G.I. Joe

Special effects are half the production value

Any movie that’s produced by a toy company is worth about as much as the poster its tagline is printed on. Still, action flicks like this one keep on raking in audiences, like me and the guys, summer after summer. Pretty soon, if you’re like me, they start drawing you in based on the American nostalgia they offer.

Here’s my recommendation: if you’re in for an explosive mind-dump with the gamut of guns and gadgets that will make every action star from Rambo to Bond drool with envy, this one is for you. Even so, do yourself a favor and wait for the rental. Even though there’s great comedy and lovably implausible action, this one is John Woo meets Hasbro, and the plot has enough holes in it to make you think the lead characters used it for target practice.

Okay, so the movie’s actually directed by Jon M. Chu – known for dancing movies, even a Bieber picture. Still, the basic tenants of the mindless action movie-zen are all present; throw in a dash of ninja, a rapper-monk, knife throwing Asian witchdoctor, and both of Dwayne Johnson’s biceps (separately billed) and you’ve got yourself a cheesy-and-loving it blockbuster. Even the actors could hardly contain their laughter in some of these scenes, but that’s all part of the draw.

So why does a movie-blogger who mines film for allegory walk into a movie based on a cartoon based on action figurines?

Guys night out.

It’s just that simple. But that says something in itself, doesn’t it? Why is it that these movies will always find a demographic? Why am I entertained by this?

I’m no rapper-monk, but it seems to me guys will always admire the action stars of the summer blockbuster, like G.I. Joe, because the hero knows what to do in every situation. We love the protagonist who’s quiet and stolid, whose self-confidence so rattles his enemies they feel their own manhood is threatened just to be in the same town that’s inevitably too small.

…and there it is; my projections onto the hero of the silver screen, the man who can do it all isn’t troubled with the obstacles of every day life, his problems are just too big for that.

But before I denigrate too harshly, let us consider the truly admirable qualities of the Joes. While nobody will actually credit G.I. Joe for keeping them drug-free, the characters of the movie I saw are the kind of men whose focus inevitably keeps their lives structured around family and core values, the flip side of the macho-hero coin. Despite what their heavily tough-guy-leaning call-signs indicate, Roadblock and Duke are shown as good family men. Duke is “Uncle Duke” to Roadblock’s kids, a man who is a great leader and trustworthy friend.

The character development all but disintegrates from these early scenes that show the personal relationships, which are only there to make us hate Cobra all the more when he starts killing Joes. But the very fact that such a movie would take even a couple minutes to develop the main characters, especially considering the effort put into the plot, tells us something about the action hero. Apparently Hollywood, for all its flaws still recognizes that audiences want a man of action to be a man of principle. Leave the cunning and manipulation to the anti-hero, the man of intrigue. The one-dimensional characters are the type who just get the job done. Like the Forest Gumps of the shoot-em-ups, the action movie star is just too simple to see the gray areas. They’re unwillingness to be persuaded that things aren’t always what they seem, that the bad guy just needs a hug actually makes them a force to be reckoned with. Their straight-forward vision of right and wrong is so intensely focused, even the plot conforms to it. But they’re also deeply compelled to do what is right by their fellow man, they lead by their example, without even noticing what is in their wake: a following. And that I think is an enviable trait. It seems Hollywood believes something else; that one film is too small for the action hero in the world of gray areas. Does that reflect the belief of our culture today, or do we hope it will?

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