Title: G.I. Joe: Retaliation
Director: Jon M. Chu
Writers: Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick
Distributed By: Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Lee Byung-hun, Channing Tatum, Adrianne Palicki, Jonathan Pryce, Ray Park, Bruce Willis, Ray Stevenson, D.J. Cotrona, Elodie Yung, RZA, Luke Bracey, and Robert Baker
Release Date: March 28, 2013
MPAA: Rated PG-13
G.I. Joe has been around for a long, long time and seen many incarnations over the years from toys to comic books to animated shows and movies. 2009 saw the release of the first live-action G.I. Joe movie in the form of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Now in 2013 we have the release of the sequel. Here we have an over the top action flick centered around a group of soldiers betrayed by their government and framed for a crime they didn’t commit, who now have to go into hiding, all while fighting back to clear their names. No, it’s not The A-Team, it’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation.
At the end of the 2009 film, the evil organization known as Cobra is partially defeated, with Cobra Commander and Destro being placed in a maximum security prison, Baroness being rehabilitated, Storm Shadow being pretty thoroughly killed by Snake Eyes, and the G.I. Joe team enjoying a moment of victory. However, all is not well, as the audience learns that in the final moments of the film, the master of disguise Zartan has assumed the identity of The President of the United States. This is where the new film starts, with Zartan attempting to get rid of the G.I. Joes, instating his new superhero soldier team, named Cobra, and all hell breaking loose.
The story, G.I. Joes being framed and fighting to clear their names, coincides with the most recent animated series G.I. Joe: Renegades, and borrows heavily from the TV show (and its movie adaptation) The A-Team. So, unfortunately the movie starts right off the bat with an overwhelming sense of “been there, done that.” However, the FIRST thirty minutes or so detailing the friendship between Duke (Channing Tatum) and Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) manages to add a new perspective on an old story. It builds on their relationship as teammates in the field and as friends at home. There’s a quick recap of the first film, and two pretty great action sequences of the Joes being heroic and taking on the baddies.
Then the movie generally starts to fall apart. Duke and the majority of the G.I. Joe team get killed off after the first half-hour of the film (that’s NOT a spoiler, considering it’s in the trailer for the film), with Roadblock becoming the film’s main character. Nothing against Dwayne Johnson (I love him), and whether you like Channing Tatum or not, this is G.I. Joe and you do NOT kill off Duke. Storm Shadow is inexplicably alive, breaking Cobra Commander out of prison, and the world is in trouble all over again. Storm Shadow coming back from the dead is the least of this film’s problems when it comes to plot holes and plot contrivances so big that you could drive a truck though them.
Plot contrivances aside, the story of the film manages to be rather enjoyable, and all of the actors deliver very entertaining performances. The big marketing push for this movie was the inclusion of Bruce Willis as General Joseph Colton, the original General Infantry Joe that the super-team is named after (based on the 1964 toy that was brought back into the franchise in 1989 and 1994 as a way of connecting the two toy-lines). Willis delivers that same sort of “nonchalant old badass” performance seen in RED, to pitch-perfect effect in this film. Dwayne Johnson plays the proto-typical tough guy we’ve come to know and love. While not delivering the same level of acting as seen in the recent Snitch, it’s totally fine because it’s not that kind of movie and not that kind of role.
Most of the supporting cast does a great job entertaining the viewer, with villains like Firefly (Ray Stevenson) hamming it up, and Cobra Commander (voiced by Robert Baker) pulling off a wannabe Darth Vader. The best performance in the film comes from veteran actor Jonathan Pryce, playing the dual role of the President and his psychotic disguised impostor.
The costuming this time around takes a complete 180 from the previous film, managing to keep a realistic military aesthetic while combing the more individualized look of the G.I. Joe franchise. Snake Eyes’ costume from the first film has been modified (i.e. the mouthpiece on his mask has been removed) and now looks even more like the comic, cartoons, and toys come to life. The biggest and best change in the costuming this time around comes by way of Cobra Commander. The big CC is now sporting his famous helmet and silver face plate.
The musical score, composed by Henry Jackman (X-Men: First Class, Wreck-It Ralph), should have been a rousing and moving piece of work considering his previous scores, but unfortunately turns out to be 100% forgettable. Nothing really memorable springs to mind, from leitmotifs or action themes or anything. It might be possible that one remembers some of the music from the “ninja battle sequence” in the film, but that’s more likely due to it being the best part of the entire film and less to do with any accompanying music.
The biggest complaint one needs to talk about in regards to this film, is the outstandingly mind-bogglingly atrocious camera work. They should rename this film G.I. Joe: Revenge of the Shaky Cam. It’s damn near impossible to make out any of the action on screen. Cinematographer Stephen F. Windon needs to be smacked in the back of the head for this debacle. I’m not sure when that “let’s put the cameras under the actors’ armpits” notion of filming an action scene first became popular, but it started in the 1960s and was given new life in 1981 with Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, and featured prominently in recent films like The Bourne Ultimatum, Batman Begins, and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. This “technique” is awful and needs to die. It’s obnoxious for film viewers who want to SEE the action, and insulting for the actors and stunt people who work so hard to deliver stunning action sequences that the audience only ever gets to see pieces of.
Improving on a lot of aspects of the previous film, when this movie gets things right (i.e. the cast and style) it gets things REALLY right. When this movie gets things wrong (i.e. the plot contrivances, the music, the camera work, killing Duke) it gets it REALLY, REALLY wrong. All in all it leaves for a mediocre experience. Rumors are circulating that a third film is in the works. This needs to happen. Not because I liked this film so much that I want another one, but because the next film needs to fix the problems with this current movie.
As latest adaptation of the G.I. Joe franchise this film is pretty darn good (7 out of 10), and as film in general it’s unfortunately pretty mediocre (6 out of 10).