Inspired by a line of stirringly patriotic ’60s action figures and directed by Stephen Sommers (Van Helsing), G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra had every indication of being the runt in 2009’s blockbuster litter. Which only proves that in Hollywood, as with politics, lowered expectations can often be a blessing in disguise. Context and a generally lackluster summer season benefit this franchise-pilot-cum-military-recruitment-advertisement to a large degree: Coming on the heels of such DOA fare as X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Terminator Salvation, this gung ho popcorn flick feels positively visceral.
Imagine Team America: World Police played (fairly) straight: In the near future, a high-tech team of globe-trotting crime fighters is pitched against the deadly forces of a murderous Scottish arms dealer (Eccleston) and the dastardly, reptilian-themed terrorist organization known as Cobra. Our heroes include a walking, brooding buzz cut named Duke (Tatum), Marlon Wayans in prime Goofy Black Sidekick mode, and Dennis Quaid kicking ass and taking names as the squad’s commander, Hawk.
The plot, you ask? It’s little more than a 12-year-old’s action-movie wish list: wisecracking heroes fighting foxy, leather-clad babes and hideously scarred bervillains; world-threatening weapon technology; wholesale destruction of international landmarks. But the set pieces are put together with such invention and verve—notably a globe-spanning climax involving ninjas, nanobots and a fighter jet that speaks Celtic (!)—that challenging the film’s full-frontal assault eventually becomes an exercise in futility. Perhaps it’s best to just go with the flow, Joe.—Tom Huddleston