CHANGSHA, HUNAN — While I wait for my lunch companions to show up, I will try to dash off a quick movie review.
Of course, it’s not very current. GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra opened in the USA weeks ago, but I saw it for the first time here just last week. In Chinese. With Chinese subtitles.
I didn’t miss a thing.
Some B-movies have redeeming virtues, despite poor acting, bad direction, cheesy scripts, or lousy camera work. Really bad movies (grade Z’s), though, combine all four to make a US Grade A turkey.
And being a science-fictiony kind of film, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, brought really bad to a whole new level with really awful science concepts.
Here’s a few glaring mistakes.
The Bad Guy (TBG) has a huge underwater lair that puts Stargate Atlantis’ digs to shame. Yet, this underwater metropolis is supposedly a secret. How? Its heat signature alone would be as bright as lighthouse beacon to a spy satellite in orbit.
For argument’s sake, let’s suppose the US government knew about The Bad Guy’s secret underwater lair. Wouldn’t the Defense Department be just a teensy bit interested in why TBG has all of that expensive hardware hidden away, especially since TBG is supplying high-tech stuff to the DoD?
(Then again, maybe not. Consider the DoD’s careful monitoring of Blackwater and Halliburton operations in Iraq.)
And he also has a secret weapons facility in the Arctic! Apparently, he hasn’t read up on global warming.
Meanwhile, The Good Guys have their own top-secret underground lair in, of all places, the Sahara Desert. No heat signature problems there (maybe), but if keeping water out of a high tech facility is difficult, think about keeping sand and dust out of one. Not a clever choice, in my book.
In this Saharan facility are hangars the size of aircraft carriers, a deep-water training tank the size of Seaworld, and multiple levels of living, dining and training quarters.
How did all that stuff get there? Without being noticed. By anyone, like the Saudis, or Mossad, or the Russians, not to mention the Egyptians. (I won’t even go into the money required to buy and build all that stuff, secretly.)
One of the cool GI Joe gadgets is an exoskeleton that enables the wearer to run (judging from a fleeting glimpse of its heads-up display) up to 80 mph. It seems impervious to denting, abrasion, gunfire, explosions and high impact collisions with trucks, automobiles, pavement and nearby buildings.
Setting aside the difficulties of manufacturing something from such wonder materials, consider the safety of the poor guys inside. Someone forgot to read up on the law of inertia here.
Imagine you are in a metal can hurtling along at 60 mph when you suddenly hit a larger, immobile object. Your metal-can conveyance (commonly known as a “car”) stops moving and crumples into a mere shadow of its stylish design. Meanwhile, you and anything else in the car keep on moving at 60 mph until something gets in your way. If you’re lucky, your seat belts and airbags will do the stopping job, slowing your body at a rate safe enough for you to walk away. If you’re not, the rapid deceleration will make mincemeat of you.
So, our Heroes are bounding around Paris at high speeds, with acrobatic agility, and slamming into things left and right, without feeling a thing! In the real world, their insides would be a slurry after two or three high-speed impacts. An exoskeleton (especially one that is form fitting!) cannot protect its occupant from concussions and broken bones, unless the engineers also designed inertial dampeners (à lá Star Trek) to evade the law of inertia.
And speaking of inertia, TBG’s force weapons also violate Newton’s Laws. Somehow, a henchmen fires one of these things, concentric rings of — something — fly from the barrel, and heavy objects going flying like feathers in the wind. But there’s no recoil. It seems that pushing a car aside with one of these things would at least muss up your hair.
Nanomites. The main premise of the movie is that TBG, who also appears to be the sole hardware supplier to the US government (strategically a really bad idea), has developed a nanoscale robot that eats anything in its way, like army ants. [Reminds me of another B-movie I saw ages ago, with South American villagers yelling, “Moribunda! Moribunda!”] These little buggers can chew through a tank in no time flat, leaving nothing but … dust? I’m not real clear where the waste products go, exactly. Anyway, the nanomites can be turned off, or their voracious appetites could possibly eat up everything, including The Good Guys and the Whole Earth. (But not other nanomites, hmmm…)
So, the TBG, not content with being the sole hardware supplier to the US government, owning a secret underwater lair the size of Denver, Colorado, and an Arctic weapons facility, decides he will unleash his miniature terror weapons on a strategically important site … the Eiffel Tower. A logical choice, since France has such a dominant role in world affairs now.
He sends two of his loyal underlings, the Hero’s Ex-Girl Friend and the Mysterious Asian Dude, both of whom have serious anger-management issues, in a high-tech SUV to race around the streets of Paris to use a handheld rocket launcher to splatter the nanomites all over the base of the Eiffel Tower .. from about a mile away.
A boat up the Seine would have gotten the job done much more effectively, methinks. Paris has a nifty Metro system, too. Careening SUV’s around Parisian traffic is tres inélégant. You’d expect someone with a Denver-sized underwater lair (and an Arctic weapons facility) to be a little more efficient.
