G.I. Joe: Retaliation

Cast:
Dwayne Johnson as Roadblock
Jonathan Pryce as President
Byung-hun Lee as Storm Shadow
Elodie Yung as Jinx
Ray Stevenson as Firefly
D.J. Cotrona as Flint
Adrianne Palicki as Jaye
Channing Tatum as Duke
Ray Park as Snake Eyes
Luke Bracey as Cobra Commander
Walton Goggins as Warden Nigel James
Arnold Vosloo as Zartan
Joseph Mazzello as Mouse
RZA as Blind Master
Bruce Willis as General Joe Colton

Directed by Jon M. Chu

Summary:
“G.I. Joe: Retaliation” features some solid casting and a couple of good action scenes, but overall it has great lapses in logic and narrative (even for a movie based on a toy) and it lacks the spectacle of its predecessor.

Story:
This is the sequel to the 2009 film “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” based on the Hasbro toys.

When we last left the world of G.I. Joe, Zartan in disguise had replaced the President of the United States. Now in position as leader of the free world, he’s ready to make life very difficult for the G.I. Joes.

Zartan as the President sends Roadblock, Duke, Lady Jaye, Flint, Mouse, and other Joes into Pakistan to recover a stolen nuclear warhead. But after they are successful, Cobra attacks and wipes out the Joes. Zartan then tells the world that the Joes turned traitor and he’s allowing Cobra to be his new elite Special Forces unit. Little does he know that Roadblock, Lady Jaye, and Flint survived the attack. Now they’re on a mission to find out who set them up and why.

Meanwhile, Storm Shadow successfully infiltrates the elite maximum security prison where Cobra Commander is being held and sets him free with the assistance of Firefly. Together the trio rejoins Zartan to execute their devious plan. But Snake Eyes, still eager to apprehend his former ninja friend, is hot on their heels along with a new ally, Jinx. However, Snake Eyes’ quest for justice takes an unexpected turn that may have consequences for the entire world.

“G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of combat violence and martial arts action throughout, and for brief sensuality and language.

What Worked:
“G.I. Joe: Retaliation” has a couple of good things going for it. The first is casting. Bringing Dwayne Johnson into the mix as Roadblock was just what this series needed. He fits the character and brings the popcorn flick / action movie tone that perfectly suits G.I. Joe. He’s also well paired with Channing Tatum as Duke. The two bring much needed humor to the first act and provide one of the few connections to the previous film. Then there’s Jonathan Pryce as the U.S. President and Zartan in disguise. His quips and reveling in bringing chaos to the world leaders is a lot of fun. Then you have the addition of Ray Stevenson to the mix as Firefly. He’s one of the few characters that can convincingly pull off hand-to-hand combat with Johnson. Adrianne Palicki not only provides something beautiful to look at as Lady Jaye, but she kicks butt in the action scenes as well. It’s no surprise she was briefly selected to play Wonder Woman. Elodie Yung is also impressive as Jinx. Not only is she pretty, but she manages to keep up with Snake Eyes in the action scenes. Throw in brief roles by Walton Goggins as Warden Nigel James and Joseph Mazzello (the kid from “Jurassic Park”) as Mouse and you have a pretty good lineup. Also returning to the cast from the first film are the previously-mentioned Channing Tatum and Jonathan Pryce, Ray Park as Snake Eyes, Byung-hun Lee as Storm Shadow, and Arnold Vosloo as Zartan (though he is barely seen).

The other thing on the good side is the action in “G.I. Joe: Retaliation.” Most notable is a spectacular mountainside battle between Snake Eyes, Jinx, and a bunch of ninjas. It’s the highlight of the film and features very effective use of 3D as ninjas fly off the screen, our heroes dangle on the side of cliffs, and henchmen fall to spectacular deaths. In reality, this one scene is the main real reason to check out this film.

What Didn’t Work:
“G.I. Joe: Retaliation” has numerous problems. You can tell there is a good movie somewhere in there fighting to get out, but even with those few golden moments of awesomeness, it’s just too mired down by other issues to rise above them.

First of all, this movie doesn’t fit very well with the first film. When Cobra attacks a small encampment of G.I. Joes in the desert, we are told to believe that all of the Joes were killed except for Roadblock, Lady Jaye, Snake Eyes, and Flint. What about all of the characters we met in the first film like Scarlett, General Hawk, Ripcord, and the others? What about that ridiculously large base they had buried in the desert? Then there’s the fact that Zartan as the President puts Cobra in charge of the United States. Everyone is OK with that? Didn’t Cobra just destroy Paris and try to destroy the rest of the world in the first movie? It’s pretty absurd. Then there’s the whole story about the Baroness and Duke, the centerpiece of the first movie, which is completely dropped from this film. You can go on and on.

But in reality, many of those problems I just mentioned come down to one big issue – budget. The reason they didn’t show a giant Joe base being destroyed is because the production was saving money. The reason Dennis Quaid, Sienna Miller, Marlon Wayans, and the others didn’t come back is because they didn’t want to pay them. And normally that would be OK. This is, after all, show business and I can’t fault the production for trying to get the movie on the screen for a budget. But the way they used the budget they had was a bit confusing. They start the movie with a cool battle in a nuclear missile silo. Then there’s a cool battle with Snake Eyes and ninjas on the cliff. Then, for the big finale, the remaining Joes fight Cobra…under an overpass in what appears to be a Louisiana swamp. Huh? It becomes very apparent where they ran out of budget. There are other signs as well. In a big awards ceremony scene for the Joes, there are only like 30 extras seen on the screen. This is the turnout for the guys that saved the world? Then they spent all that money to get Bruce Willis, but he’s barely seen in the film. (They also advertise him as the ‘original G.I. Joe,’ but there’s nary a mention of his Kung Fu Grip.) It’s just a really strange mixture of where they decided to spend money and where they didn’t.

The weak points also carry over to the otherwise strong casting. Besides barely using Bruce Willis, D.J. Cotrona is pretty dull as Flint. He’s never given a real moment to shine. RZA is also pretty terrible as Blind Master. He’s required to narrate several montages regarding Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow’s back story, but you’re so distracted by his random appearance and flat dialogue delivery that it rips you out of what’s supposed to be a serious moment.

There are other script issues besides the fact that it doesn’t mesh well with the previous film. The whole side story involving Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, while cool, has little relevance to the overall plot and feels forced. And when you consider the fact that Snake Eyes was off chasing his own personal vendetta while the entire G.I. Joe roster was apparently wiped out, it doesn’t seem very ‘in character.’ There are also other moments in the story where the writers try to develop the characters, but it all feels shoehorned in. Roadblock returns to his old neighborhood and has an awkward exchange with old friends on the street to show us he has humble roots. Then Lady Jaye tells us about Daddy issues she had to shed light on her character’s motivations for being so tough, but it’s offset by her telling the story while undressing to please the male audience members. Then everything with Bruce Willis’ character is just flat. You could cut him entirely from the movie and it would have made no difference at all. I thought “Zombieland” by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick was a work of genius, but something bad happened here.

The Bottom Line:
“G.I. Joe: Retaliation” will make a lot of money and fans will write off problems as being forgivable and in line with the cartoons, but it wouldn’t have taken much to make this a great action film rather than a simply serviceable one. The ingredients were here. They just didn’t come together.

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