Movie Review: G.I. Joe Retaliation
Movie Review: G.I. JOE: RETALIATION
Reviewed by Matthew Yenkala
3 1/2 stubs
Rated PG-13/110 mins/Science Fiction-Action
Director: John M. Chu Writers: Rhett Reese, John M. Wernick
While I suppose I'm generationally the right age to have grown up with G.I. Joe, I'll be honest: by the time Hasbro's multiplatform juggernaut was underway, I was already onto more typical teen pursuits (both hormonal and intellectual). So while I was plenty aware of it, I've never had any particular interest in, or youthful attachment to, the property. I didn't even see the first film, 2009's THE RISE OF COBRA, in the theater, and the DVD sat unwatched on my shelf until shortly before writing this review of its sequel, RETALIATION.
I usually dislike jumping into an ongoing story with little prior knowledge, but in this case that lack of knowledge did no harm whatsoever. The filmmakers wisely made a film that can (mostly) stand on its own, and as such, I was able to go in cold, unburdened by weighty continuity and franchise expectations, and judge the movie entirely on its own merits. And on those merits, I have to say it was a lot of fun to watch.
The movie doesn't waste much time setting things up. While on a secret mission in foreign territory, the G.I. Joes, a crack black ops military squad, are framed and subsequently wiped out on the orders of the US President (Jonathan Pryce). Only three of them manage to survive: Roadblock (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), who set out to discover who betrayed them and why. Ultimately, it turns out to have been--shock, horror!--their old nemesis Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey) and his assorted allies. Vowing to exact revenge for their fallen compatriots, the Ro(addblo)ck leads them to the only man who can help, the original G.I. Joe himself, appropriately played by--who else?--Bruce Willis.
You know...I could spend time talking about the Maguffin (a briefcase that contains nuclear warheads or something), the fight scenes (especially an excellent highwire-in-the-mountains battle with some Ninjas or something), or how, absolutely stunning in a red dress, Palicki has to con the "President" for...something or other. I could single out the visuals, the martial arts choreography (Ray Park's Snake Eyes and Byung-hun Lee's Storm Shadow are both spectacular), or even the not-bad 3D. But really, in a movie like this, what's the point? It's a popcorn flick; you know what you're getting. Yeah, there is some stuff about honor and duty and betrayal and patriotism, conveying a little bit of emotional grist, but it's hardly jingoistic. Really, this is a Guy's "Let's Blow Shit Up" fantasy all the way. And on that level, it delivers. You (mostly) know who the good guys and bad guys are, and other than the escaping Cobra Commander (gotta make that third film, after all), everyone gets what they deserve. (I found the final battle between Johnson and gung-ho ex-Joe Firefly, played by Ray Stevenson, to be particularly satisfying.)
I WILL say that Dwayne Johnson has come a long way, acting-wise, from THE SCORPION KING; that Channing Tatum is appealing in his few minutes of screen time (apparently it would have been even fewer prior to the post-MAGIC MIKE reshoots that scuttlebutt says is the REAL culprit behind the studio's decision to push this film from last Summer to this Spring), and that Jonathan Pryce is his usual brilliant self as both (SPOILER ALERT) the captive President and the shape-shifting (or whatever) Zartan, who took his place in the Oval Office. Willis, of course, is Willis, and exactly what you expect (and thus he doesn't disappoint); and watching Palicki actually makes me Wonder what this Woman might have been capable of, given the chance to further portray a certain superheroine on the small screen. (See what I did there?)
I believe there's a place for most everything in the film world, from thoughtful art films, scrappy indies, period epics and thud-and-blunder spectacle like G.I. Joe. It's not Hitchcock, Lynch, Lean or even Spielberg but...so what? It's simple, unpretentious, testosterone-driven, shut-your-brain-off fun. And in the end, there's nothing wrong with that.
Oh, and I did watch the first film after seeing this one. Not bad, but I liked this one better. But hopefully they can resurrect SOME of the characters from the first film for the next one. Put Rachel Nicholls and Adrianne Palicki on screen together, and I'll be first in line for the midnight premiere.