If you enjoy a dearth of plot, incoherent fight sequences, implausible setups, and London being arbitrarily destroyed without comment, then you may enjoy this next venture into the world of toys made into movies.
We start with the now required “hook”, to make sure that once you have paid your money, got your popcorn, and sat down with your buddy (presumably you aren’t dumb enough to bring a real date to GI Joe when The Host is playing across the hall), that you aren’t bored to tears in the first eight minutes and decide to leave. Hint to studios…almost no one ever does this.
So, we have the Joes infiltrating some Asian camp to rescue an informant of some kind, who as far as I can tell provides no plot point. I don’t know, though, does this guy give the Joes the intel to get the warheads in Pakistan later on? I don’t think so. Whatever.
Expository graphic sequence (by Prologue Films who’s exceptionally talented artists must have been tired on this one) explains to us the whole plot of the last film, and introduces our new Joes and tells us what’s up in something reminiscent of the second half of a Happy Days two-parter when Pinky Tuscadero may have been killed in the Malachi Crunch.
Next Channing Tatum (Duke) and Dwayne Johnson (The Rock… err I mean RoadBlock) play Xbox, with Roadblock’s kids jumping around. Duke and ‘Block are friends. Uh-oh. Someone’s gonna die. And there are kids involved — probably not Dad who’s gonna die. They turn off the game, and CNN is covering some kind of kerfuffle in Somethingistan. I guess the elite military squad gets its info from Ted Turner.
The team is called in and sent to get some warheads. On the way in, we get to meet other some other Joes, and a new technology that allows for a camera on a bullet, so the bullet can be guided – I guess. BTW, this potential plot point is NEVER paid off after this battle scene.
The Joes get in, grab the warheads, and get out, with no casualties in the Joe team. Hurray! They go to extraction point, and while they wait to be extracted Duke and ‘Block have another bonding moment shooting a cupcake off of a post – just to seal the idea that they are friends, and that Roadblock is a sharpshooter with a chaingun – again…a plot point never paid off. Roadblock notices a firefly – plot point that IS revisited. Then! GASP! All of the expendable Joes are blown away by an aerial assault, including Duke!!!. NO!! The surviving Joes (Roadblock, Lady J, and Flint) hide in a well. From a storytelling standpoint, I see no metaphor or symbolism involved…just a “How can we get these guys to survive?” conversation during the screenplay development. Maybe because they have to use mutual cooperation to get out of the well? Is that the theme? Cooperation to overcome adversity? Maybe – as shall be deftly revealed in the StormShadow subplot.
Back home, The President (Zartan in disguise – remember from the last movie?), lets the nation know that the Joes betrayed them, and so they had to be taken out – I THINK he said, by the elite COBRA team. Did I mis-hear that? The only Joe at large is Snake-Eyes, who is been charged with the assassination of no one we really care about. Anyway, Zartan keeps the real President around in order to be able to provide key plot points in conversation. Things like… the Secret Service staff has been replaced by Cobra members who keep their identities secret by wearing Cobra pins on their lapels.
Let’s go to Germany, where Snake-Eyes has been captured and is being lead to a prison. What kind of prison? Well, we have a few hundred feet of elevator ride down toward the mantle of the Earth for the Brendan Buchard look-alike Warden to explain all of the reasons why Snake-Eyes will be unable to escape: armed guards, hundreds of feet down an elevator, so near the Earth’s mantle that the temperature would be hundreds of degrees if not kept to a cool 68 (again, plot point without a payoff), AND that Snake-Eyes will be kept in a James Cameron deep sea diving suit in an aquarium under drugs that keep you conscious, but prevent you from dreaming (or something like that). And his prison partners are Cobra Commander and Destro. But when they take off Snake-Eye’s mask…GASP!…its StormShadow!!! Why did StormShadow have to get caught disguised as Snake-Eyes? I dunno. Why didn’t they take off his mask BEFORE bringing him to the prison? I dunno. But what I DO know is that the Warden takes StormShadows ninja swords, and stores them RIGH T NEXT TO WHERE STORMSHADOW IS!!! I see a pattern: Setup interesting plot devices = never return to them. Setup moronic plot devices = always return to them.
