Director: Jon M. Chu
Writer: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Bruce Willis, Channing Tatum, Adrianne Palicki
Release date: March 28th, 2013
Distributors: Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Running time: 110 minutes
Best Part: Willis and Johnson
Worst Part: RZA as the blind master
Hollywood’s latest trend has been to adapt cartoons and toy franchises into big-budget movies. Toy company Hasbro is rolling in cash after the commercial success of the Transformers films and Battleship. However, commercial success doesn’t guarantee quality. Arguably, the best films with the Hasbro name on them are the G.I. Joe flicks. G.I. Joe: Retaliation is the better of the two, but that’s still not saying much.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation is silly yet enjoyable. The plot, such as it is, is a lot saner than I thought it would be. It starts off with Duke (Channing Tatum) and Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) enjoying military life as members of the G.I. Joe Unit. They save countless lives, defeat super-villains with ease, and lap up everything at their disposal. However, their time spent protecting the Earth is about to hit a huge, ahem, roadblock. On a mission to reclaim nuclear arms in Pakistan, they are attacked by the vicious underground military unit known as Cobra. The attack was organised by none other than the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce). As announced rather hastily in the trailer, the president is not who he seems. The only Joes left alive after the attack are Roadblock, Snake Eyes (Ray Park), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), and Flint (D.J. Cotrona). Teaming up with the original G.I. Joe member, General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis), the remaining Joes must track down those responsible and bring them to justice.
The original cartoon was designed to advertise the hugely popular action figures. Let’s make one thing clear; both live-action films are just as stupid and flawed as the original material. They are low-brow in every sense. The thing that makes them better than the other Hasbro flicks is their sense of humour. Both films wink at the audience. It’s as if everyone involved is aware of the franchise’s silly premise, catch phrases, and iconography. The first G.I. Joe flick, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, was an ultra-dumb yet fun cartoon in live action form. It was essentially Team America: World Police without the satirical edge or marionettes. It reached for Transformers success without understanding anything about story or character consistency. Its sequel gives the franchise a facelift. This pseudo-reboot gets rid of the original’s ultra-shiny and unconvincing special effects to deliver a rollicking thrill-ride. Gone are the accelerator suits, advanced laser-weapons and ice palaces. Here, we get a cross between the original and grittier ensemble action flicks such as Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and The A-Team. For the most part, the settings, costumes and gun-fights in G.I. Joe: Retaliation are tangible. Machine guns and camouflage army outfits suit this interpretation of G.I. Joe. This style may draw a larger crowd to this ridiculous franchise.
This movie diverts from the crass and unessential elements of the Transformers films and Battleship. Unlike those movies, G.I. Joe: Retaliation knows what it is and doesn’t try to exceed its grasp. It revels in its predictable ‘men on a mission’ story without becoming jingoistic or insulting. Unlike the original, there are no unnecessary romantic sub-plots, predictable revelations, or awkward familial ties between characters. Here, it’s a revenge flick driven by both its action set pieces and spy narrative. The action set pieces are, of course, why the average Joe (du dun chh!) would want to see this movie. Thankfully, they don’t disappoint. Director Jon M. Chu (Step Up 2 the Streets, Step Up 3D) utilises his talents to master these set pieces. His handling of choreography and movement brings fluidity and exhilaration to each action scene. Thankfully, he avoids quick cuts and shaking cameras. The film’s best set piece is shown in many of the trailers. The ninja fight across the mountain face is a lot more exciting and vertigo-inducing than expected. Unfortunately, the action sequences past this point are anti-climactic.
“In the immortal words of Jay-Z: “Whatever deity may guide my life, dear lord don’t let me die tonight. But if I shall before I wake, I’d accept my fate.”” (Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), G.I. Joe: Retaliation).
The witty script, by Zombieland writers Rhett Reece and Paul Wernick, saves this film. The iconic elements of the G.I. Joe franchise are subtly and fondly peppered throughout this film. The all-important Joe characters shine on screen. Roadblock is a nice addition to this series. He is given a greater back-story than expected. He also becomes the strong leader needed in a time of crisis. Dwayne Johnson’s physique and natural charm stand out here. The original Joe’s inclusion was also a nice surprise. Willis brings his dry wit to an otherwise straight-faced role. Palicki and Cotrona liven up their one dimensional characters. However, faring poorly is former Wu-Tang Clan member RZA. He is laughable as Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow’s master, sporting both white-tipped facial hair and a strange accent. Asian actor Byung-Hun Lee does the best he can with some of the film’s worst dialogue. Except for Pryce’s ego-maniacal president character, the villains are uninteresting. The Cobra Commander and Firefly (Ray Stevenson) are over the top. You begin to miss the Joes whenever they aren’t on screen.
If you are willing to suspend disbelief, then you may enjoy G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Aided by the charisma of Willis and Johnson, the film is a non-stop thrill-ride. This film has its problems (e.g. too many silly code names), but it understands just how preposterous this franchise is.
Verdict: A silly yet enjoyable sequel.