WARNING: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
Growing up I was always more into Transformers than G.I. Joe. Don’t get me wrong, I liked G.I. Joe and all that, but I gravitated to the more sci-fi based robots in disguise (which is why I seem to like the Transformers movies regardless of quality… well, not Revenge of the Fallen). Needless to say, when G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was released in 2009 I was super excited to check it out. Unfortunately it ended up being one of the hokiest films of that year. There were some cool action scenes (the Paris chase) and some of the casting was perfect (Ray Park owned Snake Eyes), but the acting was horrible, the script had a thrown together feeling to it due to the WGA strike and Stephen Sommers’ (Deep Rising, The Mummy, Van Helsing) direction compounded the issues even further due to his predilection for all things cheesy.
I was surprised that a sequel was even made after the critical drubbing the film took. I guess that a decent profit was enough to convince Paramount to produce another installment. It took a while for G.I. Joe: Retaliation to reach theaters (it was to be released in June 2012 but was recalled to convert it to 3D), but it looked like it would be worth the wait. The cast was streamlined and new actors were brought in, director Jon M. Chu (Step Up 2: The Streets, Step Up 3D, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never) was hired as director and seemed like an interesting choice (as long as there were no song and dance numbers) and the movie was touted to have a more serious tone than the previous entry.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation begins with Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) still impersonating the POTUS (Jonathan Pryce) who wages a war against the Joes by branding them as traitors. With no one to stop him he breaks Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey) out of prison and installs his troops within The White House. After a vicious assault only five Joes remain: Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), Flint (D.J. Cotrona), Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Jinx (Elodie Yung). After they enlist in the help of the original G.I. Joe, Joe Colton (Bruce Willis), they attempt to stop Cobra from taking over the world.
This film is a huge improvement over the first film in many areas, but it’s still not a good film by any means. The scope has been scaled back from the insanity of the original and in doing so ended up with a pretty pedestrian action film. Not to say there isn’t anything exciting going on. There’s a rad action scene on the side of a mountain with Snake Eyes and Jinx whooping ninja ass left and right. The climax is also pretty cool and rousing. The problem is that the script is chock full of so many subplots and corny ideas that are smashed together randomly that it somehow manages to suck all the fun out of the film. It doesn’t help that director John M. Chu, who proved to be a decent visual stylist on his other films, has zero vision for the film. Everything is shot is a basic sort of way with a random money shot thrown in every once in a while. The look of the film is boring and once again ruins what could have been an entertaining little flick.
Eliminating most of the crappy dead weight characters from the first film was a bold move. Thankfully Marlon Wayans (Ripcord) is nowhere to be found, and the same goes for the constantly smiling Rachel Nichols (Scarlett) and the boring Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Heavy Duty), Saïd Taghmaoui (Breaker) and Dennis Quaid (Hawk). The new characters are all a marked improvement and the smaller cast allows them to be developed in some capacity. A ballsy move was killing off Channing Tatum’s Duke within the first twenty minutes. While he’s not the greatest actor in the world you can see he’s improved since his somnambulist performance in the original. I was actually beginning to like his character when he is unceremoniously taken out while saving Flint from an explosion. The writers have guts for going through with the death of this character, especially since the makers of the 80s animated film wussed out and kept him alive after the fan backlash they received when they killed off Optimus Prime in the animated Transformers: The Movie.
Dwayne Johnson is the sole saving grace of this flick. He looks like he’s having a blast being the live action counterpart of a popular action figure and he puts his all into his performance and action scenes. If he hadn’t been cast in the part I doubt the movie would be very watchable. Ray Stevenson is also extremely fun as popular villain Firefly. His accent drifts from Southern to Irish at the drop of a hat, but he’s perfectly cast in the part regardless. Adrianne Palicki is hot and she’s given multiple opportunities to show off her goods and nothing more. Byung-hun Lee’s Storm Shadow gets more screentime and his backstory gets the most expansion out of all the characters. D.J. Cotrona looks like he honed his craft alongside Channing Tatum because he’s asleep at the wheel unless he’s participating in an action scene. Ray Park owns once again as Snake Eyes, and his costume finally looks like the action figure he’s based on. Elodie Yung doesn’t get much screentime but she’s impressive as Jinx. Jonathan Pryce chews the scenery like no other as the evil Zartan President and is also decent as the real President. Arnold Vosloo’s face pops up once in a while just to remind the audience he’s still alive and a working actor and the less said about RZA as Blind Master the better (See my review of The Man with the Iron Fists).
Out of all the new and old cast members I think I was the most disappointed by Bruce Willis as Joe Colton. In the past couple of years Willis has a habit of wearing a constant odd smirk in his movies, almost like he’s embarrassed to be acting in them. It’s on his face the entire time he’s on the screen here and he just appears to be going through the motions. It’s kind of sad since he’s still a viable action star at his age.
Other than The Rock’s energizing performance the other high point of this flick are all the nods to the source material. We finally get to see HISS tanks, Cobra Commander’s reflective face mask and even the awesome tank Roadblock gets to drive in the finale (I can’t remember what the toy was called). At times the action was like something a kid would come up with while playing with the action figures (Snake Eyes shooting shurikens out of the air with his rifle or Storm Shadow splitting a bullet in half with his sword).
Cobra’s main goal to take over the world is pretty lame. Basically they want all the superpowers to destroy their nuclear missiles so they are defenseless against Cobra’s new orbital satellite offense system, which fires metal rods from space at such a fast rate that they do the same damage as a nuclear bomb with none of the fallout. They trick all the nuclear capable countries into firing their entire arsenal, which looks to be about 3 rockets per country, in a global strike, then call it off by self-destructing them en route. It’s pretty dumb and obvious, but the following scene where the Cobra satellite destroys London was pretty awesome.
As I said before, it’s better than the original film but not by much. There are some parts I loved and some that I absolutely could not stand. As a whole it’s a sub-par movie and not at all what I wanted in a G.I. Joe flick. As a kid I came up with better plots when playing with the toys, and that’s saying something. A third film is already in production. I hope that Hasbro and Co. get their shit together in order to make a better flick, because they are 0 for 2 right now.
Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.