Upfront I’m going to say that I actually quite enjoyed 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, from director Stephen (The Mummy, Van Helsing) Sommers. Although it seemed like the filmmakers lost their nerve in the final act and, fearful of being deprived a sequel, overstuffed the film to avoid loose ends, the first Joe film succeeded in an area few other adaptations do: it actually felt like a live-action version of the cartoon I remember from my childhood. You know, where the white ninja fights the black ninja, our sole heroine has an evil female counterpart to confront every time and while the goodies operate out of a secret desert base, the baddies have a lair under the North Pole. The whole thing was silly and cheesy… so naturally the sequel had to be more conventional, grim-faced (for the most part), and American gung-ho.
Now if the latter is your favourite style of escapist action movie, you may enjoy G.I. Joe: Retaliation (based on the Hasbro toy line). I didn’t. Delayed by almost a year from its initial May 2012 release date – ostensibly to convert the film into unremarkable 3D – Retaliation feels largely disjointed and unsatisfying.
Under the direction of Step Up 2 and 3’s Jon M. Chu, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is very much a case of “out with the old, in with the new.” Rachel Nichols’s Scarlett, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Heavy Duty and Marlon Wayans’s Ripcord don’t return, and these iconic characters disappointingly receive no mention. Instead, Channing Tatum’s Duke passes the Joe baton – or should that be assault rifle? – to Dwayne Johnson’s Roadblock, DJ Cotrona’s Flint and Adrianne Palicki’s Lade Jaye. These elite soldiers have to stop Cobra agent Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), who is masquerading as the US president (Jonathan Pryce) to secure world domination. Meanwhile mute hero Snake Eyes (Ray Park) is in hot pursuit of Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee), as the frequently shirtless ninja is sure to be in on Cobra’s top secret plan.
Retaliation introduces a few other new characters, good and evil, but that’s largely irrelevant because the film is completely devoid of character introduction or development. And some of the acting is noticeably awful – “blind” RZA and Elodie (Jinx) Yung, I’m looking at you!
Johnson at least comes out unscathed as the best thing about G.I. Joe: Retaliation, coasting on his natural badass-but-comical charisma. Palicki also does alright as the ultra-competent babe in the team, while Cotrona’s Flint is irritatingly morose and demonstrates his free-running skills (yes, you read that right) for a grand total of 90 seconds in the film. Bruce Willis, meanwhile, flips between rage and full-blown disinterest in his tiny role as a pivotal ex-Joe.
That G.I. Joe: Retaliation is dumb is not surprising. What is unexpected though is how tonally uneven the film is. For the most part it plays out as fairly standard, relatively low-tech military ops movie in an urban setting. All the scenes involving Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow though feel like they belong in the original film as opposed to this one – given their ultra-far-fetched nature, cartoonish supporting characters and reliance on cheesy revelations that come out of nowhere.
This said, the zip-line fight scene involving Snake Eyes and a band of ninjas is hands down the most exhilarating action scene in the film, if not the year so far. It is however the ONLY coherent battle in a movie that otherwise suffers from a severe case of hyper-edited, migraine-inducing fight scenes.
Speaking of editing, given how the film gratingly shifts gears, one can’t help but think some miscalculated re-shoots and re-editing took place during Retaliation’s lengthy release delay.
Ultimately then, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a disappointment. In going the “grittier” route, it’s been leeched of its sense of goofy fun, and lost its unique franchise identity. Instead of a high-tech, globe-trotting squad movie, it’s your pretty average military revenge movie; just with a smattering of colourful costumes. It’s technically competent but not overwhelmingly impressive. You’re better off just watching the highlights reel that kicks off the end credits than sitting through all 110 minutes of this one.
Last Updated: April 10, 2013