Back to the desert. Our three Joes wander around. Roadblock provides exposition that they are on their own, and can’t call in because they’ve been compromised. They find a lone airstrip and with the simple words “We’re going home”, we can assume that they infiltrated the obviously military base, hopped on a C17, and got back to somewhere close to D.C. without incident. Kinda like Indiana Jones climbing on a submarine and riding it to a lonely island….when there are shots with the crew preparing to submerge. (BTW, in the novel adaptation, Indy lashes himself to the periscope with his whip…unlikely, but still an explanation)
Then, I think it’s back to Germany. Please forgive my mistakes in the timeline. It doesn’t make much a difference anyway since the plot is so convoluted.
Inside, StormShadow is now in his personal James Cameron diving suit. The villains share knowing glances in the form of extreme close ups. While up topside, a shadowy figure unleashes a swarm of mechanical fireflies, which flock to the prison gates. The shadowy form starts up his motorcycle and speeds toward the gate firing bullets and missiles and such to break through. The fireflies also explode, taking out the security team who weren’t busy on their side job of protecting suburban homes. And in one fell slow-motion swoop, our shadowy figure jumps from his motorcycle with a parachute, while the cycle disassembles into an arsenal of missiles that blow the doors of the prison entrance. Conveniently, down below, a security monitor is setup, turned toward Storm Shadow probably so he can catchup on Law and Order reruns during his internment. But fortunately for him, it shows him a firefly landing in front of the camera and exploding. Time for him to go into action. He closes his eyes, and being a ninja he lowers his heartrate. The lifesign alarms go off, and the doctors go into a panic because their deadly prisoner might be dying. They open the top of the aquarium and try to save the lethal assassin. Predictably, the first guy dies. The aquarium breaks, spilling everyone all over the place, and Storm Shadow takes out a few guards by throwing some kind of projectiles. I couldn’t tell what because the camera is moving so frenetically that you can’t see anything. But good thing the warden left those ninja swords there – because Storm Shadow needs ‘em. He dispatches guards, and breaks Cobra Commander free, who then proceeds to kill Destro – obviously we can’t have TOO many worthless villains who contribute nothing more than standing around and gloating. The Warden is freaking out because he was so glib and confident earlier. However, he manages to get the door closed and tells the guard to shoot whatever comes out. But, oops — the elevator door opens up and a grenade rolls out, blowing up guards and the Warden in all directions. The shadowy figure strides in and, GASP! Its ex-GI Joe Firefly!!! The guy with the exploding Fireflies!!! Called Firefly!!!. He meets up with StormShadow and Cobra Commander to stand around and discuss what their having for lunch or something –important dialog that really just gives the Warden with his last bit of life, the time to shoot the pipes around them, causing an explosion and injuring StormShadow.
Up above, the villains get out of the exploding prison, carrying StormShadow and loading him onto a truck that conveniently waits for them.
And who is watching from the woods? Why…it’s the real SnakeEyes. What’s he doing in Germany? Shouldn’t he be trying to track down surviving Joes? Why didn’t he take out all three guys right then and there – and then retire? So many questions.
And this is about the first third of the story. It just gets more silly from there.
Snakes-Eyes ends up back in Tokyo where he fights the lady ninja character, Jinx, cousin to StormShadow. I didn’t follow exactly why she has to fight him, nor why she has to fight him blindfolded. Some black, blind ninja guy, ironically named Blind Master, and played by RZA with the depth I would expect from a rap artist, talks all through the sequence about how they have to go and get StormShadow now that he’s injured. Probably somewhere in the dialog, it’s explained why he has to be taken to the Himalayas to a temple on the side of a cliff to heal from burns – but I missed it. Maybe I dozed off for a bit.
President Zartan meets with Cobra Commander about something called the Zeus weapon that they needed the Pakistan nuclear warhead for. I gather that it’s a big weapon of mass destruction of some sort. But again – missed the mundane details of Cobra Commander’s convoluted plan. At that point, Zartan informs them that drones in the Pakistani desert picked up voices – they MUST be surviving Joes. Firefly informs them that he will take them out.
