.
When Scarlett loses a tussle with Baroness and laments that her father "taught me to win," Ripcord comforts her. "You get knocked down, you get back up," he says. "Maybe that's what he wanted you to learn."
In a 17th century flashback, we see McCullen's great-great-great (you get the idea) grandfather severely punished for selling weapons to both sides in an unnamed war. That McCullen says, "God willing," his sons will follow in his weapons-selling ways, as a priest mumbles prayers in the background. McCullen's accuser intimates that he may not have betrayed just his feudal lord, but the Lord, as well.
The Baroness wears more leather than a bar full of bikers, and it's all perfectly tailored to hug every curve and bump on her body. Her outfits are also unfailingly low-cut, revealing cleavage. She lustily smooches and cuddles up to half the guys in the film, from Duke (twice) to McCullen to the rich French scientist she's actually married to.
One guy Baroness gives a sultry kiss to is killed by Storm Shadow while they're still at it.
Ripcord has a crush on Scarlett—who also wears her share of hip-hugging ensembles.
The Joes are an action-oriented team determined to save humanity—no matter how many people they have to kill to do it. Thus, it would literally be impossible to detail every moment of mayhem that takes place during this two-hour movie. It'd actually be simpler and shorter to just transcribe the whole thing.
But this is a review, not a recording. So a few low notes will have to suffice: McCullen's first nanomite target is Paris. And when the Joes get wind of the plot, they try to take down Baroness and Storm Shadow before the missile is launched. The result is a 15-minute rumble/car chase during which hundreds of bystanders are injured or (more likely) killed. The bad guys run into scads of cars with their specially equipped Hummer before they even know they're being chased. And when they discover Snake Eyes clinging to the roof of their vehicle, they start shoveling moving cars at him (courtesy of a forklift attachment that your local Hummer dealer may or may not actually offer as an option). Cars that careen over the Hummer land with such violent force that they occasionally catch fire. They almost always strike other moving vehicles. Duke and Ripcord, outfitted in their accelerator suits, follow—heedless of the carnage and traffic disturbances they're causing themselves. Vehicles flip, tumble, explode and occasionally crash into trains.
While all that's going on, Joes and goons fire guns and grenades at one another. At least one bistro is almost completely destroyed. Scarlett shoots a bad guy through the head with an exploding arrow: We later see the victim's contorted body with the arrow sticking out of his head before the corpse starts fizzling and shriveling, like a decaying peach in a time-lapse movie.
And this is before the nanomites eat the Eiffel Tower, along with several passing cars and busses. More untold casualties, we can assume, ensue.
Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow have a history, and we see the two as children, beating each other up to bloody pulps with a variety of martial arts implements. The two fight as adults, too, in a showdown that culminates with one of them being sliced nearly to ribbons before tumbling into a deep, watery pit.
We see people get shot, sliced, diced, stabbed (blades sometimes coming through the torso to stick out the other side) and speared with ninja stars. They're impaled by forklifts, killed by gigantic drills, poked in the face with needles, bitten by cobras and burned to crisps—I'm not done yet—forced to wear red-hot iron masks, painfully molded by nanomites, zapped, hit, kicked, choked and otherwise abundantly abused.
Helicopters go boom and crash. Buildings blow up. Planes are eaten by nanomites. Undersea cities are destroyed. Explosions flower more frequently here than dandelions in my yard in June. Duke and Ripcord go through strenuous, painful training exercises.
The s-word is blurted out four (and a half) times. Other swearing revolves around "a--," "d--n," "h---" and "b--ch. God's name is misused half-a-dozen times or more, and it's paired once with "d--n." Jesus' name is abused once.
Ripcord is given some pain medication after a battle. He says it's "primo stuff."
Hawk appears to disregard direct orders.
Playthings from my childhood are mindlessly mangling the modern multiplex. Transformers. And now G.I. Joes. What's next? LEGOs? Maybe the movie could be called LEGO: Rise and Fall of the Yellow Brick. It's only been a few weeks since I reviewed Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and since that was one of the worst movies I've seen all year, I couldn't help but ask myself, "Will G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra be as bad? Or worse?"
The answer: Sure, why not?
G.I. Joe doesn't resort to the same level of cheap, crass, sexualized gimmicks the Transformers sequel employs. The women here are sultry—and there's some sexualized violence that shouldn't be ignored—but none of them turn into cyborgs that brandish snakey, metallic tongues. Characters do not incessantly utter f-word facsimiles. And no one's mother eats marijuana-laced brownies.
But the violence here, semi-cartoonish as it may be, is jarring, pervasive and incredibly hard to excuse. This martial boyhood fantasy all but consecrates carnage-filled problem-solving. The Joes don't just mount an assault on evil, they hammer down our senses, too, battering them into bleeding, whimpering submission.
Plus, it's just plain dumb. This is a movie that makes the original cartoon look like a subtle, high-mindedly satirical take on world affairs. This is a movie in which the bad guys blow a hole through the polar ice cap, hoping the ice will crush the submarines hovering underneath.
Let me emphasize that last bit: This is a movie where ice sinks.