Title: G.I. Joe: Retaliation
Director: Jon Chu
Starring: D.J. Cotrona, Adrianne Palicki, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Byung-hun Lee, Channing Tatum, Ray Park, Jonathan Pryce, Ray Stevenson, Bruce Willis, Arnold Vosloo, Elodie Yung, Walton Goggins
A disjointed exercise in cosplay action theatrics that evidences the worst instincts of cobbled-together Hollywood overindulgence, “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” by and large ditches the characters of its first big screen iteration, 2009’s “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” in favor of a new story of square-jawed elite military defense against terrorism. It may well make a good chunk of money, but it’s hard to imagine anyone getting particularly, legitimately passionate about this flick, which awkwardly attempts to service both nostalgia and the uninvested interest of newcomers, to generally yawning effect.
The film picks up after events of “The Rise of Cobra,” though it’s not exactingly rigid in its adherence to canon, given the significant turnover in cast. After Duke (Channing Tatum) leads the elite military Joes in securing a loose nuclear weapon from a destabilized Pakistan, they’re framed by Zartan, who’s still impersonating the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce), and working on a scheme for terrorist organization Cobra. After Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) and Firefly (Ray Stevenson) break Cobra Commander out of his state of suspended imprisonment, the latter promptly reattaches his bad-ass visor and helmet, and re-focuses on world enslavement.
Standing in Cobra’s way are Roadblock (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), who try to first unravel the conspiracy surrounding their framing and then extract proper revenge for their fallen comrades. Enlisting the assistance of the “original Joe,” General Colton (Bruce Willis, always looking like he just woke up), these Joes craft a strongly worded treatise appealing to the Cobra Commander’s core human decency. Nah… just kidding. Stuff gets blowed up good!
Screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick labor to awkwardly fold in source material mythology, as it relates to both a mission by Jinx (Elodie Yung) and Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Storm Shadow’s disillusionment with Cobra, but this chiefly results in a lot of clunky, hilarious scenes in which the RZA shows up as Blind Master, and butchers a bunch of already gracelessly expository dialogue.
Forgetting for a moment the movie’s many slick but false moves, and the manner in which it contrives to put Palicki in first workout clothes and then a cocktail dress, what’s most notable about “Retaliation” is the litany of small indignities it foists upon its big-stakes, wham-bang conceit, like the fact that the American President’s national popularity is said to soar after, in the wake of a nuke going missing, he decides to push for a worldwide nuclear disarmament summit; or that Israel — who’s never officially admitted to possessing nuclear weapons — is part of the gathering, along with global pariah North Korea. Forget the intellectual heavy lifting of any cogent write-around that might serve its story; time and time again, “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” opts for whatever’s easy and convenient, sense be damned.
If the movie was proportionately staked (instead of the entirety of London being destroyed) and just more fun, that might work. Director Jon Chu is a gifted visual filmmaker, and in “Step Up 2 the Streets” and then “Step Up 3D” he showed a nice handle on action choreography. Here, however, Chu’s gifts are handcuffed, and less evident. He has a lot of fun with a balletic, vertical, mountainside chase-and-swordfight sequence that summons memories of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” But while Chu orchestrates action sequences with a certain zest, “Retaliation”‘s scenes too frequently lack a properly delineated space. When, in the movie’s final siege, Roadblock tabs himself to handle “the perimeter,” it sets up a discrete, rampaging tank sequence that doesn’t cut together well at all with the rest of the Joes’ attack. (Maybe this was part of the movie’s purported re-shoots.) And when Roadblock takes on Firefly, the confrontation goes from land to sea and then land again, culminating in a silly, combination fistfight-firefight, where each party occasionally elects to throw punches with a loaded weapon.
The Rock provides a suitable steely yet wry charisma as Roadblock, and he and Tatum have a nice rapport while it lasts. But other characters are complete ciphers, and Cotrona and Palacki are wan substitutes for any of a number of cast members from the first film, which offers up more punchy fun than this sequel. Maybe if there were more of a sense of actual nefarious plotting, “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” might have a more legitimate scope, and a bit of the army-versus-army feeling of something like “The Avengers.” Instead, it’s just another loud action movie, but not one particularly marked by any memorable catharsis.
Written by: Brent Simon