At some point during GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, I realized that both this and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen would have been greatly improved had the original theme songs from the 80's cartoons been used during some - or all - of the action sequences.
There is a sense in which neither of these pictures had a grasp on how serious they were supposed to be, and, as a result, were painfully inconsistent. In some ways, this was an even larger problem here, because it didn't have the same level of spectacle to fall back on. Oh, there was still spectacle, of course, but little you haven't seen in the previews.
The movie succeeds best when it keeps to its mythology, a word, I confess, that shouldn't really be applied to GI Joe. Nonetheless, the aspects that resonate with the cartoon are, by and large, a great deal of fun. The experience of seeing the absurd vehicles and villains, along with their sci-fi weapons and gadgets, is somewhat thrilling in itself.
What's missing is the writing. This isn't to say I was expecting brilliant twists and concepts (honestly, Cobra's plan in the film was somewhat MORE intelligent than what I'd expected). However, when I go see a summer action movie I expect the characters to be likable, and I expect the dialogue to be clever.
Now, there were a few characters I did find likable and clever, but they were all working for Cobra.
The problem is that the good guys were vapid, dull, and idiotic. They had nothing on Storm Shadow, who, at times, came off as more anti-hero than villain. Likewise, almost every good line in the movie was delivered by the Baroness; in comparison, Scarlet came off as arrogant, condescending, and childish. When the Baroness and Storm Shadow teamed up to destroy the Eiffel Tower, it felt like a fun, heist movie. It's a pity they chose to take the Baroness in some less interesting directions in the last third: for a while, these were the characters I was rooting for.
Destro's portrayal in the movie was also inspired, and Zartan came off as sufficiently creepy. Even Cobra Commander worked in the end.
The Joes just didn't. Duke, reimagined as a young soldier, lacked presence or force, and Ripcord was simply annoying. Scarlett wasn't awful, but she felt awkward and self-conscious. Snake Eyes was fun to watch, although his mask was laughably bad - something of an issue, since he never took it off. Breaker was redundant as a tech hero: most of the team felt like nerds, anyway. The only one of the core group who looked and acted like he belonged in the military was Heavy Duty, who was largely ignored. I guess General Hawk was all right, too.
Seeing toy planes and zany vehicles brought to life was fun, and there were plenty of lasers and interesting fight scenes. Sure, some of the CG wasn't much better than the drawings they used in the eighties, but that's just part of the charm. All of this would have been so much more powerful, though, if they'd only skipped the dramatic score and used the original theme. No such luck: they didn't even stick it in the credits.
You may be able capture some of this magic on your own, however, by bringing your old toys to the theater and playing with them during the movie.
So, it's a summer movie. It's not spectacular, but it's fun enough if you have any memories - however vague - of the old show. While the writing is nowhere near as bad as Revenge of the Fallen, the effects aren't at the same level, either. I figure these factors cancel out, so I'll score it the same: on the Riddick scale, GI Joe: Rise of Cobra gets two and a half stars.