Cast members Marlon Wayans, left, Rachel Nichols, center, and Channing Tatum pose together at the premiere of "G.I. Joe" in Los Angeles on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009.
Maybe Paramount Pictures’ decision not to pre-screen “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” for critics was a psychological exercise in lowering expectations. Or maybe the studio felt like the movie didn’t have it, whatever “it” is when one is talking about an action-movie tentpole based on a TV cartoon that was designed to sell action figures.
In any event, “G.I. Joe” wound up being a perfectly adequate and occasionally entertaining way to kill a couple of hours in these dog days of summer. I’ll have forgotten most of it by Labor Day, but I was never bored.
After a flashback in 1641 France, where we see a nefarious Scottish arms dealer get his head sealed into a molten mask — because, y’know, this is a kid’s movie and all — the title “In the not too distant future…” comes onscreen. Did the filmmakers know that this is the first line of the theme song to “Mystery Science Theater 3000”? Are they daring us to yell back at the screen?
Before we can ponder such questions, the great-great-great-whatever-grandson of the guy in the iron mask, high-tech weapons dealer McCullen (Christopher Eccleston), is pitching the U.S. government on his new nanobyte technology, which launches millions of microscopic little bugs that will eat through metal and anything else until a kill switch is activated.
The first batch of the warheads are being transported by NATO troops led by Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans), but the convoy is ambushed by bad guys wielding advance weaponry and superior fighting skills. Among the chief villains is the Baroness (Sienna Miller), who was once Anna, Duke’s fiancée, but before we can get into their backstory — and since this is an origin story, there will be lots of those later — Duke, Ripcord and the warheads are rescued by a mysterious fighting team of international super-soldiers collectively known as “G.I. Joe.”
Duke and Ripcord win the opportunity to become “Joes,” and we find out what happened between Duke and Anna, and also the past history of good-guy Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and his arch nemesis Storm Shadow (Byung-Hun Lee), who fights for the treacherous McCullen. The Joe team try to stop their rivals from using the nano tech to destroy Paris (Baroness and Storm Shadow infiltrate the Joe base in Egypt) while McCullen’s associate The Doctor (revealing his identity counts as a spoiler) uses the nanobytes to create an army of powerful troops who feel no pain or remorse and always respond to orders.
So, yes, this is a silly movie, and it’s a PG-13–rated action epic, which means that lots and lots of people get shot, stabbed, garroted, impaled and blown up but almost no one bleeds. It’s also the sort of casually sexist movie where the supposedly top-percentile warrior women — the evil Baroness and good-gal Scarlett (Rachel Nichols) — both wind up getting rescued by men at some point.
Nonetheless, the movie features a CG-heavy chase scene through Paris — cars flip over, glass roofs are shattered, the inevitable street mime shrinks in horror, the Eiffel Tower winds up the worse for wear — that is breathlessly exciting. And even if nothing else in “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” lives up to this 10 minutes or so of footage, the movie clips along at a brisk enough pace and keeps enough chases and explosions coming that you won’t be compelled to check your watch.
Perhaps the highest praise I can give “G.I. Joe” is that, when it becomes clear at the end that many seeds are being planted for a sequel, I wasn’t completely dreading the idea.
Follow msnbc.com Movie Critic Alonso Duralde at http://www.twitter.com/MSNBCalonso.