A film review by Craig J. Koban April 3, 2013


2013, PG-13, 112 mins.

Duke: Channing Tatum / Roadblock: Dwayne Johnson / Colton: Bruce Willis / Snake Eyes: Ray Park / Jaye: Adrianne Palicki / Flint: D.J. Cotrona

Directed by Jon M. Chu. Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick



Of all of the films that I’ve seen based on a very famous and much cherished Hasbro-made militaristic toy line from my childhood, G.I. JOE: RETALIATION is by far the worst.  

It’s highly fitting, then, that this film is as lifeless as the original 3 and ¾ inch scale action figures of my innocent youth.  As a sequel to the slightly better and a bit more tolerable G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA from 2009, this film comes off even more this time as a mass marketed entity to shamelessly sell a product and familiar brand, something that will only appeal to the fetishistic drives of 8-year old viewers…or many an adult in the audience forever trapped in a pathetic state of arrested development.   

I’m not sure what is entirely more unforgivable: that (a) the film is from the snappy and witty writing duo of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who penned the wondrously sly ZOMBIELAND or (b) that it is directed by the same man that helmed JUSTIN BIEBER: NEVER SAY NEVER and the STEP UP films.  Regardless of the people behind the scenes, films like G.I. JOE: RETALIATION operate on pure franchise autopilot, delivering just more of the same of what the initial Stephen Sommers forgettable entry already did.  I have heard that some critics like how big, dumb, and silly this sequel is, which makes it, as a result and in their minds, so rewardingly enjoyable.  Note to these people: just because a tentpole film like this is noisy, bombastic, unpretentiously infantile and dumber than a proverbial bag of hammers doesn’t automatically mean that it’s an enjoyable entertainment.   

G.I. JOE: RETALIATION is not so much a dedicated and loyal sequel to the original as it is a sequel/reboot (some of the major players from the first are back this go-around in a very limited capacity, whereas others have been completely left out).  The plot this time, perhaps even more than its antecedent, is ripped right out of a Saturday morning cartoon, which seems like a bit of a slap to the face of some decent Saturday morning cartoons.  Heroes and villains are so black and white they blind out all of colors of the visual spectrum: There’s the "Joes" (global good guys) versus COBRA (global bad guys) with the latter disgracing and framing the former (for stealing nukes from Pakistan), all while the U.S. president is held hostage and a doppelganger serves in his place.  Only the Joes and a very famous DIE HARD actor are able to save the day. 



How does all of this happen?  Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) is second in command to the head commander of COBRA, who is named, yup, Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey, but since he’s behind a full helmet and sports a voice that’s like Christian Bale’s Batman in desperate need of a throat lozenge, just about any actor would have done) that uses nanotechnology to make himself look exactly like the president (who, in this case, is Jonathon Pryce).  Zartan's first mission parameter is to make it look like the G.I. Joes – comprised of Duke (Channing Tatum), Roadblock (played by an actual physical roadblock, Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jane (Adrianne Palicki), and Flint (D.J. Cotrona) – have maliciously stolen a nuclear warhead from another country, after which Zartan – as the pres – orders all of the Joes to be eliminated. 

Still with me? 

Next on Zartan’s list is to send out Firefly (Ray Stevenson) and Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) to free his now incarcerated and frozen master Cobra Commander, during which time Storm Shadow is injured and retreats to a secret lair in the Himalayas.  Realizing that Storm Shadow is alive, the “Blind Master” (played in the WTF-cameo of the year by raper RZA), leader of the Arashikage Clan, sends in prized pupil Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and his apprentice, Jinx (Elodie Yung) – actually Storm Shadows’ cousin – to apprehend Storm Shadow so that he can be punished for murdering his uncle, the “Hard Master’. 

I've just gone crossed eyed, but are you still with me? 

Meanwhile, the remaining Joes that were not killed set up a base of operations in an abandoned gym.  They hope to seek out and find one of the original Joes, General Joseph Colton (Bruce Willis, in the second WTF-cameo of the year), whom they want to come out of retirement and help the team and fight back against Cobra.  Zartan’s end-game reaches a crescendo when he invites leaders from major countries around the world and tricks them into disarming their nukes (this really pisses off North Korea) and then unleashes Cobra’s newest weapon, a Death Star-like satellite that can destroy an entire city without radiation fallout.  Now, why Cobra does not just launch the weapon to destroy the city where the Joes are located is beyond me, outside, of course, that we would not have an action packed climax where the heroes reign supreme, I guess. 

Believe me, there were three things I liked about this film: (1) I really liked looking at Adrianne Palicki, (2) The Rock exudes effortless charm even in the most throwaway roles and (3) the action scenes are pretty cleanly presented, as is the case in a nifty mid-movie set piece involving Snake Eyes and Jinx battling a squadron of ninjas while swinging off the mountains of the Himalayas (preposterous, yes, but also cleverly executed).  Beyond that, the film just offers up overblown and overproduced spectacle without a care in the world to actually defining the Joes as fully realized characters worthy of our rooting interest.  For the most part, they have zero personality beyond their gender and weapons specialty.  When Willis shows up as Joe you would think that it would provide a hypodermic needle-like jolt this film, but he looks so positively bored and stiff in his exceedingly pithy cameo (maybe he was mentally busy counting all of the zeros on what must have been a large paycheck).   At least Joseph Gordon-Levitt opted out of the sequel, perhaps realizing that his career-low work as Cobra Commander in G.I. JOE 1 was debasing enough. 

Then there are the many moments of mindless incredulity in the script (which appears at times to be written by pre-pubescent boys) where inane things happen, like, for instance, the entire city of London being instantly destroyed by Cobra’s weapon as a show of force; the unimaginable destruction looks spiffy in its own pristine CGI-enhanced way, but then we never hear about the affect this has had on Europe and the world at large.  Untold millions of people perished and the city – by what’s shown – will never be able to be rebuilt as a result of the geological damage, but in the end the real president addresses the world and ensures that everything is a-okay.  I have never seen a film where such a cataclysmic loss of human life has been so discretely thrown under the rug by the ho-hum screenplay.  There’s something a bit distasteful about the decimation of real cities in films that are shown for the purposes of sensationalistic thrills…and in eye-gamsic 3D (the film was delayed for a year to give all of this rather bloodless and consequence-free carnage a multi-dimensional face lift).   

Maybe I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.  It’s not that G.I. JOE: RETALIATION is not a slick and professional looking film.  The 3D upconvert is actually fairly decent and the visual effects are solid.  It’s just that…well…I didn’t give a damn about anything or anyone in the film.  G.I. JOE; RETALIATION is technically assured and precise, but it's empty minded and ultimately lacks a soul.  If this film is a success – which it seems destined to be – and G.I. JOE 3 is a reality, perhaps it could easily improve upon this entry by getting rid of the emotionally vacant actors – who are just props here – and replace them with action figures from the toy line that are stop motion animated.  That I would see.  

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