G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra

This sci-fi actioner is based on a toy range of boys’ dolls (oh, sorry, ‘action figures’), and it’s shallow fun with plenty of gadgets, explosions, and gung-ho attitude which lefty types may not denounce as jingoistic because it’s impossible to take seriously, even when the macho superheroes fail (deliberately, in yet another of tinsel town’s Europhobic anti-French moments?) – something that these elite soldiers never do, we are told – to save the Eiffel Tower from destruction by a villain’s stolen nanotech weapon.

When most Hollywood starlets are either the ubiquitous catwalk and runway, red-carpet celebrity wannabes (a cull of the girlies is warranted, probably) and earnest stalkers of paparazzi, or B-listed pop stars (who all “look like porn” according to the observant Sheryl Crow) seeking a ‘career upgrade’, this movie boasts a couple of the more talented and promising American actresses. Sienna Miller (Stardust; star and ‘subject’ of Steve Buscemi’s Interview), is hell in tight leathers playing the devil girl from MARS – Anastasia ‘Ana’ DeCobray, alias the Baroness, while Rachel Nichols (a CIA agent in final season of TV show, Alias, 2006; a kidnap victim in thriller P2 – Parking Level 2, 2007), plays it cooler and rather less feisty as redhead commando Shana ‘Scarlett’ O’Hara on the heroes’ team.

Said heroes are, informally at least, under the field-ops command of Captain Duke Hauser (rather bland leading man Channing Tatum), who’s unfairly blamed by the Baroness for the death of her brother. The other heroes are identified only by lame code-names: Snake Eyes (Ray Park), Ripcord (Marlon Wayans), and Heavy Duty (oversized Brit, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, best known for his role as Eko in TV’s Lost).

Vengeful clansmen type, James McCullen (Christopher Eccleston), attempts world domination but only loses any last shred of humanity to become the arch-enemy of civilised rationality, Destro. Other baddies include Zartan (Arnold Vosloo, from the director’s Mummy films), and yet another dumb codename in Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun). Joseph Gordon-Levitt (best known as Tommy in 3rd Rock From The Sun) plays a vengeful mad scientist.

Weaponising the nanobots for use in a missile warhead requires a blaze of energy in a secret lab. Apparently, you cannot simply program them with code input from an ordinary computer. No, it has to look fantastically exciting, damnit! – Hence the wizardry of an OTT lightshow. Other visual effects to laugh at, or die for, include a secret base ‘the Pit’ beneath Egyptian deserts, and the bad guys’ underwater city at the North Pole, with its own submarine fleet outpost.

There’s significant use of holograms for tele-presence communications and special effects value. Of particular note is the intro for General Hawk (Dennis Quaid, who seems to have given up ‘acting’ for a living, and now just lends out his trademarked grinning or forlornly-gurning expressions for some profitable screen-time), where the two-dimensionality of the ‘character’ is emphasised, without much recognition of such telling irony. Never mind, there’s safety in numbness.

Jonathan Pryce plays the US President without really bothering to conceal his own Welsh accent, but none of this matters in a film where even high calibre munitions rates a significantly greater decimal number than the basic IQ required from your average viewer. A guilty pleasure, then, assuredly.

DVD extras: a director’s commentary (with producer Bob Ducsay), a making-of featurette titled The Big Bang Theory, plus Next Gen Action which looks behind the scenes at ‘amazing’ (read that as cartoonish CGI) visual effects and futuristic designs for the film.