Frank Masi/Paramount Pictures
Review in a Hurry: This barely live-action adaptation of the mid-'80s toy/comic/cartoon iteration of Hasbro's long-running soldier toys is fast-paced, decently cast, and, shall we say, "easy on the brain." Unfortunately, it's also frequently laugh-out-loud cheesy, and the digital effects are highly dubious.
The Bigger Picture: First things first: Yes, the rumors are true, and G.I. Joe is no longer an American team, but an international one (the classic "real American hero" tagline is rendered a sarcastic toss-off). As for terrorist arch-foes Cobra, they don't really rise until the very end of the movie, rather optimistically setting up a sequel.
Instead, the enemy here is James McCullen (Christopher Eccleston), who will eventually become the familiarly chrome-domed arch-villain Destro, but for now is a Scottish arms dealer who sells weapons to NATO and then steals them back, in a scam any street hustler would figure out within seconds. He is aided in dastardly deeds by leather-clad baroness Ana (Sienna Miller), freshly laundered ninja Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee), perennially whistling Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), and a Darth Vader-like mad scientist (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) whose name and face remain mostly hidden in order to conceal a very obvious plot twist.
The scientist has created 20 super-soldiers to do McCullen's bidding, though that number seems to have inexplicably multiplied exponentially by the movie's climax. And don't get us started on that underwater base—cue Clerks-style jokes about building contractors on the Death Star.
Meanwhile, the Joe team brings in rookies Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) after the wisecracking twosome survive an attack by the forces of evil, and it just so happens that Duke recognizes Ana as his ex-fiancée who, naturally enough, has now dyed her hair jet black and donned glasses to indicate that she's turned to the dark side.
Then the bad guys try to blow up the Eiffel Tower, because McCullen's still pissed off that an ancestor of his was tortured by Frenchmen. Only after that does he aim for Moscow and Washington. And the Joe team has to stop him, via a bunch of crazy green-screen plus shaky-cam. This may be the first movie to boast digital effects that actually look less realistic than the graphics in its own tie-in video game.
The cast makes for mostly solid entertainment. Tatum's insanely fearless Duke, Rachel Nichols' icy sexpot Scarlett, Vosloo's hilariously casual Zartan, and especially Lee's intensely angry ninja are highlights. Miller tries hard in her role, but is saddled with the worst storyline of the bunch, plus a costume that's a big notch below some of the ones we've seen at Comic-Con (and by the way, the character's glasses are not optional, Stephen Sommers!). Best not to say too much about Dennis Quaid as Joe leader Gen. Hawk, barking out orders like your drunken uncle at a Thanksgiving dinner.
All that said, the cartoons were pretty dumb too, but we liked them as kids. This is certainly no worse.
The 180—a Second Opinion: That Paris chase scene with the accelerator suits, relied upon so heavily in the trailers, is a standout action sequence, and the only one in the film where the characters feel in real jeopardy, probably because it was shot on location and doesn't (entirely) depend on CG cartoons.
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