Friday, August 07, 2009

GI Joe vs. Apophis, or "Gnosis is Half the Battle"

So GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra makes its debut today, and the critics have their knives out for it. Doubly so since Paramount didn't offer screenings for them. Having seen the the beating Transformers II took, you can't blame them. But then again, Transformers proved itself to be 1000% critic-proof, so maybe the studio it figured it could save a few bucks and leave the reviewers playing with their Wii's. You might see a lot more of that in the future, particularly as the legendary critics of yesteryear vanish from the scene, increasingly replaced by semi-literate Ain't It Cool-type reviewers.

The GI Joe revival is brought to you courtesy of Mr. Stephen Sommers, who initiated the popcorn-gobbling masses into the Egyptian Mysteries of death and resurrection with his Mummy series, which also introduced Dwayne "King Horus" Johnson to the mythic role he'd later fulfill in Race to Witch Mountain, if not in a different context.

But overshadowing that is the usual media controversy, this time brought to you by complaints that the GI Joe film doesn't celebrate nationalism, but instead ties into the ongoing trend of internationalist militarism in big budget flicks. Sommers stated that, "This is not a George Bush movie...(r)ight from the writing stage we said to ourselves, this can’t be about beefy guys on steroids who all met each other in the Vietnam War, but an elite organization that’s made up of the best of the best from around the world.” Which resulted in whining like this:
This is reminiscent of the determinedly unpatriotic Superman Returns, which deliberately refused to state that Superman was fighting for “truth, justice and the American way.” Even GI Joe is now subject to the dictates of political correctness. We wouldn’t want Europeans thinking that we idolize the men and women of the American military. That would be uncouth.
Unfortunately, the problem for the chickenhawks is that the rest of the world is sick of neocon bloodletting, so a film celebrating such would probably wilt in the international market, which is increasingly important for these very, very expensive action films. Never mind the politics, Paramount probably isn't interested in sacrificing hundreds of millions of dollars/pounds/euros/yen simply to get the thumbs-up from a bunch of chickenhawk keyboard commandos.

But you don't come to The Secret Sun for political handwringing, right? What I'm more interested in is that we have two big budget blockbusters based on beloved 80s toys this summer, both battling these international menaces fond of serpent/reptile symbolism. The Fallen in Transformers was distinctly serpentine and GI Joes face off against the old nemesis, the Cobra organization. Both films have powerful connections to Egypt, either directly (Transformers) or indirectly (Sommers' involvement in the Mummy/Scorpion King films).

Did I happen to mention that the GI Joe team is led by a General Hawk?

"You! You're the ringleader!" Hilarity.

It's tangential, but I'm reminded of the slightly-unsettling old GI Joe PSAs, which bore the tagline, "Knowing is Half the Battle." We just saw another big-budget alien apocalypse Knowing, and I can't help but wonder if there's a thread running through these 2009 films, either overtly or otherwise.

But what's certain is that we're seeing a new kind of militarism, as opposed to the 80s Rambo variety. It's about the group, not the individual. It's about shared, global threats and not about individual struggle. I've seen this developing on a parallel track in the comics and fandom underworlds for a long time now- the team and the group is paramount, and the individual is only as important as his contribution to the group.

Maybe it's always been that way. But it's only recently that this kind of inverse-Gnosis has begun to manifest itself itself in our pop mythology.