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3 reviews, 4 user ratings

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G.I. Joe: Retaliation
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by Brett Gallman

"Yo Joe, you could probably do better."
3 stars

Whenever audiences are disappointed in a franchise film, they can expect some typical platitudes when the next installment goes into production. Everyone involved insists they’ve learned their lessons and the next one will be better. I’m sure the same is true of “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” (after all, the cast and crew have had a long time to talk about it), and that effort is evident in the final product all the same; this is not to say that the film is clearly superior to its predecessor, but it is an aggressive attempt to distance itself from “Rise of the Cobra.” Not content to simply bring Dwayne Johnson to Stephen Sommers’s sandbox, “Retaliation” instead tries to burn it to the ground—for better and for worse.

In fact, the first twenty minutes or so play out like a bit of a passion play for the wacky, cartoon world Sommers created in the first one; you have Duke (Channing Tatum) leading a group of Joes alongside Roadblock (Johnson), and there’s still a vast array of gadgets and weaponry you’d expect from “G.I. Joe.” After successfully (and easily) completing a mission during a Bond-esque prologue, a Cobra henchman posing as the U.S. President (Jonathan Pryce) sends the group to Pakistan to track down a rogue nuke. It’s all an elaborate ruse, though, as Cobra ambushes the Joes, including Duke, thereby assuring that Tatum pays for Sommers’s perceived sins (and it’s arguable that Sommers didn’t screw things up all that much for a franchise that’s based on a bunch of toys).

At any rate, the message is clear: forget “Rise of the Cobra.” Well, except for the ninjas. Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow are still around, seemingly in their own movie for half the time. The overarching plot has Roadblock taking charge with his own sidekicks (D.J. Johnson and Adrianne Palicki) and uncovering Cobra’s sinister plot in a stripped-down, by-the-numbers action movie that barely plays to the strengths of the franchise. Instead of a huge, diverse group of skilled soldiers with exotic weaponry, “Retaliation” mostly features guys carrying BFGs and rampaging in standard-issue military vehicles.

The more grounded approach does work out fine, particularly since director Jon Chu still infuses the film with a sense of light-hearted, zippy fun. Even though a majority of the Joes are killed off, everyone still finds time to wisecrack and goof off. Not even the imminent threat of world destruction is enough to stop Roadblock from messing around with his buddies from the hood, who conveniently have a decrepit recreation center to serve as the Joes’ new base. Johnson does his best to carry his side of the film, but it quickly becomes clear that killing off Tatum was misguided since he and Johnson bounce off of each other quite well during their limited time together.

When “Retaliation” was infamously delayed for nine months, a popular rumor suggested that Paramount would take advantage of Tatum’s newfound star-status and promote him from “disgraced franchise mark of shame” to full-fledged co-star, but that’s not the case, which is too bad. Everyone else in the film just pelts right off of Johnson’s charisma, including Bruce Willis, who seems thoroughly disengaged as General Colton, the “Original Joe.” Despite Duke’s fate, Tatum seems genuinely enthused, whereas Willis stops just short of counting his paycheck on screen. Imagine going back a few years and insisting you’d rather see more Channing Tatum in favor of Bruce Willis in a G.I. Joe sequel and ponder what that means for their respective careers.

“Retaliation” rarely approaches the free-wheeling, pulpy storytelling style from the original, which hyper-actively bounced around to reveal its characters’ origins. Almost all of it is confined to the little side-story involving Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow, whose shared history once again plays a role. If you were to imagine the film as a re-enactment of a seven year-old playing in a sandbox, it’s clear that Chu is mostly enamored with the ninjas, and he has a lot of fun mashing them together.

Even the new additions to their mythology feels like something a kid would come up with, and Chu actually taps RZA to deliver it in the role of a Blind Master. He’s not so much an exposition machine as he is the guy pounding on the exposition machine since he has to coerce Storm Shadow into revealing new information about his past and Cobra’s nefarious plans.

The film’s vaunted mountainside ninja sequence is also better than advertised. Chu’s child-like sensibilities are again on display as he cooks up an elaborate and gracefully shot fight involving ziplines and avalanches. There’s a vertigo-inducing thrill to it that escalates nicely, and it feels exactly like the type of thing that should be in a G.I. Joe movie. Nothing else quite lives up to any conflict that doesn’t involve swordplay in the movie, as the various gunfights and brawls become obscured by quick cuts and tight framing.

Once the film leaves its Eastern setting, the proceedings seem to get progressively smaller, too; even though Snake-Eyes and newcomer Jinx are just tracking down Storm Shadow here, the backdrop and the size of the action gives it a nice sense of scope. By comparison, the climax finds a ragtag group of Joes raiding Fort Sumter as the threat of total annihilation looms in outer space. A recognizable city is destroyed to raise the stakes and indulge in some Emmerich-esque disaster porn, but the conflict is more or less resolved with a tank, hovercrafts, and Bruce Willis firing a huge gun from the back of an El Camino.

Despite its attempts to flee from “Rise of the Cobra,” “Retaliation” is at its best whenever it most indulges the spirited, cartoony feel that Sommers employed. Many of the actors get this, and the film’s most memorable turns come from the guys who are engaging the comic-book silliness of the whole thing, like Walton Goggins as an overzealous government agent in charge of a shady, high-tech prison. Likewise, Pryce relishes the chance to turn the President into a conniving, shameless heel, and Ray Stevenson is delightful as Firefly, a southern-fried brute with some of the film’s rare, fun gadgetry. Both overshadow their boss, Cobra Commander, who looks more faithful but is given little do besides wheeze and shout orders behind the iconic mask.

As course correction, “Retaliation” is a lateral move at best; while it is a brisker film with a superior lead and a more dastardly villain, it lacks the color and the swinging, adventurous personality of the original movie. If both films are analogous to kids thrashing their toys around, then “Rise of the Cobra” would represent the kid’s collection at full-strength. “Retaliation” would be the equivalent of unpacking the toys a few years later, discovering that most of the accessories are missing, and attempting to toss in some new stuff to compensate. It’s not terrible, especially since some of the better sequences will it to being entertaining in spite of its disjointed story and mostly mundane set of heroes.

The film ends with a sense of self-satisfaction—not only does it largely disavow the film that came before, but it ends with the insistence that it’s established a solid foundation for further movies, with Johnson and Willis making a hell of a team. If only someone had realized that Tatum and The Rock already made a fine pair, I might be able to share in that enthusiasm going forward.

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originally posted: 03/30/13 15:48:35
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User Comments

10/16/13 Carl More fun than the first film! 3 stars
8/07/13 mr.mike Fair home vid rental. 3 stars
6/26/13 Jesse Zuno I found the Retaliation lightyears better than the first film. 4 stars
4/07/13 Davo Absolute rubbish ! 1 stars
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  28-Mar-2013 (PG-13)
  DVD: 16-Jul-2013


  DVD: 16-Jul-2013

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