GI Joe: Retaliation
Starring Bruce Willis, The Rock, Adianne Palicki
“Retaliation” is an interesting choice for a suffix, seeing as that word aptly describes my feeling after seeing the original “GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra” a few years back. It was one of those pointless, soulless cartoons with so many special effects that I half expected to end up with a seizure by the time the final credits rolled. It was a well-intended disappointment that made just enough money to warrant a sequel.
It’s interesting to witness a sequel that seems to have made adjustments based on general consensus. I don’t think anyone was particularly offended by the first “GI Joe,” but there was a lot of snipping about the inclusion of Marlon Wayans and whether Channing Tatum had the acting chops to be a leading man.
So what do the producers do? Get rid of Wayans and kill off Tatum in the first 10 minutes of the film. I was a little surprised by this course of action. First, because it’s rare to see a Hollywood studio completely reconfigure a franchise with the second film. “GI Joe: Retaliation” feels like a reboot. There is very little connective tissue between the first and second film. Director John Chu has streamlined the whole concept to make a more meat-and-potatoes-style action spectacle.
They abandoned the silly science of the original—no more Ironman-inspired robot suits or epic undersea battles with 100 futuristic vehicles. There’s still over-the-top elements to it all, but the entire movie seems hellbent on stripping the most basic story elements from the first and getting on with a new story that features new characters. Like the “Fast and the Furious,” the producers reached out to The Rock to bring life to a franchise in need of a jumpstart. Again, this seems weird for a series that is just now getting to the second film.
The evil organization Cobra has secretly taken over the U.S.A. Shape-changer Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) has assumed the role of POTUS and is making moves to have the GI Joe’s framed for treason and butchered. Cobra Commander is freed from his underground prison and hatches a plan to rid the entire world of their nuclear weapons, thus giving them no ability to retaliate against his city-destroying super satellite. The only thing that stands in his way are a handful of remaining Joes, including Roadblock (The Rock), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) and the silent ninja assassin Snake Eyes (Ray Park).
While more rooted in “reality,” a word I use here loosely, the film pits a couple of really good soldiers against an entire army of high-tech terrorists. They have few resources and their backs are to the wall, but they do have one thing on their side that tips the odds in their favor: Bruce Willis. Everyone’s favorite senior soldier shows up as a franchise freshener playing the original GI Joe, General Joe Colton. With his help they put together a plan to defeat Cobra and save the world from being conquered.
“GI Joe: Retaliation” is not without its charms. There’s a lot of corrections that make this film far more tolerable than the original—mainly the addition of The Rock who really has become the most charismatic and entertaining action hero of this era. He’s a likable guy and is capable of carrying really mediocre material into watchable fare.
The rest of the cast isn’t nearly as game. Bruce Willis phones it in harder than your old rotary dial landline. Only Jonathan Pryce manages to match The Rock in terms of enthusiasm for the material, playing the part of the presidential doppelganger, having a little too much fun as the Commander in Chief. No one is particularly bad in this movie, but so few seem really revved up about playing a personified piece of plastic.
The movie isn’t awful by any stretch. It’s dumb fun. There’s some excellent action beats, mostly featuring ninjas. As far as big-budget blockbusters go, it’s inoffensive and tries hard enough to be forgiven for much of its stupidity.
This film did nothing to generate enthusiasm for further installments, but it could have been so much worse. I’d be hard-pressed to call “GI Joe: Retaliation” anything other than average, but for a live-action movie based on a cartoon, based on some action figures, it’s pretty lively.