Film Review – G.I. Joe: Retaliation

GI Joe Retaliation Movie PosterA theory is forming. Adding Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. “The Rock,” to your film franchise will deliver it safely into the arms of adoring fans. The theory is limited to only two franchises at this point: The Fast & Furious films, and now G.I. Joe. To backtrack, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was seen as a bit of a mess as far as a take on the comic book, cartoon, and toy franchise was concerned. While fun, it didn’t come off as much of a live-action adaptation as fans wanted. With G.I. Joe: Retaliation, new series director Jon M. Chu, a professed fan of the comic and cartoon, has brought an almost holy-faithful return to the characters and storytelling that made the series famous in the mid ’80s. And then there’s Dwayne Johnson.

Working in the film’s favor is a great combination of approaches to the telling of the story: playing the cards where they were last dealt at the end of the first movie; the pacing and delivery of the multiple storylines; and a visual aesthetic that’s lifted straight from the morning cartoon. Picking up almost right where things left off in Rise of Cobra, we see the Joes carrying on, and we see a precariously poised Cobra. Though we also see things have changedthe Joes have different team members. Joining them are Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), and Flint (D.J. Cortona), all characters from the original series. We also see no more power suits or skin-tight black armor; what we have are the characters more closely resembling their original toy counterparts, which were originally designed to help magnify personalities.

Unfortunately, there’s very little in the way of character distinctions. Where the cartoon and comic had characters that were immediately identifiable by their purpose to the group as well as their individual outfits, the characters here have almost no personality outside of the actors’ line delivery. It somehow works for the film, as much as it sounds negative. The story delivery is much like that of writer Larry Hama‘s comics, which ran from 1992 to 1994, where each character’s storyline builds against a backdrop of a central conflict, weaving in and out, some characters used here, some there, which falls in line with the change-up of the team in this movie as opposed to that of the last. It almost would be a bit too frantic if not for the right decision to pare down how many people the story focuses on.

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So to get to it, Cobra makes the comeback move it was poised for, allowing Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) to rescue Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey), and leaving Destro behind. As Cobra Commander so eloquently puts it, “You’re out of the band, Destro.” Meanwhile, Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), who’s doing his best Jonathon Pryce as the President impersonation, orders a tactical strike on the Joes, claiming they are traitors to America. Now keep up, the Joes get hit and are reduced to a small rag-tag group that is now considered dead along with the rest of their team, and it’s up to them to expose Zartan and stop Cobra Commander from holding the world as hostage, because there’s this new weapon he has called the Zeus Project, which drops tungsten rods from satellites in orbit and levels entire cities, as we see happen to London, and then never gets mentioned again. Are you still there? Good, because along the way, the Joes are going to need help from the guy who’s the reason they’re called Joes. That’s where Bruce Willis comes into our story, playing General Joe Colton.

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Joe has a house that’s literally full of guns. See that cupboard, it’s really a gun rack, and so is that oven, and that kitchen sink, oh, and that couch, etc. This is all a part of the greater absurdity that is this movie. Thankfully, we have Dwayne Johnson front and center to help pull us through the cracked-out insanity, because I forgot to mention there are also ninjas. Fan favorite Snake Eyes (Ray Park) is back, and he’s determined to bring Storm Shadow to justice for the death of his master, the Hard Master. This leads to an epic ninja fight, as Snake Eyes and Jinx (Elodie Young) fight off advancing Cobra ninjas whilst they traipse by rope from mountain to mountain in the Himalayas. Good thing they delayed this film eight months to post convert it to 3-D. Actually, as sarcastic as that sentence should be, it’s not. The ninja fight scene I think works exceptionally well in 3-D and probably wouldn’t have looked as good not.

Parse out the carnival that is the plot, and what you have is how the old adage goes, a rip-roaring good time. And you have Dwayne Johnson, whose presence certainly will help foster a series that stays more true to form than Rise of Cobra did, and hopefully will see the return of Jon M. Chu, who seems to have found his place. While the overall excitement never seems to reach fist-pumping levels, the visual delivery of a world that looks like what G.I. Joe fans are accustomed to, coupled with storylines lifted straight from the comics and cartoon, makes for a fanperson’s delight, and an otherwise engaging popcorn affair for the average movie-going crowd.

Final Grade: B


Benjamin Nason is a writer, film-maker and critic from the Pacific Northwest, where he lives with his cat Lulu.

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