G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)

gi joe retaliation IMDb

If Dwayne Johnson isn’t careful, he’s going to get a reputation as some sort of franchise saver. He has already done it with the Fast and the Furious films, and now he has been brought on to rescue the G.I. Joe series in what seems like somewhat of a reboot to the series. None of the old cast return outside of Channing Tatum and Ray Park, and Tatum is barely in this film.

G..I Joe picks up a few years after the first film. Duke (Tatum) is now ensconced in the Joe team and is their field commander. He is accompanied by Roadblock (Johnson), Snake Eyes (Ray Park), Lady Jaye (Adrienne Palicki), Mouse (the kid from Jurassic Park) and Flint (DJ Controna) among other unnamed generic soldiers. The Joes are sent to Pakistan to acquire some nuclear warheads that have been stolen. The first action sequence of the film involves this mission, when it is over, the Joes are attacked by US forces. The President (Jonathan Pryce), who is actually the Cobra master of disguise Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), ordered the attack on the Joes, painting them as traitors. Roadblock, Lady Jaye and Flint, the only survivors of the attack, must find their teammate Snake Eyes, and expose the fraud president however they can. Meanwhile, Cobra operatives Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) and Firefly (Ray Stevenson) are sent to bust Cobra Commander out of jail so he can resume his plans to destroy the world.

This is a huge improvement over the original. The cast is much better, mostly due to the addition of Dwayne Johnson. One of my complaints about the first film was that it tried so hard to make all of the characters connected, which I didn’t feel was necessary. Retaliation doesn’t fall into this trap. The Cobra terrorists are evil just because. It doesn’t need explaining and the movie doesn’t bother to try. My only complaint was that nearly the whole cast got punted from the first film. I’d have liked to see Scarlett or Heavy Duty return for the sequel. The only person I really despised from the original was Marlon Wayans, I’m glad he wasn’t back.

The action sequences in this movie are quite good. The climax is a lot of fun, I really liked how they included Bruce Willis as the original G.I. Joe. This is a shout out to the 12 inch size action figure who worked alone before the G.I. Joe toy range was rebooted and turned into a team of soldiers. Willis is good, if not a little sexist, as the aging general.

My biggest complaint about this film is that outside of Snake Eyes, the Joes don’t seem distinctive at all. One of the defining features of the comics and cartoon was that all of the Joes had an individuality about them. I felt like, other than Snake Eyes, all of these guys were just soldiers. There was nothing unique about them and I’d have liked to have seen some of that added to this film.

This is a definite improvement on the first film, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is not great by any means, but is enough of an improvement that I’m excited to see where this series is headed in the future.

Rating: B-

At first glance it would seem that the makers of G.I. Joe: Retaliation learned from the copious mistakes made in the previous installment, G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra. They’ve cast bigger name actors, given them better lines to work with, and gave the film a grittier, more realistic look. However, the plot is still convoluted and the action is often ridiculously over-the-top. It’s still a mess, but slightly less so.

The biggest issue with the entire G.I. Joe movie franchise is that it seemed poorly conceived from the start. The filmmakers of Rise of Cobra didn’t seem to have a clear idea of what they wanted to movie to be. Retaliation attempts to rectify this by giving the story a more serious tone. This is fine, but it unfortunately comes at the expense of nearly the entire original cast. Joe really just needed a small shift in the right direction. Instead they wipe the entire slate clean in the form of killing nearly all of the characters featured in the first, including Channing Tatum. It makes zero sense to bring Tatum back only to dispatch him within the first twenty minutes. He’s the one actor from Cobra who would have fit in well within the retooled world of Retaliation, especially since his popularity had grown between films. It’s a shame his character was deemed unnecessary here.

One problem carried over from Rise of Cobra is the use of a convoluted plot resulting in action sequences that are too large in scale to be believable. I couldn’t even begin to describe what Cobra is up to here, but it ultimately leads to the destruction of London. It would be one thing if they dropped a bomb on the city or something, however whatever they do (Fire a laser from space or something? I’ll be honest, I lost all interest in this movie by the end.) looks like the ground is a tablecloth that’s been shaken. It’s just too big to be believable, and feels out of place given the more realistic tone given to the rest of the movie. I get that Cobra is a ruthless terrorist organization, but come on. At least slowly build up the destruction. Rise of Cobra‘s centerpiece was destroying the Eiffel Tower; decimating one of the world’s largest cities is too big in scale. Really, where can the sequel go from here? Blowing up the moon?

What I did like was the inclusion of Dwayne Johnson. He’s a charismatic actor, with the ability to deliver both action and emotion. I would have liked to see he and Tatum act off each other throughout the entire film. Retaliation also brings Bruce Willis on board. I have my reservations about this casting. On the one hand, Willis brings some legitimacy to the franchise as a seasoned action veteran, but on the other hand he feels out of place in this universe. He’s almost too big of a star and is a distraction.

A sequel to Retaliation has been confirmed, but I won’t be rushing to see it. The entire franchise is a muddled, confusing mess. I don’t have the faith that it can be salvaged to create a great movie. It’s clear that the studio is just trying to sell toys at this point, story be damned. Too bad they can’t manage to create something fun to watch while making money.

Rating: C-


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