The Joes made it back home!!! And they found street clothes!!! They walk down a bad part of town and are confronted by a gansta badass – who happens to be Roadblock’s cousin. He has setup a “safe house” kinda thing for the Joes to plan their attack. Here we get Roadblock’s critical background growing up skinny and poor, and ended up becoming The Rock. Later, we also get Lady J’s background of joining the military to spite her father’s opinion that the military is no place for a woman. I guess she showed him by getting into an elite military team — and then use her abilities to, say, bend over in running pants in front of political figures to lure them to be kidnapped by the other Joes. Or dress up in a brilliant red dress and bat her eyes at security guards to get into a Presidential event under the guide of being a correspondent for Fox News. Definitely a strong woman character who has earned her stripes. (He says sarcastically).
And Flint? What’s his backstory? Oh – he doesn’t get one.
Meanwhile – in the Himalayas. Storm Shadows is being healed. Looks like good ole fashion Shaolin magic isn’t enough. The monks have brought in some kind of modern, burn-healing apparatus. Nevermind that the temple probably doesn’t have a 220 outlet to plug into. And Snake-Eyes and Jinx are making their way up the mountains in a Dune Buggy. But WAIT! An incoming message on a channel that only the Joes know – and not anyone else higher in command…like, say…The President of the United States of America (aka Zartan). Lady J tells them that they are alive. Snake-Eyes is noticeably happy, as shown through an abrupt and curt turn of the head.
We get to see LadyJ use amazing feats of observation to assert that the President is not the President because he no longer uses the same verbal filler – and that he now places his left thumb over his right – rather than visa versa. However, she did NOT notice that the Secret Service guys have Cobra pins on their lapels. But only one thing can prove it — DNA evidence. This leads to the bending over and red dresses listed above. She dances with the President, gets a hair (despite Jonathan Pryce’s minimal amount of it), and then feeds the hair into a miniature DNA sequence reading machine, which comes up with ZARTAN! How Zartan – international villain and a master of disguise, managed to have his DNA sequence logged into the government database of DNA sequences, I don’t know. But I’m pretty positive that he would be the FIRST person to prevent such a thing happening. All of this is happening while the Cobra-pinned Secret Service are doing a facial analysis of LadyJ to identify her. So we get an increasingly tension filled scene of “who will be identified first?!?” Why isn’t LadyJ on THE top watch list for the Cobra people? It’s not like a woman flutters her eyes at me and I suddenly don’t know who she is. Why doesn’t she get the hair and get the heck out of there for further analysis later in the safety of their gym hideaway located in the ‘hood? Better to remain surrounded by enemy combatants dressed in a long red dress and heels.
Anyway, she somehow manages to vanish into an unguarded stairway and gets out, while Roadblock sits down an alley getting ready to assassinate President Zartan. But OH NO! Firefly foils the plan and gets into fistfight with Roadblock. Roadblock is on the ropes!!! And…Flint and LadyJ run Firefly over with an SUV. But being a badass ex-GI Joe guy, Firefly gets up and rides away on his motorcycle.
