Finally, after a yawn inducing summer, we get a big-budget popcorn flick worthy of escapist fun. “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” has been vastly underestimated. The film is action packed, moves like a breeze, and has the guts to be a little daring. I honestly did not know what to expect from the trailer, but director Stephen Sommers has returned to the form that made “The Mummy” so enjoyable. He creates a wide spectacle, but never loses the fact that G.I Joe is character driven; and good character work can make up for a lot of shortfalls in an action film.

Here’s the spoiler-free gist of the plot. Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) are ambushed taking four warheads to NATO. These warheads contain a nano-virus that eats metal and is pretty much unstoppable once released. The attackers have futuristic vehicles and weaponry that shred the military convoy. They are led by the Baroness, an ass-kicking, burn-your-eyeballs hot Sienna Miller. The men are saved by another futuristic unit that fights off the marauders - Scarlet (Rachel Nichols), Snake Eyes (Ray Parks), Breaker (Said Taghmaoui), and Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). They take Duke and Ripcord to a secret base under the Egyptian desert. There they meet General Hawk (Dennis Quaid), who explains that G.I. Joe is a covert force made up of ten nations to combat the world’s most dangerous threats. They will need all of their skills and weaponry to face Cobra, a powerful and formidable opponent led by a ruthless villain.

G.I. Joe is a wall to wall action flick. These scenes are a frenzy of violence, huge in scope and intense. The Joes engage Cobra on land, sea, and air with a mélange of high tech contraptions. But that’s not the kicker. The special effects pale in comparison to the fierce hand-to-hand combat. Ray Parks (Snake Eyes) and Byung-hun Lee (Storm Shadow) will take you to ninja school. Their fight scenes are fantastic, master warriors fighting to the brutal death with fists and blades. Stephen Sommers understands that G.I. Joe has to be violent, but can be measured in a way that does not disappoint. For example, many characters die horribly. Heads get blown off, swords pierce bodies, necks get broken by the dozen; but it is not bloody or lascivious. Sommer’s doesn’t want the film to be too cartoonish or hardcore. He actually nails a perfect tone and it is tremendously entertaining.

I had a deep fear of the ‘accelerator suits’ I’d seen in the trailers. They looked like a bad rehash of all the CGI motion capture we’ve been inundated with since “The Matrix”. The good news is that the suits are only used twice in the film, and both are for situations that needed the Joes to wear them. So they’re not running around with superhuman abilities at all. That would have been terrible, and Sommers was smart enough to understand this.

There’s an overload of intricacy to the plot. I won’t get into it, but there’s really too much going on and it is pretty convoluted. I’m sure I could drive trucks through some of the plot lines, but it’s not worth over-thinking a popcorn flick. The essence of the film is very much like the cartoon was in the eighties - a bunch of good guys fighting a bunch of bad guys with cool gadgets. The characters are similar, except that Ripcord is black, and the Joes are multi-national; not the all-American heroes we grew up on. Hopefully we’re at a societal point where that doesn’t bother anyone. I think the scriptwriters may take some heat for copying some aspects from Star Wars, but I can’t fault them for trying. G.I. Joe is the fun ride that Transformers should have been. The summer ends on a high note. Not to be missed in the theater.

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