Review: G.I. Joe: Retaliation
PLOT: With COBRA agent Zartan now posing as the US president (Jonathan Pryce), the G.I Joe's are ambushed and mostly wiped out. The survivors of the attack, Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Flint (D.J Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) are joined by the rogue Snake Eyes (Ray Park), his apprentice Jinx (Elodie Yung) and a retired Joe (Bruce Willis) in a quest to avenge their fallen comrades.
REVIEW: After being delayed ten full months to allow for a 3D conversion, Jon M. Chu's G.I JOE: RETALIATION is finally hitting theaters. Considering RISE OF THE COBRA's disastrous reception from hardcore G.I JOE fans, many thought a sequel would never get made. Sure enough, most of the team from the first film is gone, although Chu's movie is not a reboot, but is in fact a direct sequel. This allows them to carry-over the few things from the first movie that did kinda work, specifically the cliffhanger ending involving Zartan as the president, Ray Park as the silent, faceless Snake Eyes, Byung-hun Lee as his sworn enemy Storm Shadow, and to a lesser extent, Channing Tatum as Duke. Cobra Commander is also back, but he hardly seems like the same character that was portrayed in the first film (Joseph Gordon-Levitt sits this one out).
But, while the essentials are the same, RETALIATION benefits from director Chu's significantly different approach to the material. With the first film was campy, RETALIATION tries to be more of a proper action film, eschewing the huge cartoonish battles scenes from RISE OF THE COBRA, in favor of more shootouts, chases, and fisticuffs courtesy of new leading man Dwayne Johnson.
In many ways, G.I JOE seems to be an ideal franchise for Johnson, who's larger-than-life, exactly the kind of hero this franchise needs. With his tree-trunk arms, and square-jawed heroics, he's really a throw-back to eighties action heroes like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, and while this is still a “team” film as opposed to an all-out star vehicle, his energy revitalizes the franchise, just like it did with FAST FIVE. Channing Tatum, who was stiff in the first film, also benefits from Johnson's presence, as the two-of-them have a nice, easygoing buddy-buddy give and take that I enjoyed, although to be sure this is not Tatum's movie (at all).
It's a good thing Johnson's on-board, as the rest of the Joe's don't make a huge impression. Heroine Adrianne Palicki is absolutely drop-dead gorgeous, but she's not given a heck of a lot to do other than dress up in skimpy outfits (I shouldn't complain) to distract the villains, or occasionally complain about how her father never loved her because she was a girl (awww). D.J Cotrona fares even worse, with his Flint being a non-entity throughout, existing only to occasionally shoot someone or make a wisecrack. As for Bruce Willis, this is more-or-less a glorified cameo, and I doubt he has more than fifteen minutes of screen-time throughout.
Luckily, Snake-Eyes and Storm-Shadow are around to liven things up with some nifty ninja action, with the mountain-side sword-fight, which is the one part of the movie that seems to have really benefited from the 3D conversion, being the film's standout set-piece. Sure, their plot, involving the RZA's Blind Master and the deceased “Hard Master” is goofy as heck, but the ninja action appeals to the eighties kid in me, who still remembers watching Sho Kosugi movies at birthday parties.
The villains are pretty weak this time out as well, with Cobra Commander only getting a few minutes here and there to make his presence felt. Ray Stevenson as Firefly, and Byung-hun Lee are more or less the faces of COBRA throughout, even if both feel like henchmen. However, Jonathan Pryce seems to be having a ball chewing the scenery as Zartan, although again, he feel more like a minion than a mastermind. If the heroes are larger than life, the villains should be too.
If you want to get any enjoyment at all out of G.I JOE: RETALIATION, it's important to check your brain at the door, as the dialogue is occasionally so goofy that at times it felt like the screenwriters were intentionally trying to camp this up, which is contrary to director Chu's more earnest approach. We all worried whether the director of STEP-UP 2: THE STREETS would be able to manage a tent-pole action movie, but it turns out he's more than up to the task- at least as far as the action set-pieces go. Then again, why else go see a G.I JOE movie?
To be sure, G.I JOE: RETALIATION is never anything less than ludicrous, but it's fun enough just as long as you check your brain at the door. This is the kind of movie where entire countries can be destroyed at the click of a button, with millions of lives lost, and nobody really seems to care as long as the good old' U.S.A is a-OK. So yeah- it's probably best not to think too much about RETALIATION after watching it. Still, it's a heck of a lot better than the first movie, and a mostly solid 110 minutes of fun.