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GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra review

Rachel Winterbottom thinks Hasbro are toying with disaster

Written by . Published on August 12th 2009.

GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra review

Hot on the malleable heels of their Transformer cousins, GI Joe is the next in the Hasbro toy chest to get the big screen makeover. Next up: The Life and Times of Mr Potato Head. We can dream.

The Baroness’s reaction sunglasses have more personality than she does.

Set in the not too distant and implausible future, the plot centres around Christopher Eccleston’s dodgy weapons manufacturer, James McCullen, who has sold four nanotechnology warheads to NATO. Duke (thick-necked Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Scary Movie’s Marlon Wayans) are part of the US army team charged with delivering the weapons that each have the potential to devour the metal from an entire city.

Their team is ambushed by the Baroness (a bewigged Sienna Miller) and her evil cohorts, team COBRA. Duke recognises the Baroness as his used-to-be blonde ex-fiancé, Ana Lewis, and she doesn’t kill him for old times’ sake. Enter the GI Joe task force, who rescue the surviving pair from the Baroness and foes and retrieve the warheads to take them back to their North American base, aka The Pit.

Duke and Ripcord are initiated into the Joes by General Hawk (Dennis Quaid in the contractual camouflage) on the basis that Duke once knew the Baroness. Meanwhile, McCullen and his pal The Doctor (Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s eye) are using nanotechnology to create an army of expendable soldiers who heal themselves and feel no pain or emotion. The warheads are soon stolen by the Baroness on McCullen’s behalf and the standard good vs bad battle ensues.

This is a silly film and it knows it. You can’t take yourself seriously when, in order to stick to the original toy line (and sell more toys), you find yourself having to flesh out characters with nicknames like Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow. Not to mention Heavy Duty and Dr Mindbender. Really, it’s understandable that the resulting film is naff.

Creator of The Mummy series, director Stephen Sommers is no stranger to silly films. But where the first Mummy film falls into the category of hugely enjoyable pap, Rise of Cobra is more in The Scorpion King territory. In fact, it’s worse. The $170m budget means that it's just nonsense on a grander scale.

It’s not hard to see where it gets its money from. Although the film itself is one giant advertisement for the Hasbro toy line, which in turn promotes the US armed forces, it’s hard not to be amazed at other blatant product placement. Double Bubble, anyone?

For a top secret organisation, Team GI Joe doesn’t do a great job of being inconspicuous. At one point, the members rampage through the streets of Paris, causing explosions and carnage in their wake. No points for guessing exactly what the baddies want to blow up in Paris, either. This does, however, provide the most entertaining scene by far.

It’s GI Joe not GI Jane, so it’s no surprise that the women in the film are only there to be ogled. In order to have the obligatory girl-on-girl action, there’s good girl Shana ‘Scarlett’ O’Hara (Rachel Nichols), who acts as the antithesis to Sienna’s bad-girl Baroness. In other words, she has red hair whereas the Baroness’s is black.

The Joes’ are essentially an exclusive boys' club that only allows women in if they’re hot. The Baroness’s reaction sunglasses have more personality than she does and Scarlett doesn’t even get to have one of the boys’ dudey armoured suits. Instead, despite being part of an elite operation, she has to settle for stealing a motorbike and wearing a helmet.

Featuring ridiculously advanced technology, Rise of Cobra is quite happy to have no bearing on reality whatsoever. Invisibility coats and intelligent battle armour exist and women wear their hair down during fights with the enemy, no matter how impractical.

The ridiculousness doesn’t stop there. There are Celtic-activated flight controls based on the fact that the creator is Scottish, which makes about as much sense as having it only respond to people wearing a kilt. Also, as impressive as it might be visually, the underwater city is possibly the most gratuitous set piece in the filmic universe.

The nanotechnology-based storyline, as seen in films such as Frankie Muniz’s Agent Cody Banks, is more convenient than clever. It’s the God complex of plot devices, the simple, all encompassing explanation for everything, ever – and one that no decent film should resort to.

Although occasionally funny, most of the dialogue serves as a depressingly inevitable set up for the next illogical scene. Clichés abound, the plot is littered with flashbacks and most characters are so expendable they wear masks to indicate their imminent demise. Unfortunately, no amount of flashbacks can add detail to characters as blank as the toys they’re based on.

With an opening straight out of Highlander: The Series, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra starts on a duff note and warbles on from there. It’s all in the title, really. The entire film boldly serves as a set up for the next in the series, which might have to wait until after Hasbro’s next venture: a sensitive insight into the life of Stretch Armstrong. Roll on 2011.


G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (12A) is on general release now.

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