Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Logic Be Damned

A little while ago, one of my buddies recommended the movie GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra to me, in the context of one of my usual laments about needing to get more out of my Netflix subscription and so forth. He was not miserable with his own memories of the movie and looking for company, nor did he make the suggestion after some kind of ironic, so-bad-its-good disclaimer. It was a legit recommendation; he straightforwardly enjoyed the flick and thought I (fellow child of the 80’s, after all) would, too. He allowed that it was “dumb but fun” but the emphasis came down dominantly on the “fun” side of that formulation.

GI Joe seemed like as good a candidate as any for my Summer Movies on a Train project, so I added it to the old queue and it arrived in the mail early last week and accompanied me on my commute shortly thereafter. I was fully prepared to suffer through the movie so that I could say that I had seen it, after which I would be able to roast my buddy and tell him he was half-right (meaning it wasn’t fun but it certainly was dumb). And then the strangest thing happened: my buddy turned out to be right on both counts. Once I gave the movie permission to be absolutely as dumb as it pleased, it was a lot of fun to watch.

I mean, do not get me wrong, the movie is DUMB. It may, in fact, not technically qualify as a “movie” if the dictionary definition of that term includes a requirement that a coherent, logical storyline be employed. GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra is more of “an audiovisual string of ridiculously awesome crap interspersed with nonsensical reasons for that crap to keep happening”. But for brevity’s sake let’s just keep calling it a “movie”.

Why does he have both a gun and a sword?  UNASK THE QUESTION.
The movie takes just about every catchphrase associated with the old toys and cartoons which made GI Joe such a beloved part of my pop-culture addled childhood and ham-fists them into the script. E.g., early on our two POV characters are rescued from an ambush by the current Joe team, loaded onto a jet, and flown back to the secret GI Joe headquarters. On the jet they receive medical attention including, presumably, morphine. As one of the characters, Ripcord, is getting a little loopy under the drugs, he reaches out and touches the head of one of his rescuers. “Man, you got some real lifelike hair,” Rip trippily observes. Since the observee is a dude, said dude grabs the drugged Ripcord by the wrist to force him to let go. “Ow, and a kung-fu grip!” The fact that Ripcord is high on morphine when he utters these non-sequitors (which are of course selling points that would have been emblazoned on GI Joe action figure boxes back in the day) is one of the most logically defensible things that happens throughout the movie. The rest of it would make anyone looking for logical consistency shout at the screen “What is going on? What just happened? Why would they do that?” for basically the entire running time. But turn off your brain, and it’s just a couple of hours of expertly choreographed and shot fight scenes and explosions and so forth.

It may sound like I’m being sarcastic, but I’m honestly not. I do think there is a time and place for mindless entertainment in the form of delivery vectors for CGI carnage. Or even pencil-and-paper carnage. A different buddy and I were discussing comic books a week or two ago, which led naturally into talking about comic book fans themselves, and how a certain vocal subset of them hate when the publishers make large-scale changes to their offerings, particularly when the fans can envision ways that things could have stayed the same and still made sense. (For instance, Superman has been around since the late 30’s, and also is portrayed as if he’s in his late 30’s. The comic book makers explain this away with sometimes-vague, sometimes-hyperspecific statements about how Superman only landed as a baby on earth 30-some years ago, and any stories the fans may be familiar with which certainly seem tied to a certain place and time in the more distant past either never happened, or happened in some convolutedly different way, etc. So Superman’s fictional history, unbound by the laws of time and space and causality and so forth because, again, FICTIONAL, is ever-changing. But lots of people hate change, and so.) My buddy and I agreed that this vocal subset is largely missing the point, and one way of clearly stating the point is to say “internal consistency is overrated”.

And I’m coming to very strongly believe that, not just as a phrase that came up once but as great entertainment-consumption advice. It’s not that internal consistency doesn’t matter at all. It’s not that stories can’t be both logical and amusing, that you always have to expect coherence to be sacrificed in the name of pure unadulterated awesome. But it is a caution against getting one’s priorities all out of whack. I suppose the full expression of the axiom is “When internal consistency is considered the most important thing, it is overrated.” But that happens so often, especially among continuity-obsessed detail-oriented nerds, that it almost goes without saying. Geek culture (my culture, I admit) tends to overrate these kind of things. And get mocked for it, and rightly so. But there are rewards to be reaped for letting it go (sometimes, within reason, etc.) That makes it a good mantra as far as I’m concerned.

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