The Rock takes the starring role as the G.I. Joes are back in G.I. Joe: Retaliation! But is it a better experience than the first movie or does it fail to deliver? 411's Jeffrey Harris checks in with his full review!
Directed By: Jon Chu Written By: Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese; Based on the toys and action figures by Hasbro Runtime: 110 minutes MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
Roadblock - Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Cobra Commander - Luke Bracey/Justin Baker (Voice) General Joe Colton - Bruce Willis Snake Eyes - Ray Park Storm Shadow - Byung-hun Lee Flint - DJ Cotrona Lady Jaye - Adrianne Palicki Duke - Channing Tatum Firefly - Ray Stevenson Zartan - Arnold Vosloo Jinx - Elodie Yung President - Jonathan Pryce Warden Nigel James - Walt Goggins Mouse - Joseph Mazzello Blind Master - RZA
After a brief period in purgatory, the Joes of GI Joe are back in G.I. Joe: Retaliation. While the first movie, The Rise of Cobra, was not very well received, it still made enough money for Paramount to put forth a sequel in Retaliation. They got some hot ticket writers in Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese fresh off their hit of Zombieland. However, since it was poorly received, much of the established cast, characters, and subplots from the first movie have been unceremoniously dumped, jettisoned without a trace or explanation. Duke (Tatum) is still in charge, but his best buddy Ripcord (Marlon Wayans in the first movie) has been replaced by Roadblock (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), clearly a much more charismatic action hero and more fitting presence for this type of role in this type of movie. I never cared for how the first movie tried to make the Joe team into a type of private, international security firm and turned them into Global Integrated Joint Operated Entity. The Joe team was always comprised a diverse group of people, but they were generally American (I’m not going to get into all the alternate versions of characters like in Action Force). This movie generally and thankfully gets away from that. They've ditched the ugly, black outfits and taken up more practical, realistic military camo outfits and body armor. These are preferable changes.
So long and short of it, is this a better movie than the first one? Yes it is a better movie overall. The first act for the movie is actually quite good and moves rather well. Despite a rather, superfluous and tacked on prologue, things are set up and established pretty well. The President (Pryce) is still Zartan (Vosloo) in disguise and manipulating things in favor of Cobra behind the scenes. The Joe team is decimated and only Roadblock, Lady Jaye (Palicki), and Flint (Cotrona) are left alive. The group was betrayed by the government and they are stranded in the desert with no allies and no resources. Storm Shadow (Lee) and Firefly (Stevenson) stage a daring prison escape of Cobra Commander (Bracey/Baker). The issue of Destro’s absence from most of the story is actually addressed and explained. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn't deal acknowledging such things as cleverly. Despite his incompetent origin and backstory in the first movie, this go around Cobra Commander is a much stronger, cooler looking, and more menacing presence in this movie. So Cobra now has control of the White House. They have their own Cobra army, a gigantic arsenal of weapons, HISS tanks, and a doomsday device at their disposal. Cobra is holding on the cards, and the Joes are basically down to 5. It’s not unlike the underrated and short-lived animated series G.I. Joe: Renegades with the Joes on the run from a seemingly “benevolent” Cobra who are in control. It’s a solid foundation to build a story and movie like this off of.
Snake Eyes fortunately is tracking Cobra and Storm Shadow’s movements. He’s charged by Blind Master (RZA) to team-up with Storm Shadow’s cousin, Jinx (Yung), to go to Storm Shadow’s mountain hideout and bring him back. This leads to one of the more thrilling and enjoyable sequences in the movie. Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow duel it out in his mountain hideout. The fight then moves outside as Snake Eyes and Jinx are pursued in the mountains by the Red Ninja Clan. This is one of the cooler and more creative fights in the movie. There’s no dialogue in this sequence, just Storm Shadow Snake Eyes kicking ass.
Unfortunately the movie loses a lot of steam from there. The Joes are able to piece together that the President is an impostor and recruit the original GI Joe, Joe Colton (Willis in full on autopilot mode) to help and expose Cobra. Unfortunately the third act is extremely rushed. Things aren't really explained and everything is wrapped up way too easily. Transitions are clunky.
