G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is the second film in the series based on the Hasbro toy-line mostly popularized in the 1980s, coming after the weak first entry, G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra. Though it is technically a sequel, the feel of this second film is sufficiently different, that some could even deem it a reboot of a sort, despite a few returning cast members.  Comedy is played up, as is the cheesecake factor, while the wafer-thin depth of the storyline takes it back to its comic book/syndicated cartoon roots from which is spawned from.

The plot: The head of Pakistan has been assassinated, so the Joes are sent by the President (Pryce, Leatherheads) there on a mission to secure the nukes before enemy factions get a hold of them. While the mission is easy, the Joes are ambushed by an unknown force, who decimate their numbers until only three survivors remain — Roadblock (Johnson, Snitch), Lady Jaye (Palicki, “Friday Night Lights”), and Flint (Cotrona, Venom). Not everything is what it appears with the President either, as he is doing a number of things that are seemingly out of character. Meanwhile, Cobra agents Storm Shadow (Lee, Hero) and Firefly (Stevenson, Thor) conspire to break out Cobra Commander (Bracey, Monte Carlo) from his subterranean prison in a further nefarious plot to take over the world from the inside out.

The makers of G.I. Joe: Retaliation make no attempt to make a good movie, concentrating only on delivering the goods they think the built-in fan base wants and expects. The film plays more like the popular G.I. Joe cartoon that ran in the 1980s, though with a much higher kill count. In this way, it isn’t terrible, at least not from a fanboy perspective, but without any aspirations, it’s just idle filler of explosions, macho posturing, snarky repartee, and the occasional eye-candy shot of the actors’ well-toned bodies.

Zombieland scribes Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese collaborate for another jokey and occasionally tongue-in-cheek adventure, though the tone does shift from highly snarky to deadly serious from scene to scene, regardless of the plausibility factor. Lots of explosions abound, including an impressive display on the destruction of a major city. However, the action is best served when martial arts is employed, which is fairly often, meaning that Snake Eyes (Park, X-Men), Storm Shadow, and new movie character, Jinx (Yung, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), get plenty of screen time. Perhaps Jon M. Chu (Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, Step Up 3D), who is used to directing well-choreographed sequences in his previous dance films, feels more comfortable in the quick-cut style involved. An exciting and lengthy battle between ninjas high up in the mountains nearly makes some of the mind-numbingly idiotic portions worth it.

The only returning Joes from the first film are Duke (Tatum, Side Effects) and Snake-Eyes, though they aren’t quite as prominent in this film as Roadblock, played with skill and presence by Dwayne Johnson. New Joes Flint and Lady Jane are a bit generic in terms of their skill sets, but the latter is likely to linger in the minds of the male audience members for reasons that will be obvious. Interestingly, the multinational force that was the G.I. Joes in the first movie are back to being “real American heroes” in this outing.

Had the entire film played with the irreverence shown in many of the ‘down time’ scenes, perhaps there would be more appeal to Retaliation than just for G.I. Joe fans. Not that it’s all bad; Jonathan Pryce appears to be having fun in a dual role, while the intentional injection of humor among the characters does distract from the staleness of the otherwise one-dimensional characterizations. A cameo by RZA as the Blind Master is a bit cheesy, but still in keeping with the cartoonishness of the rest of the film, while a small role for Bruce Willis (A Good Day to Die HardLooper) as the original G.I. Joe is undemanding and highly superfluous, to the point where his involvement lingers in the memory about as long as he is on the screen, but doesn’t necessarily detract.

The climax can’t pass the giggle test, especially as we witness the most cavalier attitude toward a potential nuclear apocalypse ever witnessed in the history of cinema, but you have to admire the chutzpah of the screenwriters for coming up with such a ludicrous attempt to take over the world that feels like something that would be hatched by Dr. Evil from an Austin Powers flick.  Unless you’re a an action-craving teen, or just like really junky popcorn movies of any variety, this blatant cash-grab is just an attempt to deliver its minimal goods for a ready-built audience seeking vapid escapism.

Qwipster’s rating: C

MPAA rated PG-13 for violence, brief sensuality, and language
Running time: 110 min.

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jonathan Pryce, Adrianne Palicki, D.J. Cotrona, Channing Tatum, Byung-hun Lee, Bruce Willis, Ray Park, Luke Bracey, Ray Stevenson, Arnold Vosloo, Elodie Yun, Walton Goggins, Joseph Mazzello
Small role: RZA, James Carville, DeRay Davis
Director: Jon M. Chu
Screenplay: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick