There’s no doubting that GI Joe is meant to be a Big Dumb Movie. I enjoy Big Dumb Movies (probably little too much...I enjoyed Doom, for crying out loud). I can’t say that I’d been especially excited for GI Joe, knowing nothing of the toys or the media franchises, but thought it certainly looked pretty dumb. Then, out of nowhere, positive responses start appearing online and suddenly I wonder if maybe this could be a rare beast – a Big Dumb Movie that’s actually good.
The answer to that is no, it isn’t a Big Dumb Movie that’s good. It’s big, certainly, and very, very dumb. I know that films like that aren’t designed to have their glossy surfaces scratched, but if the film isn’t entertaining me, then that’s what I’ll do – and I won’t like what I find. Before I get to my major gripe with the film – the portrayal of women – there’s plenty else to complain about.
For an action movie, there’s not as much action as one would hope. There’s far too much dull exposition about characters you end up not caring about anyway, and this exposition is often presented through awful, terribly-timed flashbacks. Aside from a few scattered moments and the great sequence set in Paris, the action itself is pretty dull too. Additionally, although the lengthy Paris-based set-piece is the most entertaining part of the film, the end of the sequence is clearly seen in trailers for the film, so you wonder where the tension is.
The acting and the script is fairly damn dire, but GI Joe is hardly the place for Oscar-worthy performances or writing. Amongst some rubbish leads – Channing Tatum, Sienna Miller – and the hamming of Christopher Ecclestone, Dennis Quaid and even Joseph Gordon-Levitt, I was surprised to find a talented supporting cast – Jonathan Pryce, Saïd Taghmaoui – which of course goes to waste. There are several questionable accents in the film, but perhaps most baffling of all is Jonathan Pryce playing the US President with his British accent intact.
So, I’ve established that the acting, script and action is all disappointing, but what was genuinely making me angry while watching the film was the portrayal of its two female leads – Ana, played by Sienna Miller, and Scarlett, played by Rachel Nichols. I can overlook the more obvious, expected gender inequalities – their skin-tight uniforms, their impractical hair, their one-liners about shoes – however, these two characters just plain bothered me. To begin with, Ana is a primary antagonist, having been in a serious relationship with Channing Tatum’s Duke, who had promised to protect her brother in the army. Duke failed and her brother died, and she is now kicking his ass, stealing WMDs, and married to a scientist for the purposes of her mission. Scarlet, on the other hand, is all brain and no emotion, spurning the advances of Duke’s army buddy Ripcord because she believes that emotions ‘don’t exist because they can’t be quantified’.
Let’s just start here, shall we? So, Ana is now evil all because her fiancé couldn’t face her after her brother died. And the only reason Scarlett is turning down romance is because she’s just such a brainiac? Pardon me if I find these starting points a little weak – god forbid Ana should be a bad guy just because she feels like it, or that Scarlett isn’t interested in romance because she’s just plain not interested. But wait! This actually isn’t so bad.
(Here be spoilers!) At the end of the film, we discover Ana’s brother is not dead, and has in fact become a megalomaniac, and injected Ana with technology in order to get her to work for the evil Cobra organization. Naturally, she snaps out of this, remembering her love for Duke and she’s heroically rescued by him – carried away in his arms and all - when her evil brother almost kills her. In other words, for all Ana’s apparent femme fatale-ness (her aggressive use of sexuality to meet her own ends, her belief in a cause, her apparent comfort with murder), her entire story is controlled by the men around her. Nice. Meanwhile, Scarlet barely even gets to spend any time being the emotionless brainiac, as she soon simply becomes the brainiac who falls for the comedy side-kick, and turns out to actually be quite useless at doing anything else other than tagging along on missions, despite the fact that she’s the best marks(wo)man amongst them.
It would certainly have been nice to have Ana snap out of her evil brother’s control to still be angry with Duke for being unable to face her after he though her brother had died, and for Scarlet to not fall for the charmless man pursuing her (I’m all for sexual tension, don’t get me wrong, but come on).
I’ll repeat what I said earlier, though – I know films like this aren’t meant to be read into so deeply, but if the film isn’t entertaining me enough that my mind starts thinking about these sorts of things, that’s the filmmakers’ problem, not mine.
GI Joe very blatantly sets the stage for a sequel – I sincerely hope the inevitable franchise to come has some considerable changes made to it. It’ll take a lot to get me back in front of a GI Joe movie.