G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA (Stephen Sommers, 2009)
In G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA, the titular Joe isn't a real American hero but an international force of special operatives fighting to keep the world safe. Arms manufacturer James McCullen (Christopher Eccleston) has created warheads containing nano-mites that gobble metal. He sells four of the weapons to NATO but intends to have The Baroness (Sienna Miller) steal them back.
American soldiers Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) are on the delivery mission when the G.I. Joe team comes to their aid. Once the missiles are safe, Duke and Ripcord are free to go, but they decide to stick around, earn spots as Joes, and work to bring down McCullen.
G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA is like a term paper that fulfills the word count requirement and drops in key phrases to demonstrate some familiarity with the material but is largely filler. Director Stephen Sommers delivers plenty of effects-heavy action sequences, some which work and some that don't, and has a zippy way of coloring in multiple character backstories without bogging the film down as an origin tale. There are worse summer movies based on toy franchises that one could see.
But with scene after scene of whiz-bang combat, G.I. JOE feels insubstantial and lacking in personality. Since it plays more like an introduction to a potential series of films than a self-contained piece, nothing seems to be at stake. With an overpopulated cast of characters, each gets a single defining trait and showcase moment. That's fine for action figures or an after school cartoon, but the film feels unmoored without a dynamic hero leading the way. G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA is paced well and entertaining in stretches, but it also produces a lot of wheel-spinning until the signature villains finally emerge.