Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 27, 2021)
When considering the case of 2009’s GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the long-lasting toy franchise would leap to the big screen. The surprise comes from the fact it took so long.
The action figures originated in the 1960s and got added life via a new line introduced in the early 1980s. The latter received animated adaptations but nothing live-action until Cobra.
Viewing the result, I can’t say I wish Joe made the jump earlier, as Rise offers a forgettable effort. After weapons-maker James McCullen’s (Christopher Eccleston) Military Armament Research Syndicate sells four super-powered warhead to NATO, soldiers Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) lead a squad to deliver them.
They come under an attack from a mysterious team, but another group of soldiers saves the day. Duke and Ripcord soon meet General Hawk (Dennis Quaid), the leader of the GI Joe super-squad, and they convince him to let them join.
In the meantime, we find out McCullen isn’t on the up and up, as he’s the one who ordered the attempt to steal the warheads. McCullen works with an evil organization called Cobra, and they churn out super-soldiers created by the disfigured Doctor (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), one of a few characters with a connection to Duke’s past.
In addition, his ex-fiancée Ana (Sienna Miller) now goes by “The Baroness” and leads the Cobra soldiers. The Joes need to protect the warheads and defeat Cobra.
Back in 1999, I thought director Stephen Sommers delivered a fun update on the Mummy franchise, but his subsequent works have done less for me. The 2001 sequel was decent but not as good as the first flick, and 2004’s Van Helsing was essentially a dud.
Sommers went five years between directorial efforts before he came back for Rise, but he didn’t bring any cinematic inspiration with him. Indeed, Sommers continues to get worse as he goes along, for Rise can’t even achieve the mediocrity of Van Helsing.
Like that film, Rise comes light on coherent story and heavy on CG mayhem. While the effects have gotten better over the years, I still don’t think they’re very good.
Sommers’ movies have always been subpar in terms of their computer elements, and Rise continues that trend. Admittedly, they’re not awful, but they lack the quality we’d expect from a 2009 release and can distract.
Even without those flaws, Rise wouldn’t work. For one, it’s too darned complicated.
Granted, I realize “origin stories” like this can become burdensome, as they need to introduce so many different characters/scenarios. It’s not unusual for efforts like this to become a bit bogged down in exposition.
Nonetheless, Rise goes crazy in that regard. It includes enough characters and backstories to fit a 10-hour miniseries, so one two-hour film can’t hope to spell them out well. Instead, it leaves each and every one barely explored, which hurts it in the long run.
No, I don’t expect rich characters from a summer action blockbuster like this, but the sheer number of participants creates a real problem. We barely know anyone – and never care about them.
Why throw out so many roles? To sell toys, I suspect. Of course, I understand that commerce drives Rise, so no one makes a movie based on a line of action figures with art in mind.
Nonetheless, Rise could make its motives less obvious. It constantly gives us the impression that the toy-oriented cart drove this particular cart.
The actors are fine in their parts, I guess. None of them excel, but at least they manage to avoid seeming embarrassed. They’re cartoony and campy, just as one would anticipate.
As for the action, it tends to be a mess. Sommers apparently believes “big and chaotic” is always the way to go, so we get scenes without much coherence or impact.
He throws out massive amounts of CG gewgaws and doesn’t worry about real excitement or power. The movie consists of one lackluster action sequence after another.
While I suspect I shouldn’t have expected much from Rise, I still view it as a disappointment. I’m a sucker for action flicks and think the GI Joe universe has potential to create a good movie franchise. Unfortunately, Rise launches the series with a thud.