G. I. Joe and Sleeping Beauty
I watched G. I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra this weekend, and for the most part, it was … not as bad as I feared. This is in no way a great movie, but I think all of the bad reviews helped by lowering my expectations. There were the requisite callbacks to the cartoon (“Knowing is half the battle.” Yay!), over-the-top action scenes, ninja vs. ninja swordfighting, and the ninth doctor as Destro, which was rather surreal…
And then you have the character of the Baroness. In the very first scene, she’s commanding a squad of armored bad guys, and they completely pawn Duke’s team.[1. Is it still cool to say “pawn”?] At the end of this battle, we know two things: the Baroness has some sort of history with Duke, and she is an evil badass.
Only she’s not. You see, she used to be blonde a good guy. She was engaged to Duke and friends with Ripcord. And then her brother got blown up under Duke’s command, after which Duke was unable to face her. The loss of these two men broke her. In a flashback, we see her basically catatonic, unable to even rouse herself from her bed. So our villain injects nanobots into her brain, as one does, and reprograms her into the Baroness.
The Baroness is Sleeping Beauty, and not in the cool Talia-will-kick-your-ass-with-a-spoon way.[2. From my princess books. Yes, I’m egotistical enough to reference my own books.] We don’t know what she used to do; she was defined only in relation to Duke, as his girlfriend/fiancee. This unapologetically evil villain who stands up to Destro, kicks Scarlett’s ass, and basically rocks … turns out to be nothing but a puppet, a weapon created and programmed by another guy.
In the fairy tales, Sleeping Beauty is not a character; she’s a trophy to be won by men. Likewise, the Baroness has no agency, no control over her own story, until Prince Charming Duke arrives again at the end and his mere presence breaks the evil spell. She gets one or two good lines after that — I liked her quiet, angry glee when she started shooting down Cobra subs — but it doesn’t even begin to make up for what the writers did to her character.
What depresses me the most is that the writers had a pretty cool character in the Baroness. Competent, evil, and highly effective. And then they actively destroyed their strongest female character with that pointless nanobot plotline. Why did anyone think this was a good idea?
Don’t answer that.
I don’t have terribly high standards for movies trying to cash in on my 80s nostalgia. I don’t expect five-star dining at McDonald’s, and I don’t expect brilliant cinema from G. I. Joe. But this was like ordering a Happy Meal and finding out that the “boy’s toy” is an action figure while the “girl’s toy” is a punch in the face.
Now you know.
February 6, 2012 @ 10:08 am
Jim, you’re kinder to G.I. Joe that I could have been. As soon as they broke out the fancy super-human suits, I was done. The thing I always loved about G.I. Joe as a kid was that even with all the fancy vehicles and cool weapons, at it’s core, the members of the team were ordinary people.
Of course, it didn’t help the movie that the writer’s made such…questionable…decisions like the point to above.
Still, none of that is enough to prevent me from seeing G.I. Joe: Retaliation when it comes out. 🙂
Jim C. Hines
February 6, 2012 @ 10:14 am
I cringed at the supersuits when I saw the previews, and I’m definitely not saying it was a *good* movie. But I could switch off my brain enough to accept the goofiness. I can’t forgive what they did to the Baroness’ character.
I doubt I’ll see the second movie in theaters, but knowing me, I’ll probably check it out when it makes its way to TV, just like I did with this one.
February 6, 2012 @ 10:34 am
Heh! That’s a good point. There’s no way I’ll pay theater money to see it. It’ll definitely be a DVD/streamer!
February 6, 2012 @ 11:22 am
I generally liked the movie overall. Whenever it got really silly, I remembered that nothing in the film was any more ridiculous than a typical episode of the 80s cartoon. The flashback fights between young Snake-Eyes and young Storm Shadow alone were worth the price of admission. Two 12-year-olds managed to pull off a more convincing fight scene than just about any other film released that summer.
But I totally agree with you about the Baroness. One of the most interesting characters in the movie, and the only one with a real character arc, and her agency is completely undone by revealing she was a puppet the whole time. Moreover, she’s “redeemed” by the least interesting character in the whole movie. It could have worked, had the whole nanobot angle been removed.
Notice how both female leads, both professionally capable badasses, are changed from their stoic, business-like demeanors to more “traditionally” nurturing personas by the two least interesting male characters in the cast? I found that the biggest betrayal of the franchise, since G.I. Joe–both comics and cartoon–never called a character’s competence or authority into question because of gender.
Jim C. Hines
February 6, 2012 @ 11:26 am
“Notice how both female leads, both professionally capable badasses, are changed from their stoic, business-like demeanors to more “traditionally” nurturing personas by the two least interesting male characters in the cast?”
And at the risk of going too fanboy, Scarlett + Snake-Eyes was such a better pairing. (I don’t think that ever showed up in the cartoon, but I believe it was a canonical part of the comics.)