Meanwhile, in the Himalayas. StormShadow is all healed from the mix of ancient Chinese secret and modern medical equipment – and not a moment too soon, because Snake-Eyes and Jinx are hurling ninjas off the temple roof. StormShadow leaps into a hallway to faceoff with Snake-Eyes armed with an automatic weapon. In the face of such unbalanced odds, StormShadow goes for the closest match to automatic gunfire – throwing stars, which Snake-Eyes shoots and destroys in midair, using up valuable ammunition. The fight escalates into the required hand to hand ninja stuff as Jinx in the next room has to take out the old woman healer person – like HA HA! See!?!? She’s OLD! And DEADLY!! StormShadow and Snake-Eyes end up flying out the window, and StormShadow has the upper hand! He chokes Snake-Eyes in a chokehold that a 3rd grader could break out of. But perhaps Snake-Eyes didn’t get breakfast that morning and is little off. Fortunately for him, Jinx helps him out with a mask filled with knock-out gas. Whew. That was close. They wrap up the now unconscious StormShadow into a white body bag and prepare to leave. How? From this cliffside temple? We don’t know yet, but it’s probably going to be awesomely implausible. Surrounded by red ninjas, Snake-Eyes throws StormShadow’s swaddled up body over the edge of the bridge they trapped on. But it’s tethered to a wire that goes off through the mountain range. A chase ensues between Snake-Eyes and Jinx and a troop of Dr. Klan’s…I mean, Cobra’s ninjas who were equally as prepared as the Joes with carabineers and harnesses to slide down steel cables in the Himalayas. But that’s not enough, they get into a slow motion criss cross swinging fight on climbing ropes – BTW did I mention the ninjas also had enough foresight to bring along their explosive propelled grappling hooks? So, Jinx and Snake-Eyes swing back and forth, cutting the ropes of the other guys. I’m not sure how the ninjas that are preparing for the next swing didn’t see that their brethren were cut down or if they DID why they didn’t try to devise an alternative attack. Stupid ninjas. Anyway, Snake-Eyes fells everyone with a final, crushing blow by shooting an explosive into an overhanging snow cliff, causing an avalanche – enveloping himself and the ninjas in a cascade of snow and ice. Jinx looks on – for sure we have lost Snake-Eyes. But NO!!! Here he comes…swinging out of the fray, with the 180lb StormShadow under his arm. Whew! Again.
So, why do we need StormShadow? Let cut back to Tokyo with the Blind Master talking to StormShadow as the others watch, and through flashbacks, we reveal that in fact, it was NOT StormShadow who killed the Hard Master (watch the first GI Joe, if you dare) – an event which got him exiled from the Temple and caused him to become evil, join Cobra, and vow eternal vengeance on Snake-Eyes. But, in fact, it was none other than – ZARTAN, Master of Disguise!!! And evidently Master of Ninjitsu, too, because he was able to sneak up behind a Grandmaster in a temple filled with trained ninjas, assassinate said Master, and get away without anyone realizing it. I was unclear if StormShadow was JUST putting this together through the mundane and confusing dialog from the Blind Master, or if he ALWAYS knew, and never bothered to tell anyone, and was such a failure as a ninja that he’s been working for years with Cobra, nearly destroying the city of Paris, and continually fighting with Snake-Eyes, to try and get close enough to Zartan – and he NEVER was able to make that happen? What a frickin’ lame-o. But, now that the cat is out of the bag, all seems to have been forgiven, and StormShadow will work with the Joes to infiltrate Cobra – because THIS time, StormShadow will get close enough. No one thought to ask “Gee Storm, why didn’t you just say ‘Hey, I didn’t kill the Hard Master…this guy Zartan did’. We probably would have helped with your vowed vengeance…even if you are a douche.”
OK, so the Joes figure out the plan (with StormShadow’s help? I don’t remember). Cobra is going to get all the world leaders together in one place for a “summit” to discuss the issues. But the Joes know it’s a clever ruse by Cobra Commander to take over the world, so they have to develop the counter plan. StormShadow gets back into the Cobra group. I guess he knows where the Cobra guys are hanging out, but once again, doesn’t bother to tell the Joes so maybe they could prevent the plan moving forward BEFORE all the world leaders are trapped in one room together with Zartan and Cobra Commander. And on the Cobra side, no one said “Oh hi, StormShadow. Where the Hell have you been all this time? Last we saw you, Snake-Eyes and Jinx had escaped with your unconscious body. Anything you need to tell us?” But maybe Cobra Commander is an empathetic soul and has a soft spot in his heart for ninjas. His love will be his undoing.