TBG’s high-tech SUV survives crashes, explosions and all kinds of mayhem until it is broadsided by a TGV. There’s three problems with this premise. To the best of my knowledge, the TGV does not have surface-level crossings in Paris — they kind of defeat the purpose of high speed trains. Two, the SUV survives explosions and all kinds of collisions, and hitting a train barely dents it, but it gets knocked out when it lands on its roof? What is it? A turtle? And what of the train? It (well, its cheesy CGI simulacrum) keeps zipping through the Parisian streets as if nothing happened. Real trains, like, derail when they hit cars.
Talking about characterization in an action movie like this one is pointless, but comic books do a better job at character development.
Take the Hero, his GF and her brother/his buddy for example. Hero and girl are engaged, hopelessly in love. Well, I can tell she is, anyway. Sienna Miller acts better than the wooden Channing Tatum (Who picked this guy’s name? Seriously, I think of Carol Channing and Tatum O’Neal whenever I hear his name.) On a mission in Iraq, Her Brother/His Buddy gets killed by friendly fire — he goes into an enemy bunker and the Air Force takes it out. Boom!
Hero’s now Ex-GF gets seriously pissed at the US government because her brother was killed in Iraq. So, she signs up with the TBG’s outfit, where she specializes in being a cold-hearted, ass-kicking bitch of a killer with really nice cleavage. Even meeting her ex-BF, our Hero, in the GI Joes’ sub-Saharan lair doesn’t slow down her single-minded rage of vengeance.
Oh, yeah. She has a secret identity, too. He’s married to some rich dude. So, she’s not helping TBG for money and glory. She’s just really, really pissed.
Our Hero gets captured saving Paris from even further destruction from nanomites. Then TBG says he will use our Hero as a test subject for some nasty nanomite surgery. Faced with this gruesome demise of her (formerly) beloved BF, the Hero’s Ex-GF loses her anger-management problems and tries to set him free. We then discover that TBG’s evil doctor henchman — her own fucking brother, who didn’t die after all, but just got warped, like Anakin before he went Darth — has nanomited her, to make her do TBG’s bidding.
No amount of dialogue could help explain this plot point. Brother almost killed. He signs up with The Bad Guy. His sister gets really pissed off. She signs up with the same bad guy. She doesn’t recognize her brother in his Darth Vader-like suit, but surely he knows who she is. (Human resources would have noticed. Trust me on this.) He doesn’t say, hey, sis! It’s me! I’m not dead! Surprise! No, he shoots her up with nanomites to make her a lackey of TBG. These kids have some serious family issues, I’d say.
Then there’s the whole Mysterious Asian Dude-Silent Good Guy in a Full Bodysuit subplot. MAD was a star pupil at a martial arts school in Japan (?) apparently. SGGiaFB was a (white) street urchin who nevertheless had kick-ass martial arts skills. MAD catches SGGiaFB stealing food in the academy kitchen. They fight, pretty equally matched. Kindly, wise, aged sensei stops MAD from inflicting serious damage on the street urchin, accepts the boy into the academy, and eventually voices his approval when SGGiaFB finally defeats MAD in practice.
MAD (who if you remember has serious anger-management issues) goes postal, kills the kindly, wise, aged sensei, and flees the academy. Meanwhile, the street urchin grows up, dons a full body suit (including a face mask with no apparent means of allowing air, water or food in), and becomes a kick-ass GI Joe operative. Predictably, these two foes duke it out in the end, and MAD falls — apparently — to his death.
Now, the movie’s makers have left things open for a sequel, gods help us. One of TBG’s henchmen, who likes to whistle, “For he’s a jolly good fellow,” has undergone nanomite cosmetic surgery to become a dead ringer of the movie’s President of the USA. He switches places with the real POTUS in the POTUS’s emergency bunker (supplied by TBG and protected by TBG-nanomited Secret Service agents). And, given the surreality of this movie, he impersonates the POTUS so well that no one notices … yet. (Dare I say this movie was made while George W. Bush was still in office?)
The best part of the movie is Sienna Miller, and not just because of her cleavage. Until the ridiculous change of heart/character at the end, Miller oozes evil, kick-ass bitchiness throughout the other 85% of the flick. The budding romance between Hero’s Other Best Buddy Who’s Not Dead or Warped and Red-Haired Heroine with Really Nice Cleavage is kind of fun to watch, if only because she’s so frosty military .. and white … and he’s so bumbling affable … and black.
And yes, I know these characters have names. Mine are more descriptive. Get over it.
By the way, we paid 25 yuan (about $3.50) each to see this flick, on the insistence of my friend’s younger brother. If you paid substantially more to see it, I am sorry for your loss.
Cultural enrichment sidebar: What’s Up, Tiger Lily? was Woody Allen’s debut as a film director. In 1966, he took a Japanese action movie, dubbed English dialogue that had nothing to do with the original plot, and created a comic masterpiece. As for the Bizarro world, see here.