G.I. Joe: Retaliation

<em>G.I. Joe: Retaliation</em>

Oh, G.I. Joe, will you never get the respect that Transformers does? Will you always be in their shadow, no matter how much slightly, marginally better your movies are? The answer is “yes,” when marginally better is compared to the bottom of the totem pole.

Even with all the good will in the world, G.I. Joe: Retaliation can only be described as “harmless” and, occasionally, “pointless.” It’s barely better than the first Joe and can honestly be called the least stupid film Hasbro has tried to make. But for every good step forward, it takes another two back, until it can’t help but fall over its own feet.

Gone is the brightly-lit, battle suit-wearing, underwater-fighting mise en scene of Rise of Cobra and the attempt to make something like a superhero film out of the Joes’ heroics. Instead, new director Jon M. Chu (Step Up 3D) and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Zombieland) have re-imagined the G.I. Joe world as a militaristic techno-thriller with one foot not exactly in the real world but hovering somewhere around it, at least when there are no ninjas around. No force-field prisons inside aircraft carriers, or particle accelerators in the depths of Paris here, no sir.

Which isn’t to say it’s completely divorced from the first. Picking up some unknown time after Rise of Cobra, Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey) remains safely in jail while the G.I. Joe team polices the world, albeit with less puppet sex. Unfortunately, Cobra’s spymaster Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) also remains safely in disguise as the President of the United States, looking for his Commander and for the chance to put the Joes down permanently. What are the odds he finds both in the first act?

For all the mixed bag G.I. Joe: Retaliation is, there is actually a decent amount of good in there. Almost the entire original cast has been jettisoned, replaced with a lot of less well-known, cheaper actors and a handful of bigger names that have a chance of actually carrying this stuff. Chief among them is Dwayne Johnson, who as Roadblock brings his considerable to charisma fully to bear, with just the right mixture of hamminess and toughness this sort of thing calls for.

His few scenes with Channing Tatum (aka Duke) are the best part of the film and better than most of the action beats. It helps that Tatum has either developed into a much better actor than he was four years ago, or the filmmakers have finally recognized his limits and stopped trying to ask him to do things he cannot do.

The world, though smaller, is more realistically developed, as well, particularly once the Joes are betrayed by the evil President and forced to go to ground in order to clear their names before Cobra can engage the next step in its plan. Many of the smaller bit players provide a lot of Retaliation‘s small (and I do mean small) joys. Walton Goggins is particularly entertaining as a sadistic warden who is tougher than he looks.

And then there are the ninjas.

Just as with the old Joe comics, the ninjas both never seemed to really fit with the rest of the stories being told, while simultaneously being the best part of the books. Retaliation is firmly in that mold, with the ninja portions of the story having both little to do with anything else and providing the best moment the film has, as silent commando Snake Eyes (Ray Park) tracks down his old adversary Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun) to a mountain monastery in order to convince him to return to their clan. And when I say “convince,” I mean “beat unconscious.” And for those five gloriously silly minutes as the ninjas jump from mountain top to mountain top while swordfighting, nothing else matters.

But that dichotomy is the core of Retaliation‘s failing.

Sure, most of the action scenes are extremely well-developed and executed with a polished sheen — notably the monastery sequence, but also the initial attack on a secret nuclear base (the only time we actually get to see the G.I. Joes doing their thing) and crazy mercenary Firefly‘s (Ray Stevenson) explosive jailbreak to free Cobra Commander. But they also don’t make any sense.

Scenes are jammed together one after the other with no real connection, particularly early on, as the film cuts back and forth between the Joes in hiding in the US and Snake Eyes in Japan. No care is made to create even the shadow of a coherent narrative out of these disparate pieces. One entire character, never before encountered, is introduced in a montage and info dump delivered by blind ninja master the RZA, while simultaneously trying to work the ninjas into the main plot. This works exactly as well as it sounds like it would.

Yes, we all know that action films are developed around their sequences first, with the plot then tying those bits together. But sometimes Retaliation gives you the feeling the filmmakers forgot about that second part until they were cutting the film together. Yes, that pesky narrative is probably annoying and getting in the way of your stunts and explosions, but you still need it.

As welcome as Johnson is to this new version of G.I. Joe, most of the casting is in fact more like putting the RZA into a movie. As mentioned previously, the rest of the heroes have been replaced with generally unknown 20-something underwear models, and the best that can be said about them is that they don’t get to talk much, despite being on screen quite a bit.

To add salt to the wound, this is all done with dialogue so inane it will actually set your teeth on edge. The villains, particularly Jonathan Pryce‘s evil President, get the worst of it, though Stevenson tries his best to one-up him. And Bruce Willis just looks bored, like he’s counting the number of shooting days left.

Yeah, it’s still better than the first G.I. Joe. It’s lean and silly, as opposed to bloated and stupid, which may or may not be an improvement for old-school fans of the franchise. For the new viewer unaware there even was a toyline or cartoon in the ’80s, it’s probably just forgettable.

Cast: Dwayne Johnson as Roadblock; D.J. Cotrona as Flint; Adrianne Palicki as Lady Jaye; Lee Byung-hun as Storm Shadow; Ray Park as Snake Eyes; Jonathan Price as the President of the United States/Zartan; Ray Stevenson as Firefly; Elodie Yung as Jinx; Bruce Willis as General Joseph Colton; Channing Tatum as Duke; Walton Goggins as Warden Nigel James; Luke Bracey as Cobra Commander; RZA as Blind Master; Arnold Vosloo as Zartan.

(Paramount Pictures -- http://www.paramount.com/; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures -- http://www.mgm.com/; Skydance Productions -- http://skydance.com/; Hasbro -- http://www.hasbro.com/; di Bonaventura Pictures; G.I. Joe: Retaliation -- http://www.gijoemovie.com/; G.I. Joe: Retaliation (Facebook) -- http://www.facebook.com/GIJoe; G.I. Joe: Retaliation (Twitter) -- https://twitter.com/gijoemovie)
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Friday, March 29th, 2013. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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