The movie will be a modern telling of the "G.I. Joe vs. Cobra" storyline and its compelling characters that Hasbro created 25 years ago. The premise of this fantasy is the story of the G.I. Joe team, led by Duke, and their "fight for freedom wherever there is trouble" against the evil Cobra Commander and his Cobra force. This storyline was an instant hit with kids in the early 1980s, spawning a highly popular 3-3/4-inch action figure line, comic book collection and animated series. The G.I. Joe team will not be based in Brussels. Instead, they will be based out of the "Pit" as they were throughout the 1980s comic book series. And, in keeping with the G.I. Joe vs. Cobra fantasy, the movie will feature characters and locations from around the world. Duke, the lead character and head of the G.I. Joe team, will embody the values of bravery and heroism that the first generation of G.I. Joe figures established.

So bad it's destined to be a classic in the 'toy-vie' genre.

I hope this toys-into-movies trend – the 'toy-vies’ genre, if you will – is here to stay. The creativity it displays, as Hollywood’s great minds breathe life into the legless lumps of plastic that have been rotting in our parents’ garages for 30 years – well, it’s inspiring.

There have been a couple of false starts along the way. Dolph Lundgren was improbably cast as the hulking, monosyllabic mass of muscle, He-Man in an early attempt at toyvie stardom, Gary Goddard’s 1987 drama Masters Of The Universe (which Goddard – with two 'd’s! – followed with Hershey’s Really Big 3-D Show, an ill-fated attempt at creating a 'sweet-vie’ franchise). Those slutty tween dolls, Bratz, mused on the existential complexities of live-action existence, but their efforts were underseen by an ignorant public. And the first Transformers movie was a huge hit, it faltered by introducing smatterings of humour, a modicum of originality and a vaguely engaging set of human characters. Things got back on track with the sequel – without overstating its accomplishments, watching it was like being bludgeoned with a giant glo-stick.

The artistic water mark for toyvies had been set.

Stephen Sommers has embraced the ideology of the toyvie genre in his earlier films with some dexterity. The absence of believable dialogue and liberal use of cheesy effects, were all up there in his Mummy films, but the thoroughly-likable pairing of Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz made them frustratingly enjoyable. He nailed it with Van Helsing, though – a film so magnificently grating and transcendentally incomprehensible, kids were scouring the internet to find some evidence of retro Van Helsing dolls and whether there were any listed on eBay. More fool them – Sommers created Van Helsing without any 'Made in China’ backstory. (Note – Van Helsing dolls did follow the release of the movie, but that comes under the grossly commercial definition of 'merchandise’).

Thus it was inevitable that Stephen Sommers would get a crack at a big-budget toy-vie and he embraces all the traits with his convulsively twitchy $200million version of the crusading man-Barbie, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.

Sommers has taken some liberties. His G.I. Joe is an acronym (so the title of the movie is wrong, for starters): Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity. It is a covert military division operating from a base deep within the earth’s bowels (appropriately) that has been created to identify, seek out and immobilise threats to global peace. Essentially, it’s Thunderbirds in leather; Team America with fewer facial expressions. Led by General Hawk (Dennis Quaid, barely hiding his contempt for the material), the crack G.I.J.O.E. team comprises Duke (Channing Tatum), Ripcord (comic relief Marlon Wayans), Breaker (Saïd Taghmaoui ), Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Scarlett (Rachel Nichols).

Just when the sexist banter and muscly posturing reaches its unbearable nadir, the evil organisation Cobra (not an acronym, but I came up with a few as the movie dragged on) captures and unleashes a deadly warhead, carrying nano-technology devices that consume matter at an alarming rate. Targeting Paris, the nano-bots destroy the Eiffel Tower in the film’s major action setpiece that is both epic and indecipherable as a piece of over-produced filmmaking.

As is usually the case, the seething bad guys make for far more 'interesting" onscreen characters than the heroes. Chief amongst them is Sienna Miller’s The Baronness. Sommers, no doubt with an eye towards the key demographic his film must impress to score big in the U.S., loves his women clad in top-to-toe leather, however impractical it must be for everyday evil-doing. Like Van Helsing’s Kate Beckinsale before them, Miller and Nichols (her beaming presence the film’s one redeeming factor) collectively up the va-va-voom factor, but their wardrobe has no discernable logic beyond the obvious.

And so it goes. Undersea explosions, pulse cannons, occasional glimpses of backstory that tie all the characters together, however implausibly. Sommers’ worthless film, like a diet version of a Michael Bay offering, is entirely jingoistic and surprisingly violent, far moreso than the 80s comic book series upon which much of the film’s mythology is based. The original Joe doll was born out of the Vietnam conflict, a piece of plastic propaganda designed by its manufacturers Hasbro to get the nation’s kids back onside in the face of mounting public discontent.

Jeez, listen to me. I momentarily forgot that this is a toy-vie! All considerations – moral, ethical, artistic, intellectual – should never encroach upon the ethos of the toy-vie. This is a commercial, remember!! I am never this tough on Georgie Parker and her Zoot Review spots, so nor should I be on Stephen Sommers and his two-hour Hasbro pitch. Enjoy, and bring your money with you...


In Cinemas 06 August 2009,
Thu, 10/07/2010 - 11