Review: 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation' Will Suffice for the Die Hard Joe Fans
by Jeremy Kirk
March 28, 2013
Yo Joe…again! After Stephen Sommers' hokier-than-thou blockbuster G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra - even that title shrieks hokey - there wasn't much they could have done to turn fans off of a live-action, G.I. Joe franchise more. Thankfully, Hasbro and company took a different approach with G.I. Joe: Retaliation, a follow-up that plays harder, faster, and a much more exciting game than its predecessor. It's no more intelligent, and any series coherency you might have been expecting from the first film is shot all to hell. But Retaliation aims to deliver some stylishly explosive action, something it does over and over again. Read on!
Taking place an undisclosed time after The Rise of Cobra, Retaliation still finds the villainous Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) posing as our beloved Commander in Chief (Jonathan Pryce). Aiming for world domination under the control of the evil organization, Cobra, Zartan orders the destruction of the G.I. Joe military group, leaving only a handful of them left alive. It's up to that small group of hardened soldiers, led by Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), to put a stop to Zartan, Storm Shadow, and Cobra Commander and their destructive plans.
That's a lot of names to keep track of, and that's nothing to say of Snake Eyes, Lady Jaye, Flint, Firefly, etc. The names are still goofy. There's no getting around that with a live-action G.I. Joe film just like there's no getting around the eye-rolling utterance of Optimus Prime or Megatron's names in Transformers. Like those movies, however, Retaliation goes in full-force on the comic book gimmick of its source material, but it does so in a very serious manner. At least it's a lot more serious than The Rise of Cobra tried to be.
That doesn't make Retaliation a picture-perfect action movie by any stretch. Screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (those of Zombieland fame) are fans of the exposition, anything to ensure the audience is nowhere near confused in the middle of this would-be, mindless actioner. The whole opening section of the film is Johnson as Roadblock explaining to the audience who everyone is complete with visual aids. It's the opening cut scene of a video game if ever there was one, and it's just the first in a long string of information dumps Retaliation seems forced to take. The harder the film tries explaining itself or Zartan's plan to take control of the world or Roadblock and company's plan of attack against Cobra, the dumber it feels. You just want more stuff to blow up all shiny and fun like.
And that's something G.I. Joe: Retaliation does well. Who would have thought Jon M. Chu, the director behind two Step Up movies and the Justin Bieber documentary, would be the director to give us the action-extravaganza, furious take on G.I. Joe fans of the original series have been pining for. The action is all solid here, Chu keeping a steady handle on the choreography and framing to keep the audience invested in what's going on. Yes, the camera shakes more than it should, but it's never at a confusing rate.
The more elaborate action set pieces blend computer imagery with practical effects nicely, often hiding the former well with nice editing. There are only a few times in Retaliation where the CGI takes over, where it once again feels more like a Stephen Sommers movie than the work of someone trying to keep it a little more grounded. Once entire cities begin caving in on themselves thanks to Cobra's latest, world-dominating weapon, though, practical effects just wouldn't cut it anyway. Much of the action in G.I. Joe: Retaliation stays in realistic territory, though, bullets and blades flying around and actual characters, characters we've become invested in, meeting unpleasant ends. It never takes itself too seriously, but it never dips into full-comic-book mode, either.
Keeping the film's tone handling in check is Chu's biggest success here, but it wouldn't work as well if the actors involved aren't on board as much as they are. Johnson, the man who sweats charisma when he isn't actually sweating sweat, is the perfect choice to lead the Joes, a walking brick with a charming smile. It's some of the secondary performances, though, that really get Retaliation's A-game working. Chief among these is Pryce, playing both the kidnapped President and the masked Zartan as he holds control of the White House. As Zartan, Pryce is having the time of his life, taunting the world with nuclear devastation and playing power-hungry with the best of them. While Cobra Commander, totally masked and almost a non-factor here, hides in the shadows, Zartan takes charge as the real antagonist to this G.I. Joe story. Pryce is more than enough actor to make this antagonist a memorable one.
Channing Tatum returns for a few, early scenes as Duke, and Ray Park comes back to flip and battle as the ninja Snake Eyes. They're familiar and welcome characters filling this far superior film to their first adventure together. Bruce Willis even pops up for a handful of scenes as the original G.I. Joe, and, at times, G.I. Joe: Retaliation feels like it's going to fall under the weight of too much story, too many characters. It's a problem most blockbuster franchise entries end up with, but Chu and company do a nice job streamlining the story here, getting to the sequences that work and making them as absolutely entertaining as they can. G.I. Joe: Retaliation isn't quite the Joe film fans have been clamoring for for years, but it'll do until someone gets the formula down perfectly. Just so long as Jonathan Pryce is back on board.
Jeremy's Rating: 7 out of 10