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Cinema in Focus: ‘G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra’

In this action-packed battle of good vs. evil, an elite fighting force of Joes takes on evil humans

2 Stars — Shallow

The G.I. Joe toys were created to honor the normal American soldier of our armed forces. Rather than looking to superheroes who can save us with out-of-this-world strength, Hasbro gave us toys that honored the brave soldiers who protected and fought for our freedom. However, this simple premise seems to have changed.

Introduced in 1964 with an original World War II emphasis, the toys were changed in 1977 when Super Joe was introduced. With American children no longer focused on the enemies of WWII, Super Joe began fighting the alien Terrons with their half-man, half-monster ally, Darkon. In 1982 and for the next dozen years, the toy soldiers were then marketed as “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero,” with accompanying board and video games.

With G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra, the franchise moves into another era. Leaving behind the normal soldier and subsequent Super Joes with alien villains and monsters, the battle now is between an elite fighting force of “Joes” and evil humans who for generations have been creating weapons to sell to both sides.

In the current battle between good and evil, both sides have amazing technology. The Joes have suits of armor and weapons that give them super powers. The villains have mastered nanotechnology not only to create invincible and amoral soldiers, but warheads that can deploy millions of nanomachines capable of literally devouring a city.

The marketing genius that Hasbro carries into the film is the creation of sets of soldiers. Every child realizes that the strength of G.I. Joe is in his “army,” each soldier of which must be purchased and outfitted separately, like Barbie dolls for boys. The same is true of the villains they must fight.

This foundation allows the film to have opposing ensembles casts — each with their ninja, their leader, their scientist, their beautiful female and their sidekick. The imaginative play of the figures is enhanced as we become privy to their past, portrayed in flashbacks that explain why the ninjas hate one another, why the scientist is so mad, why the women are so complex and even why the leaders have propelled themselves into this conflict.

No stranger to action films, director Stephen Sommers wrote the screenplays for the The Scorpion King and The Mummy series.

Enlisting the help of Stuart Beattie (Pirates of the Caribbean series) and David Elliott (Four Brothers), Sommers pays tribute to actions films of the past in the dialogue, framing and special effects.

One of the more obvious examples is the fight between the ninjas. Fighting on a platform reminiscent of the battle between Obi-Wan Kenobe and the Sith Lord in Star Wars, in this film the evil ninja using a double-ended sword against the single blade of the Joe ninja.

The moral issues of war are avoided in the film. Instead, the action takes place in an imaginary world where the battle is not between normal soldiers of differing nations but between elite forces fighting mad scientists and egomaniacs. This is not so much a critique of the film as it is an acknowledgment that it’s an enacted cartoon rather than a significant film.

Discussion:

» If you knew there was a mad scientist taking over the world or wanting to destroy your city, would you enlist in our armed forces? What if the enemy is not so clearly defined? What is the threshold for you to become a soldier?

» The love relationship between Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ana (Sienna Miller) is not your typical love story. Would you have behaved as Duke did leaving his fiancé to face the tragedy alone? Would you have responded as her brother did?

» The ninjas were amazing in their abilities, all performed without technological enhancements. Did you find their hatred for each other believable? Why or why not?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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