Almost a year after its initial release date, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is finally hitting the big screen. At least we know it has to be better than 1987’s G.I. Joe: The Movie, right? But how good can a movie based on a bunch of three and three-quarters inch plastic dudes be? This Major Spoilers review might help you out.
G.I. JOE: RETALIATION
Directed by: John Chu
Written by: Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick
Starring: Bruce Willis, Dwayne Johnson, Adrienne Palicki, Lee Byhung-hun, Ray Park, Jonathan Pryce, Ray Stevenson, Channing Tatum, D.J. Cotrona, The RZA
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures & Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Length: 110 Minutes
Previously, in G.I. Joe: The first live-action G.I. Joe film, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, was not met with the warmest of critical receptions. It suffered from a balky script, a wooden lead (Channing Tatum) and some rather loose associations with the source material. But when you’re making a movie based on a toy-line, what sort of expectations are you really hoping to fulfil, anyway?
SOUND AND FURY
G.I. Joe: Retaliation mostly picks up where the last film left of, while eschewing some of its predecessor’s more problematic elements. Cobra Commander and Destro are safely ensconced in cryo-prison, while Duke (Channing Tatum) has taken over the Joe team. Gone are the power armor and multi-national trappings from Rise of Cobra – this group is safely jingoistic. The new film focuses mostly on newer Joe protagonists Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrienne Palicki) and Flint (D.J. Cotrona) as they deal with a lingering plot thread from last film. You see, Zartan is successfully impersonating the President of the United States and that might, y’know, be a problem.
Straight up, this is a ridiculous film with a lion’s share of problems. It’s the sort of movie where lines like “I’m going to cyberblast an emergency beacon” are delivered with a straight face. The Arashikage clan of Japanese ninjas appears to contain no actual Japanese people. Ray Stevenson (playing Firefly) is forced to speak in a mish-mash of Southern and Cajun accents for no perceptible reason, while The RZA’s accent borderlines on offensive. D.J. Cotrona manages to give such a flat performance that it sucks personality from the audience, like some sort of charisma black hole. The protagonists repeat “Hooah” instead of the much more appropriate “Yo Joe!” Worst of all, the film is overstuffed with plot – the president is an imposter, Pakistan is undergoing a revolution, some ninjas are doing stuff on a mountain, Duke doesn’t want to babysit Roadblock’s seemingly motherless children, and Lady Jaye is sad that her dad never seemed to love her. It’s a lot of stuff and few of the subplots necessarily get the attention they deserve.
But what G.I. Joe: Retaliation does right is blow past any sort of relevant criticism on its way to big guns and bigger explosions. This is a loud, stupid movie with zero pretensions. It’s all style and no substance, and it makes no bones about it. So all the stupid, meaningless nonsense will provide plenty of fodder for laughter during and after the movie, but it whizzes by at such a fast clip that you can’t concentrate on the bad for long. Jonathan Pryce (Zartan/The President) is absolutely fantastic as the gleeful Presidential imposter, getting the best lines. The moviemakers wisely chose to feature Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson instead of Channing Tatum’s cardboard Duke – and The Rock brings his usual charismatic, action hero chutzpah to the role. Bruce Willis is a little disappointing, but he puts Adrienne Palicki and D.J. Cotrona’s stiff performances to shame even without trying. Director John Chu comes to G.I. Joe from the Step Up dance film series (also that Bieber concert film). His years of directing dance sequences serve him well in Retaliation. The fight scenes all have the shakycam, quick-cut style that typifies modern Hollywood action films (which I hate), but he did it in a way that managed to not totally annoy me. And that mountain range ninja fight that’s in all the previews? It was pretty damn sweet.
BOTTOM LINE: INESSENTIAL, BUT NOT UN-ENTERTAINING
G.I. Joe: Retaliation is big, dumb elephant of a movie. It looks dumb, it sounds dumb, it is dumb. But it’s dumb fun, and that’s the most important part. This film could be ripped to shreds for the numerous plot holes, the lackluster performances from a few principals, and any number of other issues. But ultimately, who cares? Retaliation reminded me of nothing so much as those old, uncomplicated action flicks from the 1980s, something that Golan & Globus would produce like Delta Force or American Ninja. If you’re looking for a decent way to ease into the summer blockbuster season, there are worse places to look than this. If you miss out on it, don’t kick yourself, but if you want to turn off your brain and watch some stuff blow up and laugh at some stupid dialogue, look no further than Retaliation. It is a definite improvement on Rise of Cobra. Plus it deserves a bonus point for a ridiculous Ryan Hansen cameo. As for 3D, I did not see it in that format, but there are a few sequences which might be cool in 3D. G.I. Joe: Retaliation earns three out of five stars. Check it out.
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