By Jonathan Kellam
G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)
Directed by Jon M. Chu
*½ out of ****
Dwayne Johnson – Roadblock
Channing Tatum – Duke
Bruce Willis – General Joe Colton
Adrianne Palicki – Lady Jaye
Blockbuster season seems to be starting early this year with the arrival of G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the follow-up to 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. This sequel sees the return of very few characters from the original and this is likely due to the generally poor reviews that film received. Nevertheless, Retaliation attracted lucrative stars Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis to fill the roster. This time around, the Joes are labeled as traitors by their own government and hunted down after the President colludes with the evil terrorist organization, Cobra. Cobra is commanded by, well, Cobra Commander, of course, and the extermination of the Joes is just part of his diabolical plot. Led by Johnson’s character, Roadblock, the surviving Joes regroup, recruit an old ally and hatch a plan to stop Cobra and clear their names.
I am someone that can very much enjoy a simple blow-em-up movie and I understand that in these movies things like sharp dialogue, character development and good acting tend to take a back seat. However, this film just isn’t exciting enough to make up for the silly plot and poor writing. First of all, the story just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It is never clear exactly what it was that Cobra Commander wanted. And why do his much more formidable subordinates seem to fear him? Before his transformation into Cobra Commander, he wasn’t particularly someone of influence and he doesn’t even seem too bright. All he really does is hiss orders and try his best to resemble the offspring of Darth Vader and a Gestapo officer. Also, don’t all these aliases start to sound just a little silly? We have Roadblock, Snake Eyes, Destro, Storm Shadow, Jinx, and the list goes on… The X-Men films handled this much better. The characters have their comic book aliases but they are mostly used as call signs on missions; in private, they refer to each other by their real names. Near the beginning of Retaliation, Cobra Commander and Destro are imprisoned and even the guards refer to them as such. There is one well-executed action sequence that involves ninjas fighting on a mountainside, but it is countered by a horrendous scene involving a nuclear weapons summit that was one of the silliest things I’ve seen on screen in quite some time.
Jon M. Chu’s directing credits include Step Up 2: The Streets, Step Up 3D, and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. It’s curious that the producers would recruit him to helm a big budget sci-fi action film. Considering the poor feedback on the first film, you would think they would have made a safer bet. I actually enjoyed this film’s predecessor, The Rise of Cobra. It didn’t take itself too seriously, it was much more exciting, and it was reminiscent of some of the older James Bond films, complete with futuristic gadgets and even an underwater lair. This film attempted to reduce much of the campiness that was present in the first film, but in doing so they really just removed all the fun. I have never read the G.I. Joe comic book or seen the cartoons, but I understand many fans criticized the first film for not being loyal to its source material. Perhaps they will prefer this one.
Dwayne Johnson is, in my opinion, an above average action star. He’s likeable, relatively believable and not too over-the-top as Roadblock. Bruce Willis must be one of the busiest actors in Hollywood. He’s starred in eight films in the past 15 months and has two more coming before the end of the year. Ninety percent of the time he plays the same character, but he plays that character well, including in this, although his role is not as large as the trailer would lead you to believe. Channing Tatum seemed a little detached and I think it’s likely he only returned because he was contracted to appear in a sequel. Not much can be said for the most of the cast, not because they were necessarily poor actors, but because the script gave them so little to work with.
If you are a lifelong G.I. Joe fan or have children in the 7-12 year range, this film may be right up your alley. If not, I suspect you will find it difficult to enjoy. There are a few entertaining action scenes and decent visual effects, but other than that I found this to be a fairly lackluster follow-up to its underrated predecessor. I could live with somewhat disappointing action scenes if there were great characters and an intriguing plot to give the film legs, but neither is found here. Nevertheless, I suspect G.I. Joe: Retaliation will do well this weekend and there will undoubtedly be a third entry in the series.