Don't get me wrong. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra isn't exactly high art. It's not Citizen Cane. It's not The Dark Knight and it sure as hell ain't Saving Private Ryan. At the same time, it never pretends to be, and that's what makes it good. The producers of G.I. Joe set out to make a light and fun summer action movie and that's exactly what they achieved.
I was wary about this movie from the get go. First of all, there was the director: Stephen Sommers. This is the guy responsible for Van Helsing, a mangled attempt at a movie so bad that it made me forget that his previous films, The Mummy and The Mummy Returns were actually enjoyable. (Not great, but enjoyable). Then there was the initial trailer, which showed soldiers in mech suits charging through Paris, and the character Snake Eyes flipping off of cars flying through the air. It looked a bit too Matrix-ish.
However, they picked a good cast. Sienna Miller, Christopher Eccleston and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were all unquestionably good actors beforehand. (All play bad guys incidentally). As for the Joes, Ray Park (a.k.a. The Phantom Menace's Darth Maul,) was a genius casting choice as the mute martial arts expert, Snake Eyes. Yes, Marlon Wayans may have given us White Chicks, Scary Movie and Little Man, but most people forget he was also in Requiem For a Dream and the Cohen Brothers movie The Ladykillers. As for Channing Tatum, I'd never seen one of his movies before, but he had the look about him of somebody who could play Duke without trying to be the archetypical "American Badass."
And believe me, the cast delivered. Joseph Gordon-Levitt clearly was having a ball as Cobra Commander, but more importantly, Byung-hun Lee gave a pretty standout performance as Storm Shadow. He just had a really commanding screen presence that suggests he might be one of those rare actors who can do kick-ass martial arts and act at the same time.
With such a large cast, they actually did a pretty good job of balancing out the characters. Unlike the Transformers movies which introduced a large cast of robots but left most of the action to Bumblebee, Optimus Prime and a pair of outdated black stereotypes, (it's fair to argue that the aliens in The Phantom Menace really aren't flimsy stereotypes, but Transformers was pretty cut and dry,) G.I. Joe seems to give all the characters the amount of screen time they deserve, good and bad guys alike. I didn't walk away thinking things like, "Okay, you introduce Storm Shadow, and he's awesome on screen for a whole five minutes, then he's gone." (If you saw Wolverine: Origins, and you like Deadpool, you know what I'm talking about.)
The special effects may have been a bit too CGI heavy, but I was genuinely surprised that they took the time to craft a decent plot. Come on, Van Helsing was clearly Stephen Sommers telling the crew he wanted to make a movie involving Dracula, Frankenstein and a werewolf, and that they'd figure out the details as they went along, and I was kind of expecting that sort of mentality with this one. Instead the story was one that I'd probably go see even if it didn't feature the G.I. Joe characters. It captures the fun of having cutting edge technology and massive strongholds in exotic locales without letting you dwell on the absurdity of it.
Also, unlike Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen it actually crossed the producers' minds that since this movie is based on a line of children's toys, it might make sense to make the movie family friendly. Yes, people get killed on screen, and yes there is swearing, but at least it's not littered with sex and drug references like those that plagued the Transformers movies.
Overall, I was pleased. It delivered pretty much all that it promised. Odds are I'll probably catch it again in theaters and maybe even buy it on DVD.
Oh and as for that scene in Paris where they're wearing the mech suits (seen in the trailer) it was actually pretty good. I was worried it might be the equivalent of nipples on the Batsuit or James Bond getting an invisible car. Instead it fit the plot well, and thankfully it's the only time in the movie they put those suits on. Also, at the end of the day it is based on a line of action figures, so if it doesn't distract from the plot then go ahead, let the producers throw in extra costumes so the kids will have to buy Accelerator Suit Duke and regular Duke.