Of the few defenders of 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, many liked to say it took them back to their childhood. In my mind that means they were taken back to the days of Osh-Kosh B’Gosh and when eating anything off the ground seemed plausible. By comparison, G.I. Joe: Retaliation will also take you back to your childhood, though instead of the terrible twos, director Jon Chu and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick — the duo responsible for Zombieland — have delivered something the 10-12 year-old audience is sure to appreciate while the rest of us look on, not entirely bored, but enough to the point where I was left thinking, close, but still needs work.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation is far less juvenile than its predecessor even though it still plays in the realm of a franchise most commonly known to most as a cartoon and plastic action figures. In fact, I’d say this installment is far more true to the spirit of the G.I. Joe I grew up with and remember, but perhaps that’s why it ultimately began to wear on me as much as it did. After all, I stopped playing in that sandbox a long time ago.
The story revolves around the idea a criminal syndicate has infiltrated the U.S. government, kidnapped the President and has been running the country via an impersonator with the goal of destroying every major country in the world. It’s a rather grand proposition. However, despite the epic description, G.J. Joe begins to feel small and disjointed. As much as the idea of a military team of soldiers fighting alongside age-old ninja warriors may appeal to our juvenile sensibilities, when it comes to telling the story in a live-action setting the storytellers must decide whether they are going to go for realism or absolute simplicity to bring this mish-mash of ideas together. On one hand you lose your young audience, on the other adults are going to begin to raise their eyebrows.
This “mish-mash”, however, is part of the appeal. But when you serve so many masters at once in hope of giving audiences everything they desire from an action film things tend to get lost along the way. As a result, Retaliation has just about as much to like as it does to shrug your shoulders and wish they had taken things a little more seriously.
While the majority of the characters work, the casting of RZA as the Blind Master to the film’s ninja characters — Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee), Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Jinx (Elodie Yung) — is a bit embarrassing. The guy is not an actor and the whole of my audience laughed whenever he spoke. Of course, it doesn’t help his character’s whole reason for being is to point something out to Storm Shadow one of the four-year-olds that loved the first film would have figured out years ago, but I digress.
Like I said, the majority of the talent is solid and the majority are newcomers. Dwayne Johnson, D.J. Cotrona, Adrianne Palicki, Ray Stevenson and Bruce Willis work within the film’s adolescent surroundings.
One of the joys for me was Walton Goggins in a limited role as the warden of a secret prison. The joy he takes in his job is only elevated due to Goggins’ ability to be that guy. Between this, Lincoln and Django Unchained, Goggins has proved to be a valuable go-to character actor that will hopefully continue to get more screen time.
On the crafts side, the visual effects and stunt work are great, even if scene-after-scene of hand-to-hand combat can get a bit tiresome, especially in moments where the characters decide to blow away their opponents in the end. Can anyone explain to me why someone would choose to have a punching match and take blow after blow only to blow up their opponent in the aftermath of their victory? Seems a bit risky to me and I have to believe everyone, at this point, has seen Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Additionally, Henry Jackman tried his best to provide an epic score, but for the most part it felt empty, generic and probably the weakest contribution from the behind-the-scenes crew.
The most promising aspect of G.I. Joe: Retaliation is that if this the kind of leap in quality we can expect from the first to the second, perhaps a third will prove wholly tolerable. This is in no way a suggestion you should run out to see this film, but if you do decide to go, you should now be prepared for what’s to come.