Playing more like a highlight reel from an established franchise than a movie intended to launch it, “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” interrupts its barrage of CGI action for only the barest minimum of anything resembling character development. Still, young auds switched on to precisely this sort of entertainment should turn this futuristic, military-themed pic into a significant worldwide hit and help toy company Hasbro — also suppliers of raw materials for the “Transformers” films — to its second merchandizing bonanza of the summer. Paramount’s unwillingness to screen for critics, however, suggests something less than confidence in its big-budget investment.
Launched in 1964 as a series of plastic military figures and reworked in comic and cartoon form any number of times since, the G.I. Joe team underwent its most significant transformation in 1983, when its ranks of U.S. personnel expanded to include elite soldiers from around the globe. The screenplay by Stuart Beattie, David Elliot and Paul Lovett sticks to that path, with Uncle Sam’s representatives at the forefront of a multicultural crew on what is always referred to as an international mission.
In the not-too-distant future, regular Army buddies Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) are transporting a deadly weapon, capable of “eating” buildings and even whole cities, that’s been manufactured by Scottish arms magnate McCullen (Christopher Eccleston). Intending to steal his own device and hold the world to ransom, McCullen, a member of the evil organization Cobra, dispatches private army superfighters Storm Shadow (South Korean superstar Byung-hun Lee), a ninja dressed in natty white threads, and the Baroness (Sienna Miller), Duke’s ex-g.f., who favors slinky leather jumpsuits.
Rescued by mysterious strangers, Duke and Ripcord are whisked off to a facility deep below the Sahara desert, where, after being put through some mildly amusing training hoops, they’re accepted into the G.I. Joe ranks by old-school commander Gen. Hawk (Dennis Quaid). Given just enough time to establish name, rank and specialist skill are squad members Snake Eyes (Ray Park), a silent type; Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), a crossbow-wielding brainiac; and Breaker (Said Taghmaoui), who’s a whiz with electronics.
Edited as if the audience wouldn’t watch unless every scene were switched to overdrive, the not-bad basic plot never gets much of a chance to be anything more. Not helping is the way in which uninspired flashbacks to the characters’ pasts arrive like commercial breaks slotted into what seems to one long setpiece.
As helmed by Stephen Sommers (“The Mummy” franchise, “Van Helsing”), the pic expectedly packs some eye-popping sights and a nifty collection of gadgets and gizmos. Best of the bunch is the Stan Winston Studio-created “accelerator suit,” allowing the G.I Joe squad to sprint around Paris at 40 miles per hour and destroy half the city while attempting to save it from McCullen’s attack.
While thesping is not the main game here, having a cast of bright young things certainly helps, and Quaid gets in a few nice John Wayne-like moments as the no-nonsense boss. Widescreen visuals are OK, though some effects finishing looks rushed.
When it can be heard over the cacophony of sound effects, Alan Silvestri’s score hits the right notes. Other technical aspects are on the mark.