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Review: G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)

G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)

Directed by: Jon M. Chu

Premise: A sequel to the 2009 film G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. The Cobra terrorist organization infiltrates the United States government and frames the Joes for treason. The surviving members must expose Cobra’s plot before they take over the world.

What Works: G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a better movie than The Rise of Cobra. This picture moves along a lot faster, it’s funnier but also features harder action, and it discards some of the campy elements of the previous film. Retaliation caries over few of the characters from the first picture but that is just as well; The Rise of Cobra wasn’t very well cast. Despite dumping most of the original characters, Retaliation benefits from a pared down company. Like many movies based on superhero properties and toy lines, The Rise of Cobra was overstuffed with characters and allusions. By literally cutting the number of lead cast members in half the filmmakers of the new G.I. Joe movie are able to focus a bit more on their characters. This still isn’t a character driven movie but it does at least have coherent and watchable people on screen. Retaliation centers on Roadblock, played by Dwayne Johnson, and the actor is a good fit in the role. Johnson has a strong screen presence and he is convincing as the lead, much more so than Channing Tatum as Duke. The filmmakers also introduce General Joe Colton, played by Bruce Willis, and although the actor rehashes his standard action hero shtick, Willis does it better in Retaliation than in recent movies like A Good Day to Die Hard or The Expendables 2. Returning to the G.I. Joe series is character actor Jonathan Pryce as the president. In the premise of the movie, the president has secretly been taken hostage and is impersonated by a shape shifting Cobra agent. This allows Pryce to play both the real president and the imposter and as the latter Pryce is very watchable and very funny, and his scenes are often the best parts of the movie. The filmmakers of Retaliation do an impressive job fixing the many mistakes of The Rise of Cobra; this movie isn’t so top heavy with exposition and the action scenes are improved. There are a few standout fights and combat scenes, namely a ninja fight set against a mountainside, and the movie is a leaner and more masculine action picture than its predecessor. It is also a great deal of fun to watch, which is exactly what most of its intended audience will be looking for.

What Doesn’t: While G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a better movie than The Rise of Cobra, it still isn’t very good. The biggest problem of this picture is the failure of the filmmakers to establish and maintain the right aesthetic tone in the way that Christopher Nolan did in his Dark Knight trilogy or Jon Favreau did in the original Iron Man. G.I. Joe: Retaliation is stuck in between the violence and grit of a realistic war movie and the fantastic qualities of a superhero flick. Individual set pieces like the mountain fight are as well made as anything else in the action genre right now but when juxtaposed with other scenes they don’t coalesce and as a whole the movie has an oddly disconnected quality. Despite the considerable faults of The Rise of Cobra, that film did have a coherent tone but when elements of the previous movie are transplanted into Retaliation they often come across as out of place. This is found most awkwardly in the lead villain: Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey/Robert Baker). The character is very Darth Vader-like but his costume and overall appearance look silly in the context of government buildings and realistic military hardware.

Bottom Line: G.I. Joe: Retaliation is an improvement over its predecessor but this is by no means great or even good moviemaking. But it is enough fun to be enjoyable as schlocky shoot-‘em-up entertainment.

Episode: #434 (April 7, 2013)