Solider is one of the few jobs that make sense to a six-year-old. If your noun can be a verb – if your job implies an action – it has kid-appeal. That’s why Army Men are popular at playtime and Accountant Men stay in their original packaging. Accountancy, like most office work, is a profession that ill-suits six-year-olds. Sitting at a desk can only engage the mind for so long. But to be in the army! Think of it the way a small person does: a) you shout; b) you shoot at stuff; c) everyone gets a gun. No wonder G.I. Joe is catnip for kids. The new movie may even reacquaint a few office drones with their inner child.
It begins with two guys called Duke and Ripcord. They are Soldiers. The kind of guys Demi Moore was thinking of in A Few Good Men when she said, “They stand on a wall. And they say ‘Nothing’s gonna hurt you tonight. Not on my watch’.” Men of honour: memorial-ready. Duke and Ripcord are assigned to guard a Top Secret weapons convoy. But they’re ambushed! The evil “Cobra” organisation (which you’d think would be an acronym) wants the Top Secret weapons. Outgunned and perhaps slightly turned-on by their enemies (one of Cobra’s operatives is a former girlfriend of Duke); the boys are saved by the intervention of G.I. Joe, the most special of Special Ops.
As someone who watched G.I. Joe: The Movie in 1987 and promptly forgot most of it, I can’t claim to have known much going in, but G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is easier for non-converts than the Transformers movies. Embracing dualism, the essence of the Joe universe is that for every goodie there must be a baddie (who will dress according to who they’re supposed to fight). So the good girl must fight the bad girl, the good ninja must fight the bad ninja, and only General Hawk can fight Cobra Commander. The good guys are the ones trying to stop the bad guys. The bad guys (in a detail Carl Jung would have savoured) are the ones who wear masks.
A typical action sequence in G.I. Joe involves swords, guns, lasers, zombies, robots, explosions and a pretty red-haired girl. It’s made to a small boy’s priorities, but that’s not to say it isn’t fun. At its manic best, G.I. Joe captures the fervent excitement of waving plastic figurines at each other – the fate of the world being decided on your bedroom carpet – as Duke and his band of heroes go pow-pow-pow and the bad guys fall down. When the Eiffel Tower crashes into the Seine after being partially consumed by nanomites (they’re bad – does the rest matter?), the scene has far more to do with the joy of fireworks than international terrorism.
Channing Tatum plays Duke like a guy with a talking pull-string in his back, but it would be tough to see any other way to play him. He’s a toy. His back story is an assembly line in China. The love of his life is called The Baroness. She wears heels into battle. Duke’s friends are a blind ninja and a buxom red-head who shoots guys with a crossbow. They work out of an underground bunker in the Sahara desert. To accuse Tatum of bad acting is like accusing R2D2 of not beeping convincingly. Ok, Sienna Miller has more fun as The Baroness, but her costume is a rubber cat-suit – and she knows karate. When Miller stops in the middle of a gun-fight to compliment a woman’s shoes, she deserves her own Oscar category.
Sadly, women have no interest in G.I. Joe. Even Sienna probably rolled her eyes as she read of how The Baroness learned karate from an evil ninja called Storm Shadow. To women, G.I. Joe is like a farting contest; mortifying, pre-adolescent. When a man says, “Do you want to watch a G.I. Joe movie?” a woman feels let down. Not that she’s wrong to think this way. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra would not be best described as “adult”. What I would argue, however, is that if men (and six-year-olds) can find something to whoop about in G.I. Joe, maybe girls should try it. This movie dares you not to have fun.