In case you haven't heard, Paramount Pictures refused to pre-screen G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra for film critics before its opening weekend. Looks like Paramount did the right thing; the film's $56 million weekend take proves once again that critical consensus and economic success are often mutually exclusive. But what's more worrying about the wealth of reviews that have already appeared in print and online is how inattentive and insubstantial they are. If critics can't even try to examine what's on screen, then perhaps they are better left out in the cold.
So far, G.I. Joe reviewers have split into two opposing camps. The first camp sees G.I. Joe as another incompetent, mindless late-summer blockbuster: The cruelest remarks echo those made by Time's Richard Corliss, who claims that "the only collateral damage is in the audience, where, as you sit through the movie, you can feel your IQ drop minute by minute." My favorite zinger came from Newsweek's Ramin Setoodeh, who claimed (somewhat oddly) that watching the film is "like watching fireworks with a blindfold on: it's deafening and you feel under attack."
The second camp acknowledges G.I. Joe's somewhat, er, limited aesthetic aims but praises it anyway; as the San Francisco Chronicle's Peter Hartlaub puts it, "Compared to other big-budget movies out this summer, it's pretty mediocre. But as a movie that no one thought would be any good because it's based on an action figure that isn't even a foot tall any more, it wildly succeeds." Over in England, The UK Sunday Mail is more succinct, calling it "absolutely marvelous nonsense."
But none of the reviews I've read go beyond simple (albeit fun) posturing and attempt to explain why some scenes fail and some scenes succeed. That's too bad, because G.I. Joe, while not as bad or as enjoyable as either camp wants to believe, does have one terrific, exciting scene. So here's my humble and hopefully specific contribution to the body of G.I. Joe scholarship. If the short description of the following scene sounds good to you, then go see the movie; otherwise, stay home.
The central set piece in the film is a chase through the streets of Paris between two new Joes and two wicked terrorists in a minivan. This chase scene is clear and easy to follow despite the racing, impossible tracking shots and the nearly constant explosions that blanket the screen. Furthermore, it succeeds because the good guys' and the bad guys' weapons engage in a kind of tango: For every new feature the Joes discover about their "acceleration suits," the villains in the van trot out more destructive weapons to neutralize them. Plus, the acrobatic maneuvers required of the Joes to stay in pursuit of (or, in one case, on top of) the van as it darts in and out of the congested streets traffic are so ludicrous and snappily choreographed that they verge on slapstick comedy. And as a bonus, the film throws in a mysteriously evocative image of a character running over a glass roof that feels like a bolt of pure, trashy poetic inspiration.