The Riff: Why 'G.I. Joe' Could Be a 'Game'-Changer
Paramount refused to screen "G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra" for most mainstream movie critics and now I have a pretty good idea why. "G.I. Joe" is not a movie.
Oh, "G.I. Joe" has all the recognizable traditional markings of a movie -- from "actors" (Dennis Quaid is one of the few who's given enough hammy dialogue to chew a little scenery, deliciously so) to nods to "character development" and backstory -- but really, that is only camouflage. The "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise may consist of good to great movies based on a ride, but "Joe" (a comic based on a toy) IS a ride. The breakneck movie is more enjoyable if you stop thinking of it as a movie (we can only pretend to care about even a single character here) and appreciate it for what it is: a $175 million visual videogame (sans joystick).
Perhaps like no movie since "Tron" (the '80s film that will be revisited on big screens next year) has a major film felt like such a videogame ride -- yet the great Jeff Bridges still was given time to emote in "Tron." "G.I. Joe" has minor elements of "Star Wars" and a few scenes are "Top Gun"-on-steroids, but mostly, the onslaught is like one gaming field after another that makes "Terminator" seems like Merchant/Ivory. It's devoid of emotion, and as one character says early on, illuminating her worldview: We're not dealing in emotions here. And that's perfectly fine as empty popcorn entertainment -- because that's exactly what it aspires to be.
Obviously, the masses don't require depth if the hyperspeed ride is cool enough -- for the opening weekend at least. Worldwide box office exceeded $100 million, and "Joe" grossed more than $55 million in North America. Call it a case of "Wii, the People."
On the heels of "Transformers" -- which received such scathing early reviews -- maybe this summer eventually will prove to be a game-changer. This is the season that a few studios may show that the need for character development in a successful sci-fi actioner is at all-time low. A breakneck pace and tsunamis of visual CGI are apparently their own near-indestructible material if expertly deployed -- and what's different is that these films now seriously threaten the box office records of a Spidey, Darth Vader or a Dark Knight, let alone a lethal iceberg (all films or franchises that made character development a compelling element). We've blasted through a new threshhold, and one of the next big tests will be Roland Emmerich's "2012," which in 20 minutes of footage screened at San Diego Comic-Con appeared to be a nonstop CGI-gasm of apolcalyptic effects -- but the overall effect bordered on campy.
For now: "G.I.," we hardly know ye, and yet -- like much of our social networking and cable news -- we seem to prefer it that way. Motto: Keep movin' -- there's only something to see here.
| August 10, 2009; 2:35 PM ET
Categories: Superheroes, The Riffs
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