February 6, 2012 @ 11:41 am
I agree, I saw the movie over the summer and this really bugged me. There is no reason that tough, competent women need to become “softer” in any movie at this point.
I gotta be honest, though, I’ll probably catch the sequel in the dollar theater, or maybe a matinee. I can’t help it, the idea of Bruce Willis and The Rock in the same movie makes me giddy. It’ll either be awesome or a glorious disaster, and I’ll take either.
February 6, 2012 @ 11:56 am
I had the same feeling, right up until I saw Bruce Willis and Dwayne Johnson were in the new one. They’re both pretty much guaranteed theater money for me.
Jim C. Hines
February 6, 2012 @ 1:22 pm
“I can’t help it, the idea of Bruce Willis and The Rock in the same movie makes me giddy.”
Yeah, one way or another, that should be fun 🙂
Daniel D. Webb
February 6, 2012 @ 7:34 pm
I think the fact that I never watched the cartoon nor had the action figures is the reason I never felt the slightest urge to see the movies. After reading this, I feel an active urge not to. So thanks for the warning, Jim.
You’re not wrong in pointing out that stuff like this is sort of par for the course in certain forms of entertainment… However, shallow entertainments are such because they parrot back the unconscious mores of a culture without attempting to make anyone think about them. That this is used with such casual sincerity in a big-budget film (I mean come on, whoever wrote this had to have gotten a fat check for it) goes to show how far we have yet to go as a society.
February 7, 2012 @ 1:50 am
That is an absolutely horrible movie. There are tiny minutes of it that are good — notably Brandon Fraser’s cameo, they had a good cast they wasted, but most of it is an irrational mess of really badly done special effects. My take on it is that they had ten people writing the thing and a director who completely forgot everything he knew writing films like The Mummy or got overridden by suits.
The sequel has a new director, new writers and they brought in Bruce Willis and the Rock, so maybe it will improve (Bruce has his own writers,) but that doesn’t require much. While the Baronness was nanobotted, she also sincerely wanted revenge and her brother, the Doctor, was similarly twisted and did more twisting to others, male and female. But the females in the movie were never going to get a fair shake. A lot of things have changed in three years, though, and while the women will always be really secondary in G.I. Joe, they’re likely to be more independent in the sequel.
Jim C. Hines
February 7, 2012 @ 7:58 am
I somehow managed to miss Brandon Fraser’s cameo. When did he show up?
February 7, 2012 @ 8:59 am
I agree with you. It could have been worse. I think the fake as hell green clouds were probably the worst, but on the other hand, this movie had one of the greatest side-kicks ever. I hate what they did to the Baroness as a character, but even though I grew up in the 80s and LOVED GI Joe, I must admit I think the original material was too simplistic to really call the movie a travesty. The sad part is that it wasn’t elevated. After all, look what Gore Verbanski did with a theme park. I usually like Sommers, but after this and Van Helsing, I think he’s lost his touch. I hope they take a start with good elements and improve on it. It’s possible. XMen 2 managed it.
February 7, 2012 @ 12:48 pm
Sigh. I loved Baroness so much at the start of the movie, and I’ve always rather liked her – evil badass chick! Woo! – but man, they completely destroyed her with that “twist” to her character.
February 7, 2012 @ 4:52 pm
Did you mean “pwn?” It’s a mistype of “own” and usually pronounced “pone.”
I think I must’ve seen the movie on Netflix streaming, because I know I didn’t pay money directly to watch it, but I have faint memories of watching it last year (yeah, it’s that unmemorable). I’m almost positive we MST3K’d it. I can’t imagine any other way of making it bearable.
February 7, 2012 @ 8:26 pm
Brendan was training some of the men in a scene that was towards the middle? Ish? When What’s-his-name and Whoosit were being shown around at some point.
February 8, 2012 @ 9:33 am
I have avoided this movie like the plague, because I LOVED the cartoon. And so far, they’re mangled The A-Team, The Smurfs, and Transformers (and not just because Shia LeBeof annoys me). I can’t face another disaster like those, but now I’m doubly angry because of the Baroness. Great post.
February 9, 2012 @ 11:42 am
That’s…horrifying. About the Baroness. I did not want to see this movie, nor do I intend to but I watched G.I. Joe as a wee girl and, yeah, the Baroness was hands down my favorite character. She was kickass (or so my memory tells me). She was dark haired, glasses wearing, and generally had her own agenda that did not always align with anyone else. She was one of the first and of the very few figures I owned, deciding to only buy the female toys.
Really? That’s how they portrayed her?
February 11, 2012 @ 11:57 pm
When the young heroes are brought to the G.I. Joe base, they’re trained and there’s a fairly funny montage of them not doing so well and then doing better. Fraser plays Sgt. Stone and comments humorously on their training with Heavy Duty and others. Best part of the movie. Don’t know if he’ll show up again, since they’re killing off most of the Joes in the new movie and since his buddy isn’t directing.