G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Review

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a dumb movie and it works.

The difference between the two G.I. Joe movies and other franchise films is that G.I. Joe has beat them to the inevitable descent into dumbness; many franchises eventually succumb to campy silliness and story sloppiness, but G.I. Joe requires such elements to survive.Like G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra before it, its sequel G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a movie engineered specifically for short attention spans that snack on simple visual surprises. It is absolutely not a film constructed to withstand even the tapping of a single question mark. Instead G.I. Joe honors its roots of being what Woody called a “child’s … play thing!”: an action figure collection, cartoon and/or comic book and utilizes such low brow standards to treat the medium of live-action film as if it were just a longer, campier cartoon. Here is the uncommon blockbuster, one with little brain activity to live up to and one that can only feel more complete by rolling over and playing brain dead. Even Michael Bay’s Transformers films carry themselves much more seriously than this.That being said, an extremely low IQ for a film doesn’t excuse it from showcasing active competence in aspects more directly important to a movie’s mission of entertainment. As director Jon Chu’s film evidences, even a bad movie has to have good elements (wherever it counts) to be worth it. Fortunately, this dumb-as-rocks Retaliation is quite an entertaining piece of rock candy, with a giddiness to its surprising bits of action and humor, all of which is blanketed by an actively self-aware lighthearted attitude.The following explanation of plot won’t make much sense for those who do not know/remember how the original film left off, so stay with me here. Since his world-saving heroism in Rise of Cobra, super soldier Duke (Channing Tatum) has risen from recruit in “elite fighting force” G.I. Joe to top leader. Under his command are a group of soldiers, including his friend Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) and Flint (D.J. Cotrona).

Meanwhile, back in America, our freedom is threatened by the mole scheme of evil Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), who has been acting like United States president (Jonathan Pryce) for some time while his Cobra bosses Commander and Destro remain in captivity. While looking and sounding exactly like the president (thanks to nanobots, which were featured in Rise of Cobra), Zartan frames Snake Eyes (Ray Park) for killing the Pakistani president and calls a strike on the Joes at their base overseas which leaves many of them dead, including Duke. (NOTE: This is featured prominently in the arc of many trailers, so that non-spoiler is essentially fair game.)

Following through on his desire to get revenge on the Joes for locking him up, Commander uses Zartan’s position of power to begin an evil scheme that threatens to kill everyone with nuclear war and would give him ample opportunity for world domination. 

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At the same time, brothers-from-another-mother ninjas Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun) and Snake Eyes continue to hash out their childhood drama, with the two turning to Blind Master (RZA) in hopes of best understanding the events that divided them.

In order to stop Cobra, Roadblock and crew return to the United States, hoping to expose Zartan as a fake President. They turn for help to General Joseph Colton, (Bruce Willis), who can provide them with the artillery and manpower to help stop Zartan and all of Cobra from unleashing chaos.Taking over the film after the always likable Tatum leaves the picture, Johnson continues to have solid charisma as an all-American hero, one with a sense of humor and who is certainly believable carrying a Schwarzenegger-sized gun. The largest show stealer however is Jonathan Pryce, who has many of the film’s best pieces of dialogue; he steals the show like Sam Rockwell did in Iron Man 2.Other appearances in this character-heavy movie are a bit less successful, as Cotrona and Palicki are bland sidekicks compared to their charismatic leader Johnson (and compared to original sidekicks Marlon Wayans and Rachel Nichols in Rise of Cobra); the presence of RZA as Blind Master only seeks to make an awkward joke out of his kung fu pretentiousness.

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In what matters most of all to a film like G.I. Joe: Retaliation, director Jon M. Chu (previously of Step Up 2 the Streets and Step Up 3D) delivers the action with a sense of cohesion, while maintaining the cartoon level of silliness. That being said, a fight sequence on the side of a mountain (on the side of a mountain!) proves to be the movie’s most inspired, with other moments of direct hand-to-hand combat or trigger happy nuttiness (of which there are plenty) exposed as not having the same amount of imagination. Instead of the fighting, its the warfare technology presented in this movie that shows the most action creativity overall, offering a wealthy amount of surprises to a weapon’s destructive potential. A great boost to this movie’s campy entertainment value is its sense of humor, which is often on display through dialogue that is worth a lot of big laughs (the script is written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, formerly of Zombieland). This isn’t dialogue that just winks at the audience, but confirms how seriously this movie is taking a potential world war between G.I. Joe and Cobra (not at all) and it provides a great zing to moments that seem to be even the most serious. For example, in his Cobra Commander voice, the goofy sounding villain dismisses a former partner from assistance by telling him, “You’re out of the band.”Whether this movie was initially delayed from its original June 2012 release for 3D post production conversion (PPC) or not, Retaliation does indeed offer the opportunity for patrons to pay extra to wear tinted spectacles on their faces. That being said, Retaliation isn’t one of PPC’s sleazier moments, as it does have consistent bits of depth to its imagery and it also doesn’t darken the image too much. That aforementioned mountain fight would likely play just as well and with the same intensity, without the characters appearing as if they are a bit closer to our faces.

It is safe to say this, this sequel is indeed more “intimate” than Rise of Cobra, in that this movie avoids a massive set piece (like Cobra’s Ice Battle Bonanza) in its fulfillment of title-promised retaliation. Indeed, the conflicts that lead to the main action sequences here are more personal, as Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow are hashing out more bad blood and Roadblock gunning up to get revenge for the death of Duke and others. So yes, this is a more intimate G.I. Joe movie, but that doesn’t mean this is G.I. Joe: Amour. Nope, this franchise still functions most of all on its emotions towards firepower and explosions; while there may not be a super-battle that rips from Thunderball and Star Wars at the same time (like the aforementioned Ice Bonanza), plenty of doors, buildings and maybe a few hundred square miles are explosively erased from existence.Even more than its action potential, Retaliation is in control of its silliness. Every plot hole, super plot hole, mega plot hole, mega super mega plot hole and straight up dumb scene feels intentional, securing this movie as an idiotic delight made by relatively smart filmmakers. Like his work with the two Step Up dance films, Chu understands what elements are most important to deliver on when it comes to storytelling made for sequences, and what can be left for those who chose to foolishly expect more. It remains to be seen whether these filmmakers could make a solid movie that relies on logic to propel an actual plot, but working for G.I. Joe, they are certainly smart enough to execute this dumb mission well.

After all, if this movie actually wanted to be good, it would probably be much worse.

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Den of Geek Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars 

Rating:

3.5 out of 5