Back in early 2012, G.I. Joe Retaliation, a film based on Hasbro’s famous toyline, was delayed, ostensibly, in order to convert the film to 3D. Whether that story held the whole truth or whether it was a ploy to film more scenes with Channing Tatum is anyone’s guess, but the fact stands that the movie is now in theaters a year later. In my youth I was a big G.I. Joe fan, owning and playing with many of the figures and larger models (no, they aren’t dolls). I actually enjoyed Rise of Cobra, the first film in the franchise, but I admittedly had low expectations for this new installment. Could this film overshoot my cynical feelings?
G.I. Joe Retaliation begins an undisclosed amount of time after the first film ended. Cobra Commander and Destro are in custody, while Zartan and Storm Shadow are still at large. We are introduced to a new team of Joes, led by Duke (played by Channing Tatum), the only remaining hero from the previous film. With him are Roadblock (The Rock), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), Flint (D.J. Cotrona), and Mouse (Joseph Mazzello). Of course, things quickly go south for the Joes after a successful mission in North Korea: a new force of Cobra operatives cripples the team, leaving most of its members dead. The remaining Joes must avenge their fallen comrades and save the world from the wicked plans of Cobra, all the while working undercover as Zartan has taken the form of the US President and sends all of America’s resources against the beleagured soldiers.
All right, I’ll start with the positive aspects of the movie. First off, as one would expect, the action sequences are great. They are exciting, enjoyable, and ridiculous enough to make you laugh and cheer in equal measure. In fact, this movie has some great humor in it; there’s nothing amazingly witty or subtle, but the jokes can still make you laugh out loud. The acting is also fairly good, especially from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Ray Stevenson (Firefly) and Johnathan Pryce (who plays both the real US President and Zartan as his impersonator). Bruce Willis is, as always, an awesome action hero. Sadly, D.J. Cotrona’s Flint doesn’t get much development, and I feel like he had some untapped potential. The plot is pretty cool, too, since it has the Joes, who are usually “Real American Heroes” placed into the role of fugitives in their homeland.
Another great thing about this film is that the director, Jon M. Chu, is clearly a G.I. Joe fan. He gutted all the less interesting (and downright stupid) aspects of the original movie, including no references to the much derided Accelerator Suits and giving Cobra Commander his iconic costume (and justifying it in terms of the plot). Furthermore, I liked that Storm Shadow saw a lot of character development and gained more depth than just “cool ninja.” Chu also removed the character of Destro, which I was completely fine with since he didn’t add much to the first film and is nowhere near as awesome as the other Cobra operatives.
This film, however, is not without downsides. I’m going to say this one first because it annoys me the most: Lady Jaye’s plot is so trite and unoriginal. All forms of media need to stop using the “My father was in the army and wanted a son, but I was born, so I joined the military to show him women can do it too.” I’m all for equality of employment and empowerment, but this plotline has been beaten to death over the years. Couldn’t Jaye have joined the army because, say, she just wanted to serve her country and nothing more? Why does she need this kind of justification? Furthermore, as one could expect, parts of the movie were horribly predictable. This wasn’t terrible, per se, but at the same time I’d have liked to see a certain character who I pegged for death the moment he came on screen actually survive (come on, the “youthful, inexperienced character dies early on” is another overused trope).
The exposition in one scene also felt jarring to me. The Blind Master, played by RZA, has this awkward few minutes of exposition where he justifies why Jinx is entering the story. I feel like this was probably necessary since, regrettably, Jinx doesn’t get much screentime, but at the same time it’s just a rush of information presented in an odd format (“Ah Jinx, Storm Shadow’s sister, we need your help to beat Storm Shadow who is from the same ninja clan as you and Snake Eyes and…etc. etc.). The opening scene of the movie also had nothing to do with the rest of the film aside from, I guess, showing the team completing a successful mission.
As much as I complained about the film above, all in all I enjoyed it. I think this is the kind of film that’s worth seeing once in theaters to get the most out of its action scenes, but it’s nothing I’d run out to see again or purchase on DVD. It’s definitely a HUGE step up from Rise of Cobra and Chu definitely made an effort to make G.I. Joe fans, and action movie fans in general, pleased with this movie. If you think my above issues are dealbreakers, however, it’s probably better for you to avoid it all together. The movie ends with a clear sequel hook, and it’ll be interesting to see where this franchise goes in future installments.
-exciting action scenes
-cool characters, many of whom get decent character development
-numerous hilarious, over-the-top moments
-falls back on use of trite tropes, especially concerning Lady Jaye’s characterization
-awkward exposition scenes
-certain characters receive too little development and screentime (notably Jinx, Flint, and Mouse)