The Good: Decent action sequences, Entertaining, No truly bad performances
The Bad: No character development, Gaps in storytelling, Not particularly interesting
The Basics: Despite the conceits of the characters and the giant leaps in the G.I. Joe narrative, the beleaguered G.I. Joe: Retaliation arrives with surprisingly little flair, but nothing unexpected from an action-adventure film.
I cannot recall, in recent memory, any film quite as beleaguered as G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Regardless of the reasons (which change between market testing to put Channing Tatum into more of the film and revamping the film for 3-D effects), there was something deeply amusing to me about a film whose toy line has already hit the clearance rack before the movie even premiered! In that way, there is something almost impressive about G.I. Joe: Retaliation.
Unfortunately, that’s about all. To be sure, I was not a huge fan of G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra (reviewed here!). That film was so unmemorable that I had to check the IMDB to confirm that Jonathan Pryce was the President in that movie, in addition to G.I. Joe: Retaliation (he was). To start off with something overwhelmingly positive, G.I. Joe: Retaliation feels like what it is, a guy’s movie, a military-themed action-adventure film. Gone are the ridiculous Transformers-like tech suits from the first film. Also, G.I. Joe: Retaliation does not seem to be obsessed with making a joke out of itself. The result is that the heroes in G.I. Joe: Retaliation actually have to live by their skills and their wits and not all of them survive as a result.
Unfortunately, beyond that, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a boring and obvious action-adventure film.
Following the assassination of the President of Pakistan by Snake Eyes (under the orders of the American President), the G.I. Joe team of Roadblock, Flint, Lady Jaye, and Duke are ordered on a mission to recover a nuclear bomb stolen after that incident. In the desert, the G.I. Joes are attacked, the team is almost wiped out (Duke is killed) and Roadblock, Flint, and Jaye go on the run. The President, who has been replaced by the COBRA operative and master of disguise, Zartan, uses the incident to publicly disgrace and disband the G.I. Joe unit. The Joes go on the run.
Zartan’s plan quickly becomes clear when Snake Eyes is captured and put in the same prison as COBRA Commander and Destro. Unmasked, this version of Snake Eyes is revealed to be Snake Eyes’s adversary Storm Shadow. Storm Shadow breaks out the COBRA leadership and returning them to power, Zartan as the President calls for a nuclear disarmament summit. As Snake Eyes and Jinx (Storm Shadow’s cousin) train to return to the Joes and recover Storm Shadow in order to learn COBRA’s plans, COBRA holds the world hostage for nuclear disarmament and an even more terrifying weapon.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a pretty obvious hero/villain movie; there is no real moral ambiguity here (though Storm Shadow’s backstory leads him to believe the path of his life is the result of him getting played) and the lack of complication leads to the viewer accepting most of the film’s conceits. I found I didn’t moralize over why Cobra Commander wanted to rule the world, but I was caught up on a number of details that just did not fit the film and the established characters. Destro was pretty badass in the first film and he is dispatched remarkably quickly in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, undermining how interesting he was in that film. But when Cobra Commander gets rid of him, the line is a quip that does not fit Cobra Commander’s more serious and obviously megalomaniacal character. On the flip side, in order to expose Zartan, Jaye must get into an event the President is at. Flirting her way in, she is added to the list of permitted attendees as the Chief Of Staff. How a member of the Secret Service would not recognize the Chief Of Staff, especially when the one in the film is male and Jaye most certainly is not, is utterly inconceivable.
Fundamentally, the issues with G.I. Joe: Retaliation are issues with the genre, not this specific iteration of it. In fact, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is remarkable only in how it does not strain any of the conceits of the genre. The G.I. Joes – and the film focuses mostly on Roadblock with the return of the General after whom the G.I. Joes were named – are loyal and respect their democracy and President and it is only the villains who torture and use questionable means. They do not even object to the implications of military downsizing that might come from a nuclear-free world. Actually, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is too busy with pounding out plot details and building up to the next fight to explore anything truly philosophical (outside the obvious honor, duty, loyalty stuff that the genre exploits and utilizes).
As for the acting, G.I. Joe: Retaliation does no real service to the careers of anyone involved, though – truth be told – it does none of them a disservice, either. G.I. Joe: Retaliation is just “that kind of film.” Dwayne Johnson’s Roadblock and Channing Tatum’s Duke are appropriately manly and joke between one another with very typical guy humor. And it’s not a stretch for either of them, Neither is it a stretch for Jonathan Pryce to play the dignified leader of the free world or Adrianne Palicki to show up and look good (though she is not quite muscular enough in this to plausibly be a soldier).
No great characters, no great performances, no real plot twists of audacious ideas; G.I. Joe: Retaliation is exactly what one expects from the March doldrum.
For other films with Channing Tatum, please check out my reviews of:
21 Jump Street
For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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