G.I. Joe: Retaliation was an immense box office success. Is it any good?
Having led a successful mission to recover stolen nuclear devices in Pakistan, a G.I. Joe force is prepping for evacuation when an air strike wipes out much of the force. What happened? Who ordered the attack? Only three G.I. Joes survive the air strike, including Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Flint (D.J. Cotrona), and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki). They manage to escape in the aftermath, vowing revenge. All evidence points to Cobra Commander being up to something, but no one knows that he's replaced the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce) with one of his right-hand men, Zartan (Arnold Vosloo). The evil Commander is just waiting for the right opportunity to unleash his plan. The surviving Joes are back in America by now. Can they figure out what's going on before they're eliminated too?
As mentioned, this sequel from director Jon M. Chu is a not so timely follow-up to the 2009 original. It earned over $370 million in theaters so it obviously landed well with audiences, a good thing considering it had some issues getting to theaters. A release date was pushed back almost a year to transition the film to 3-D (more on that later) amidst rumors of horrific audience screenings. Only a handful of cast members from the original even returned, and those parts are pretty weak in execution. It's not quite a sequel in name only because there are unifying links, but it sure is close to being a stand-alone movie. I'll be giving it a positive review based almost solely on some cool characters and action, but there's some big issues along the way. We'll get there in time.
Taking the helm for the franchise going ahead -- supposedly at least -- Johnson does a fine job as Roadblock. We learn little about him other than meet his two daughters (very briefly), and that he's a capable soldier with just about any weapon at his disposal. Cotrona and Palicki are okay as the rest of the Joes, Palicki there mostly to wear skimpy outfits and fire automatic weapons. Other member of the G.I. Joe organization are Snake Eyes (Ray Park), a helmeted, silent, sword-wielding ninja, and Jinx (Elodie Yung), a ninja who's....well, a ninja with no other background provided. Also joining the cast is Bruce Willis as General Joe Colton, the original inspiration for G.I. Joe. It's not a big part, but Willis makes the most of it, deadpanning his way through a couple good one-liners.
Now for the bad guys, cool because they're bad guys without any real background, reasoning and motivation. Price is the evil President, hamming it up and having some fun with it. Vosloo is there in appearance only, not uttering a word. Byung-hun Lee is the coolest villain as Storm Shadow, a sullen ninja with a tricked out pair of swords with only one rival, Snake Eyes. Ray Stevenson joins the villains too as Firefly, a mercenary working with Cobra. Luke Bracey plays Cobra Commander (replacing Joseph Gordon-Levitt), but it's a wasted part. Little in the way of lines or actual screen time, it's there because the G.I. Joes fight against Cobra commander. That's all. Walton Goggins has a small part as a sinister, brutal prison warden.
Not surprisingly, the best thing going here is the action. With a movie that runs about 100 minutes, I'm guessing no more than three to four minutes go by in between action scenes. We're never far from a chase, shootout, fist fight or cool one-liner. The opening raid to get back the Pakistani nuclear weapons is solid, and the finale at Fort Sumter (yes, Fort Sumter!) is cool because about 100 different things are going on at the same time. The high point is Snake Eyes and Jinx trying to capture Storm Shadow from a heavily guarded mountainside in the Himalayas. Using bungees, Snake Eyes, Jinx and a small army of Cobra ninjas swing perilously thousands off feet up in the air. The action is pretty good, making up for a script that isn't interested in character development at all (we're talking any background at all), scene to scene transitions and dialogue that isn't a snappy one-liner. This is an action movie, pure and simple. Literally, there's nothing else going on!
Okay, quasi-spoilers from here on out. When this sequel was made, producers/studios apparently decided 'Cobra' star Channing Tatum wasn't capable of carrying the franchise going forward. Well, their mistake, because in the time in between, Tatum shot to stardom with 21 Jump Street and Magic Mike among others. As for the pushed back release date? Supposedly audiences hated that Tatum was dispatched rather quickly in this sequel. Reshoots had some more development between Tatum's Duke and Johnson's Roadblock, scenes that are pretty decent but also pretty obvious in how forced they are into the story. Tatum has goatee, doesn't have goatee, does have goatee. It's a ridiculously forced, contrived "solution" that works because Tatum and Johnson have good chemistry, but it's hard not to notice.
In general, there is something missing here. 'Retaliation' is so ridiculously all over the place with so many freaking characters that it is almost frenetic in its final version. It's never dull so that's always a positive, but it is so mindlessly stupid it's hard to describe. A mildly positive review because even through all the flaws, I was entertained from beginning to end.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013): ** 1/2 /****