The other part of the Joes plan is to elicit the help of the original G.I. Joe, Col. Joseph Colton played by Bruce Willis who is in so many movies this year that I think he and Nic Cage are in a competition. Fortunately for the Joes, Colton has an arsenal hidden away in his house, which is amazing since he alludes to being under surveillance and he is supposed to be retired. Plus, Colton asks if he can bring some of his friends along to help. Presumably, these guys are his original Joe troop, but we never really get to find out BECAUSE THEY ARE NEVER SHOWN AGAIN. Perhaps director Jon Chu saw how well Battleship worked out by trying to bring up nostalgia through having old, retired Naval guys kicking alien ass between taking their medication. Unfortunately for GI Joe – an elite team of military operatives called G.I. Joe NEVER EXISTED…so there is no one to feel nostalgic about it, except for the children who grew up playing with GI Joes.
Anyway – LadyJ and Colton will save the real President in the President’s secret bunker. Flint will do crunches and planking or something. And Roadblock will blast through sand and brush on a vehicle mounted with guns that they obtained somewhere despite being on the run from the military, and he’ll take out the Cobra tank/ATV/things that surround the bunker that the world leaders will be trapped in because StormShadow didn’t reveal the Cobra hideout beforehand.
Really – a perfect plan.
So – the “summit” begins, and when they are all locked inside, President Zartan asks all of them to destroy all of their nuclear weapons. When they don’t, he launches all of the U.S. nuclear missiles – from his briefcase. Technology is wonderful, right? This forces the others to launch theirs in a childish and simplistic action of mutually assured destruction. Then President Zartan destroys all the US ones before they hit their targets, which pushes everyone else to destroy all of theirs because who wants to be the bad guy? And there are some jabs at North Korea. Haha, right?! Between this, Olympus Has Fallen, Red Dawn, and Tomorrow When the War Began, North Korea really needs a new PR guy. Anyway…You know what, guys? In reality, of all the countries in the world, Papua New Guinea would be represented in this room before North Korea. — Back to the story: All of this happens from their briefcases. That’s a lot of power in a Samsonite to not have failsafes in place. So there you have it. Problem solved. No more nukes. Yay! But WAIT!!! President Zartan has something up his sleeve!!! Cobra Commander walks down into the bunker, now ready to take over. The world leaders are aghast! But what can they possibly do now that their warheads are destroyed!!?? Cobra Commander proclaims to be King Of The World. Cobra flags are draped from the White House like there is some Cobra color guard waiting for their cue. And then the ultimate plan for Zeus is revealed. There are seven satellites above key points around the world. Each holds a kinetic bombardment weapon which will simply drop, and through its potential energy (real physics term, people. Look it up), it can destroy an entire city without explosives. I don’t think anyone questions him, but just in case someone MIGHT, Cobra Commander lets one loose and destroys London. What does he want?!?! Cobra Commander snarls, “EVERYTHING!” I really don’t know what that means. I don’t know if anyone in the story knows what it means. Does Cobra Commander really want to take on the responsibility of all the people of the world? At least Hitler has nationalism going for him – he thought he was doing what was best for the German people. If Cobra Commander had a moustache, he would definitely be twirling it about now.
So, before I guide us into the Act 3 climax, I have to ask. WHY DID THEY NEED THE NUCLEAR WARHEAD FROM PAKISTAN??? Why were the Joes sent to get it? If it was a ploy to get all the Joes in one place for easy annihilation, then why was the warhead brought to Cobra’s hideout where Zeus was being built? Why was it loaded onto Zeus? How is this operation even financially or logistically taking place? Where did Cobra Commander get all these resources? How did they launch seven Zeus devices into orbit without any of the other countries noticing what was going on? But let’s look past these plot holes and get into the finale.
StormShadow goes into action taking out the red ninja guys. Flint, Snake-Eyes and Jinx break in and help out. But not before Cobra Commander activates all the Zeuses and then gives the controlling suitcase to Firefly for safe keeping. And Zartan escapes into the basement. How Snake-Eyes and Jinx can take out a Shaolin Temple full of Ninjas (and yes, I know that Shaolin is Chinese and Ninjas are Japanese – but talk to the freakin screenwriters), and then not be able to stop three ridiculously insubstantial villains is beyond me. But that’s how it goes.
