The year is 1641. We open in France, where confusingly, everyone is speaking English. A Scottish man has been caught selling weapons to enemies of Louis XIII, and as punishment is forced to wear a red-hot iron mask forever. Cut to “the not too distant future”, where the man’s descendant, Christopher Eccleston, is presenting a lecture about newly weaponised flying metal bugs to some Nato employees. “Originally developed to isolate and kill cancer cells, at MARS industries we discovered how to program nanomites to do almost anything. For example … eat metal”. It turns out “nanomites” can also be injected into rocket warheads, and thus the back story and premise of GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra is explained in less than a minute.
The opening sets the tone for the film that follows – speedy, irony-free B-movie action nonsense, delivered to you with the efficiency of a Big Mac on a Friday night And if it requires Christopher Eccleston to do a PowerPoint presentation so we can get on with watching helicopters blow up in slow motion, then dammit Christopher Eccleston will do a PowerPoint. On top of which, this particular Big Mac is filled with … Channing Tatum.
Despite his previous acting highlights including the Step Up dance movies and grinding topless in the background of the video for Ricky Martin’s She Bangs, when asked about GI Joe in an interview in 2012, Channing Tatum said, “I fucking hate that movie.” Luckily for us, in 2009 Channing Tatum did a three-movie deal with Paramount and was forced to accept the GI Joe role to avoid being sued.
Despite his dislike of the film, Channing Tatum is still Channing Tatum and both he and his massive arms give it their all – and he has gone to the Michael Bay School of Turning Around in Slow Motion While Holding a Machine Gun. After turning around slowly, he and his partner Marlon Wayans load some nanomite warheads into a jeep, refer to a group of muscular male soldiers as “ladies” and tell them to “mount up”. Strap in, everyone.
What follows is a plot of such madness and a cast of characters so enormous (IMDb lists 144 in total) it’s understandable that it required a PowerPoint to set it up. The truck is ambushed by Channing Tatum’s ex-girlfriend, Sienna Miller, and after a lengthy fight in which several members of elite army unit GI Joe parachute in to save the day, Tatum and Wayans are transported to an underground base in the Egyptian desert to participate in a training montage soundtracked by the UK band Bus Stop’s dance rap cover of T-Rex’s Get It On. (Fun fact: Bus Stop were fronted by rapper and professional football manager Darren “Daz” Sampson, who went on to represent Britain in 2006’s Eurovision Song Contest.) Channing Tatum wins a gladiatorial pugil stick fight with GI Joe’s resident masked ninja, Snake Eyes, and to celebrate the boys all take their tops off.
A semi-naked Marlon Wayans attempts to charm one of the Joes (they are collectively referred to as “Joes”) confusingly named Scarlett O’Hara, as she jogs on a treadmill while reading a book about quantum physics. (It is not clear why she needs to read a book about quantum physics when her job is beating people up – don’t worry about it.) Tatum puts on something called a Delta 6 accelerator suit and travels to Paris to stop Sienna Miller blowing up the Eiffel Tower, before charging around the Champs-Élysées running after tanks, jumping through bus windows and flipping over Renault Méganes. Joseph Gordon Levitt appears to explain cobras to everyone using a CGI snake in a glass box (“They are vicious”). Chaos reigns.
Writer/director Stephen Sommers was also in charge of both The Mummy and the 90s B-movie classic Deep Rising, and although in comparison GI Joe contains a more noughties post-Transformers fixation on guns and machinery than those two films, there is a similar air of fun, unapologetic action campness throughout. If you’re happy to suspend your disbelief to its very limits and relax into 1 hour and 58 minutes of revolving door cast, plot delivered via flashbacks and laughably hammy dialogue, plus Channing Tatum blowing things up in slow motion – this is the film for you. And give me that kind of Big Mac silliness over po-faced “serious” blockbuster action, any day of the week.