by Lucy Arnold
G.I. Joe as a Uni-cultural Fantasy
When I went to see G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra with my boyfriend, I did not have high expectations. But like most other people, I don’t mind occasionally vegging out by watching a mindless, violent romp with cool CGI, myriad chase scenes, and lots of inexplicable cleavage.
Ironically, in the areas of CGI, chase scenes, and boobs, G.I. Joe receives high marks. Unfortunately, in terms of just enjoying the ride, it fails miserably. I was so overcome by the anti-diversity subtext of the film that I just couldn’t enjoy the other stuff.
From a female perspective, this movie was downright disappointing. Both female characters began with really interesting potential: the Baroness is a bad-ass bad chick, and Scarlett is a science-brained kick-ass commando. But then… Scarlett cries after a fight. Really? Was Duke crying? Snake Eyes? (To be fair, he could have been weeping throughout the film, since we never got to see his face… but his mask wasn’t wet at any rate.) The only female on the team? Uh huh… Then she has to be rescued, physically cradled in the arms of the Big, Strong Man™. By the end of the movie, she disavows her scientific stance with the worst line in the movie, “I feel… emotional.”
The Baroness gets it even worse. First of all, I had been assuming throughout the movie that she knew Dr. Bald Guy was her brother, which is why she began working for Cobra. But no. We also discover that when she was “good” she was also blonde. Of course, she had to dye her hair darker to connote evil. Oh stereotypes, do you ever become tiresome? Then she starts cutting eyes at Duke (Isn’t he dreamy?). Her betrayal of the bad guys was imminent and would have been bad enough for her character. But this movie, to its credit I guess, decided to go whole-assed in the anti-woman arena. Because it turns out that the Baroness, well, she was being mind-controlled all along! She didn’t really want to do bad things! She wanted to be—blonde! And, just like that, the strongest female character in the whole movie never did a single thing of her own volition. Except love Duke. I feel nauseated.
Don’t worry, women, you were not the sole target of this movie’s ghastly subtext. The Snake Eyes vs. Storm Shadow battle also managed to highlight the superiority of white males over Asians. The backstory of these “brothers” is that Snake Eyes, a child of European descent, probably British or American, shows up somewhere in Asia and kicks the martial arts asses of a passel of Asian fighters, including Storm Shadow. Why this should be is never explored. The archetypal imagery of their final battle pits brother against brother, and, of course, who is the victor but the one of European descent.
But wait. There’s more. Who is the comic relief in this movie, cutting the fool with jokes, physical hijinks, and complete stupidity throughout the movie? The black guy, Rip Cord, apparently developed straight out of a 1930’s black male stereotype. I could also add a point about the required heterosexuality of the film; the women ended up paired with good guy-type males, both redeemed from their faulty thinking (Cobra and science). And all of the other guys were essentially asexual but totally masculine. Whew, homosexuality averted.
Before you begin shaking your head at me and saying that I failed to appreciate this movie for what it was trying to be: a brainless popcorn movie, let me step back a bit. As I tried to intimate at the beginning of this review, I love brainless popcorn movies. But this movie is insidious in its attempt to paint a picture of an America that is not only untrue but isn’t worth idealizing. I’m left reading this movie like it’s a white male American fantasy. Is this someone’s ideal America, ruled by tough guys, filled with compliant women and defeated or subverted minorities? I sure hope not.
Give me a popcorn movie, sure. But do I have to choke on it?