The worst thing about the movie though and why director Jon Chu truly failed to live up to the expectations the people who bolstered the movie set is that something pretty horrible, tragic, and terrible happens in the third act. You've seen shots of what happens in the trailers. But basically it happens, and it’s treated with the weight of being whacked by a feather. There are no emotional consequences in this story. Now you can tell me, this is just a fun action movie based on a toy line. And while that’s true, I still think an action movie can still have emotional depth and consequences. The stakes at the end suddenly become laughable. The Joes fail and they fail completely and utterly big time. And yet no one acknowledges what happened. To treat such an event this way is emotionally irresponsible and unacceptable. Just take for example in Star Trek (2009). Planet Vulcan is destroyed and literally sucked up by a black up hole into nothing. When that happened, while the movie doesn't wallow in it, it’s a sobering moment. Starfleet failed, and Spock had a pretty low moment. We see Spock Prime witness the event and how it affected him. I think what is even worse is that the terrible atrocity that occurs is basically allowed to happen when it should have been stopped. I think my basic point is, as a longtime fan of the material, I truly believe just because this is based on toys, cartoons, and comics does not mean there has to be a lack of depth and emotional consequences. I've read plenty of G.I. Joe stories where the emotions were heavy, the depth was there, and the stakes were real. When there were failures amongst the team, or when people died, it could be devastating. These were important events. Jon Chu’s background was doing the Step Up sequels and a Justin Bieber documentary. He fails at elevating the material as I believe it could be and still has the potential to be. He seems in over his head in developing characters and looking at the bigger picture. Just because Batman was a comic and is about a guy who wears dark bat tights and beats up criminals, does that mean stakes have to be low or when people die it’s insignificant? I don’t think so.
Another example is Cotrona as Flint. Flint is one of my favorite characters. Flint was a Rhodes Scholar turned Army Ranger. He had this great romance with Lady Jaye. And in this movie, he’s a pointless character. Cotrona has absolutely nothing to do except make cow eyes at Lady Jaye, which never goes anywhere either. Flint is set up at the beginning as an arrogant, insubordinate troublemaker. He’s apparently new to the team, and he has a problem with authority. OK, that is something to work with, but the movie never follows it up. Tension is hinted at with Roadblock and Flint, but it never goes anywhere. Flint is never punished or dressed down for the way he blatantly shows off, messes up, and disobeys orders at the prologue. That could be a great subplot to build off his arc through the rest of the movie. Instead he does nothing except sit around and check out Lady Jaye’s ass.
For other characters, I did like Ray Stevenson as Firefly. Firefly’s a fun character and he works well like a henchmen type of character in this movie should. Jonathan Pryce doubling as Zartan was entertaining and worked great considering it’s a villainous psychopath in charge of the most powerful country in the world (*insert appropriate joke here*). Unfortunately those who hope for some Zartan unleashed action, do not hold your breath. Vosloo only appears in a handful of token shots. It makes one wonder if he was ever on set at all, and if his rare appearances are nothing more than digital trickery and leftover footage from the first movie. Bruce Willis is fun and entertaining as Colton, but it just be aware its Bruce Willis being Bruce Willis.
The third act is rushed and everything ends an anticlimactic fashion. All the tragedy that has taken place is never really addressed or felt. This isn't The Empire Strikes Back where at the end the heroes are alive but you left that movie with the feeling that they have lost and things will never be the same. After what has happened in Retaliation, there should really be no euphoria at all.
The 411: This is a much better movie than Rise of Cobra. Overall though, I still think the franchise has a potential it is not completely living up to. If you are a fan of G.I. Joe, some cool action, and ninjas, this is probably one to check out. The 3D conversion isn't especially exceptional or eye-popping other than a few shots and the mountain sequence with the ninjas. Other than that, it was an unnecessary addition (reportedly another $5 million) to an already expensive movie.