Movie Review: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a Hollywood action movie packed with CGI-enhanced martial arts; explosions; sci-fi hi-tech weapons; chase scenes and topped off with near superhuman ‘good’ and ‘bad guys.’ Typical of Hollywood-type action movies, the plot centers around preventing the bad guys from attaining global dominance. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, like another summer blockbuster, Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen, is one of many movies that promotes militarism and by extension imperialism.
The story opens with a weapons dealer, McCullen (later revealed as bad guy, Destro), showing off a new high-tech weapon, the Nanomite warhead. The weapon, loosely based on emerging technologies, is said to be able to destroy “any and all material in its path.” The first to procure this new weapon is the United States. The main protagonist, Duke, is charged with leading a NATO force to deliver four of the warheads. The audience is never challenged to ask why the U.S. wants or gets this weapon, let alone four of them, nor what would happen once it gets them. Instead the plot predictably begins when the warheads are stolen by the ‘bad guy’ Cobra force.
Unlike the G.I. Joe toys and cartoons, the new live-action G.I. Joe force is multinational, consisting of the “top men and women of the best military units of the world.” Prior to the theft of the Nanomite warheads, it is unclear what purpose such an elite military force might serve. The two male protagonists who join the G.I. Joe force after the start of the movie, Duke and Ripchord, seem more interested in running around in suits which give them superhuman strength and speed than serving any humanitarian or even patriotic ends. At the beginning of the movie, Ripchord expresses interest in joining the U.S. Airforce simply so he can pilot military jets.
As the movie develops, the G.I. Joe force must stop the Cobra from destroying Washington D.C., Bejing and Moscow. The leader of the Cobra force is the Cobra Commander, a former friend of Duke’s who wants to use the Nanomite technology to attain global power. The Cobra Commander is aided by Destro the weapons dealer, a small army of mind-controlled fearless soldiers, and the Baroness, a former love interest of Duke’s who is also mind-controlled throughout most of the movie.
In the real world, where both high-tech weapons capable of small and vast destruction and various elite, multinational, sometimes private military units exist, bad guys like the Cobras don’t. In the real world, millions of people die from starvation and malnutrition, not violent conspiracies to usurp global power. The system responsible for these deaths, imperialism, also creates conditions whereby oppressors join the military for the ‘thrill’ of using destructive weapons, flying fast and blowing things up. However, these people are not heroes.
Today, in the real world, most state militaries and elite multinational forces serve to maintain the imperialist system which starves millions. Taken out of the context of imperialism and global class systems, there is no need for elite military units. Action movies such as G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen create ridiculous fictional stories in which imperialist militaries are portrayed not as the protectors of global class structure, but as playing a positive role for humanity. ‘Ordinary,’ relatable characters such as Duke and Ripchord, who, in real life would play a mundane role in a profoundly awful system, are seen as both more significant and depoliticized: they’re “in the middle of the action” and supposedly saving the world. Amerikan and First World audiences, who are not routinely subjected to imperialist threats and aggression, might find themselves envious of such adventures and abilities. And whereas First World movie-goers, people who economically benefit from imperialist militarism, can’t join or cheer for the G.I. Joe force in real life, they conveniently can the U.S. military, NATO, Blackwater (now called Xe), the IDF and various other imperialist military organizations.