Directed by Jon M. Chu
“Retaliation” opens in North Korea where a squad of Joes are on a mission that has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, but we’re reminded that “The Rise of Cobra” ended with the shape-changing Vartan stealing the President’s identity and he soon uses his executive order to abolish the Joes. After a mission in Pakistan, they’re attacked leaving three of them to rebuild the team, but things really pick up when Storm Shadow shows up as part of an elaborate prison break to free Cobra Commander. Since we’ve already gotten his origin story out of the way, this Cobra Commander is already at his baddest as the head of Cobra, who are joined by Ray Stevenson’s Firefly, a heavy-duty militiaman with a heavy Southern accent and lots of firepower.
When you have a movie with high profile stars like Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis, you can probably expect a lot more machismo, but also having two actors with bonafide on-screen presence and personality does a lot to improve “Retaliation” over its predecessor. Surprisingly–and similar to last year’s “The Expendables 2”–it’s the women who really stand out with Adrianne Palicki bringing more personality as Lady Jaye than any of the women in the first movie. The movie also has some fun bits between Johnson and Channing Tatum’s Duke, but that light-hearted tone doesn’t remain consistent throughout.
Unfortunately, the writing isn’t the movie’s strongest aspect, something that’s made more obvious when you have a non-actor like RZA trying to deliver lines in a serious fashion as Blind Master, Snake Eyes’ mentor. He’s easily the worst part of the whole movie, which is a shame since things really move into high gear when fan favorites Snake Eyes and Jinx go after Storm Shadow with an elaborate mountain ninja battle that’s the high point of the entire movie. Another standout is Jonathan Pryce in a dual role as Zartan and the actual kidnapped President, because he really makes the most of his scenes without going over the top.
Zartan’s plot culminates in a meeting of the world leaders to get rid of their nuclear arms before they start systematically destroying cities, starting with London, using another outer space weapon, which proves there may not be a lot you can do with a G.I. Joe movie if it comes down to another city-destroying weapon.
“Retaliation’s” biggest problem is that the amount of commercials and teasers and trailers that have appeared over the past year has made it almost impossible for there to be any real surprises, so whenever there’s a single thing that hasn’t been teased or telegraphed, that’s when the movie gets interesting. But those moments are few and far between.
Seeing this movie so soon after Antoine Fuqua’s “Olympus Has Fallen” is also an interesting experience. Not to bash that movie more, but the fact that the terrorist plot of “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” feels more believable when you have someone using nanites to make themselves look exactly like the President of the United States is more a detriment to “Olympus” than it is something that works in this movie’s favor.
There will probably be differing opinions on whether “Retaliation” works better than “The Rise of Cobra”–this one is certainly more gritty and reality-based, as you might guess–but there was something fun about the way that one embraced the over-the-top silliness of some of the ideas that’s lost in trying to keep things more serious.
The Bottom Line: