G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)

Ok, as sequels go, this one isn’t exactly The Godfather Part 2, despite the fact that, like that classic film, it undeniably improves on the original. A lot. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) was mostly a cheesy, immature joke, punctuated by a shit-load of half-assed CG that had more in common with the original cartoon than with a big-budget summer action movie. But then again, director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy) is notorious for ‘settling’ with an overabundance of cheap-looking effects, making his flicks feel lazy and childish, which is amusing considering that we’re talking about a dim-witted action franchise based on an insultingly patriotic 1980s commercial/cartoon aimed squarely at 8 year old American boys. Thankfully, Paramount and Hasbro opted to trade out Sommers with John M. Chu, a director that I never would’ve suspected could’ve brought a ‘popcorn’ flick as entertaining as this, considering that his filmography is peppered with dreck like Justin Beiber: Never Say Never and two of the gawd-awful ‘Step Up’ movies. For those titles alone, he is basically Satans lil bitch…so it’s definitely a good thing that he managed to prove that he CAN compete in the Big Budget Summer Movie game with this one.
G.I.Joe: Retaliation picks up a couple years after the events of the first film, now being referred to as The Nano War. ‘Duke’ (Channing Tatum) is now leading the evidently down-sized GI Joe force, in conjunction with his monstrous second-in-command ‘Road Block’ (Dwayne Johnson). After a successful mission to secure errant nuclear warheads in Pakistan, their unit is ambushed by a force of mysterious helicopter gunships, which wipe out the Joes, almost to a man. When the smoke clears, only ‘Road Block’, ‘Lady Jaye’ (Adrienne Palicki…so hot) and ‘Flint’ (a boring DJ Cotrona) are left to question what happened. As these three fugitives make their way to State-side sanctuary, we then catch up with two other Joes embroiled in a mission of their own, somewhere in the Himalayas Mountains (I think). ‘Snake Eyes’ (Ray Park) and ‘Jinx’ (Elodie Yung) are hunting down the Cobra ninja ‘Storm Shadow’ (Byung-Hun Lee) in order to locate ‘Cobra Commander’, newly escaped from a subterranean prison in Germany. As the two stories come together, Cobras nefarious plan to use ‘Zartan’ (Jonathan Pryce), who is still posing as The President of the United States, to hold the nuclear powers hostage, becomes apparent. Throw in ninjas, city-destroying satellites and explosive robotic insects and you’ve got a pretty fun time at The Movies.
Being The Human Monster that he is, Dwayne Johnson is perfect as one of these action figures-come-to-life, and his usual charming wit and comic timing is most welcome, especially in the handful of scenes he shares with Channing Tatum. Rumor has it that the near-year long delay on this ones release was partly to blame on test audiences enjoying the bickering between the two tough guys, therefore more scenes were shoe-horned in. If one of the scenes I’m thinking of is a ‘new’ one, good call on Paramount’s part. It’s an amusing sequence that helps further establish the rapport and ‘brothers-in-arms’ vibe between the fellas. Of course, it’s also there to add a tragic gravity to what happens during the devastating ambush.
The action scenes in this flick are mostly well-done, especially where scenes of hand-to-hand combat are concerned. ‘Storm Shadow’ and ‘Snake Eyes’ both get in some kick-ass, high-speed brawls (including a long, destructive fight with each other). Huge chunks of the action SEEM practical, with vehicles ACTUALLY exploding and (bloodless) squibs going off with every bullet hit, of which there are many. The first live-action GI Joe flick was nauseating in how fake it all looked, and it seems that ‘they’ heard THAT critique clearly. Of course, there is still loads of CG, it’s just not so insultingly ‘in your face’ this time. A great example is a mountain-side duel that ‘Snake Eyes’ and ‘Jinx’ get into with a swarm of vengeful ninjas. While some of the shots verged on an over-cooked CG aesthetic, it was rapidly reined in with some slick editing and impressive stunt work.
Going back to the actors, we also get Bruce Willis turning up to basically play Bruce Willis-as-General Joe Colton, supposedly one of the ‘original’ Joes (haha…get it?). Bruce basically just turns up to play with guns and collect a hefty paycheque. He brings nothing unique to this character and nearly anyone else could’ve stepped up to fill the role. But hey…it’s Bruce and I ‘get’ it. At least the man knows how to look awesome brandishing a blazing .45 handgun, even if he is…like…90. Coming along for the ride was the underrated Ray Stevenson (Rome) as Cobra operative ‘Firefly’. Given the man’s size and manly gruffness, he made a good foil for The Rock, with the two of them getting into not one, but two bouts of hard fisticuffs.
Beyond all that, there’s really not too much more to say. It’s a friggin GI Joe movie…but at least they took some care to make this one noticeably better than the last one. You want gunfights, ninjas, explosions, the destruction of a particular European city, some amusing one-liners, killer satellites and no Marlon Wayans?…then G.I.Joe: Retaliation won’t be a waste of 110 minutes of your life. It is what it needs to be. I had fun with it. You might too.


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