Meanwhile, up above, Roadblock is blowing away the Cobra tank things. And somewhere not too far away, LadyJ and Colton infiltrate the President’s bunker to save the real President, where they shoot lots of people and end up in a Mexican standoff with Head Cobra-Pin Secret Service guy who is using the President as a shield. You know what would be the perfect thing for this situation? The guided bullet with the camera in it that was introduced early in Act 1. But no…LadyJ just shoots the guy THROUGH the President’s shoulder.
StormShadow finds Zartan and avenges the death of Hard Master, and makes Arnold Vosloo (the REAL Zartan) earn his day’s pay by shifting back to his original form in death. Then StormShadow disappears into the dark to be a douche on another day.
Cobra Commander escapes in a helicopter, while Roadblock sees Firefly with the briefcase. I’m sure someone clued Roadblock in on the importance of the briefcase, but regardless, there is payback to be had. They get in a tussle, hitting each other and kicking each other’s guns around. Then the chase continues on boats. Roadblock has a chaingun – JUST LIKE THE ONE HE USED TO SHOOT A CUPCAKE FROM A HUNDRED YARDS!!!. But no, he can’t hit a 6 foot 2, two hundred twenty pound man. So he gives chase on another boat with big guns, and finally blows up Firefly’s boat. But Firefly gets to shore. All the while, the countdown is still going on and the Zeus things are going to drop stuff on unsuspecting cities. Needless to say, Roadblock prevails, actually BLOWS UP Firefly with one of his own explosive fireflies – probably a safety oversight on Firefly’s part. And then saves the world by stopping the countdown just before release — which causes all the Zeuses to EXPLODE!!! Probably one of the most common physics oversights in sci-fi films outside of sound in space, but when GI Joe can get away with sinking icebergs in the first film…whatareyagonnado? So we’ll overlook the explosion in space stuff, but I can’t overlook that in the design of the Zeus, someone didn’t say, “Hmmm, what happens if someone shuts it down at the last minute? According to these specs, the whole thing will explode. Is that going to be OK?”
Anyway. World saved. Joes are forgiven by the real President and given medals for their duties. Joseph Colton gives Roadblock his cherished General Patton M1911 pistol for when Roadblock finds Cobra Commander. I get it. If you shoot someone with a gun that has some symbolic weight to it, they will be deader. So what does Roadblock do with said cherished weapon? He pulls it out and fires one shot for his dead comrades. Now, I’m no gun collector or aficionado, but would you keep that gun loaded?
And what about the ten million dead people in London? Meh…who cares?
So there you have it. Tens of thousands of screenplays registered to the WGA each year, and this is what Paramount decides to drop $130M on – and probably more with the delayed release and the 3D conversion. Currently, it’s brought in $325M worldwide, so it’s just about hitting the breakeven point. If they had released it closer to summer – like when real blockbusters are hitting, it wouldn’t have had a chance. I hope nothing come of it. I don’t want to deal with StormShadow again and how he needs a new vendetta. Or Cobra Commander to come onscreen for 3 minutes and say things with a raspy voice. Or really, such convoluted plots that audiences just succumb to the madness and say “Alright, it makes no sense, but that was one cool explosion”
The production value is obviously through the ceiling. Lots of movie lighting. Stuntwork is impressive. Fight choreo was fun, but a bit absurd. I’m sure that costumed-martial-arts-goto-guy Ray Park (SnakeEyes, Darth Maul, Headless Horseman, Toad) contributed quite a bit. The set pieces are so out of control, they needed the talent from Industrial Light & Magic, Digital Domain, Method, Luma Pictures, BaseFX, Level256, and LolaVFX (probably to make Bruce Willis look young enough to be shooting an automatic weapon from the back of a spinning pickup truck) — in order to accomplish all the work. And then it was passed to StereoD for the 3D Conversion. I didn’t see this in stereo and my eyes thanked me for it afterwards. The camera work was so haphazard and frenetic that I don’t think I could bear to deal with it in stereo. I nearly couldn’t handle it in 2D.
I heard somewhere that producer Roger Birnbaum wasn’t sure if another GI Joe was in the cards, but he wouldn’t mind making a GIJoe/Transformers mashup. To which I scream, “NOOOOOO!!!! For the love of all that is holy!!!!”