Friday, December 20, 2013

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

Directed by Jon M. Chu.
2013. Rated PG-13, 110 minutes.
Byung-hun Lee
Jonathan Pryce
Elodie Yung
Ray Stevenson
D.J. Cotrona
Ray Park
Luke Bracey
Arnold Vosloo

With the first paragraph of my reviews, I try to give the reader a synopsis of the movie in question without spoiling it. Usually, this involves me recapping the first ten or fifteen minutes of said movie, but not telling much of anything about what happens the rest of the way. My line of thinking is that if you want to watch a film, regardless of how I feel about it, I don’t want to be the one that completely removes any suspense you may otherwise have found there.

Sometimes, I can’t help myself.

For certain movies, explaining why I like or dislike them has to include events from later in the proceedings. Even then, I try not to give too much away. For others, there may be a spoiler in the setup, or at least something that lets us know it is not going to be quite what people expect. This brings me to G.I. Joe: Retaliation.

Actually, before we get into this particular flick, let’s take a short trip back to the 1990s, ’96 to be exact. My soon-to-be sister-in-law and her husband were huge Steven Seagal fans. They made sure to be in a theater on opening night of all of his movies. And so they were on a Friday evening, just starting to binge on popcorn, candy, and soda as Seagal’s latest, Executive Decision gets rolling. Prior to arriving in their seats they had seen the television commercials which made it appear that their guy was teaming up with Kurt Russell to take back a plane from some hijackers in an action packed adventure and somehow Halle Berry was involved. Those of you that have seen it know this isn’t quite the case. For the rest of you…SPOILER ALERT…not only is it much more slow-paced thriller than action flick, but Seagal’s character dies about ten minutes in before he kicks any ass whatsoever. Since my in-laws feet hadn’t even had time to get stuck to the floor real good yet, they promptly got up and left. As far as I know, they’ve never bothered trying to watch the rest of it.

Now let’s bring things back to the present. As unbelievable as it seems nowadays, most people don’t actually research a movie before deciding to see it. Maybe they watch a trailer or two online, or happen to see one on TV. Perhaps they don’t even do that if it’s a sequel to something they like and/or it stars someone they are a fan of. In this case, we have the sequel to 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra based on an 80s cartoon which itself was based on a line of Hasbro toys. It raked in hundreds of millions of dollars at the box-office. The star of the show was none other than Channing Tatum. He had been around for years, but this was his first really big movie. It catapulted him to superstar status.

Well, as this one starts up we get way too chummy with Tatum’s character, Duke. We see how close he is to Roadblock, played by The Rock, as the guys talk about lots of personal stuff. He never actually says it, but we get the feeling that Duke is seriously thinking about settling down real soon and maybe starting a family like his buddy. Uh-oh. Astute viewers will notice this sounds suspiciously similar to having less than two weeks until retirement. Sure enough, the boys get sent on one of those missions that turns out to be a setup and guess who doesn’t survive. This causes the movie a two-folded problem. First, they just killed off a good portion of the reason people want to watch this in the first place. This is true not only for people who are fans of the actor, but for Joe fans to whom Duke is an iconic character. Of all the people in this universe to knock off, that’s the one they pick? I wonder how many of those who didn’t know this was coming got up and left the theater.

No matter what, the show must go on. Roadblock gathers up the remaining Joes, which eventually includes Bruce Willis, and decide they have to work off the grid for a while to solve their issue since they easily figure out they were betrayed by none other than the President of the United States. Eventually, this all leads back to Cobra Commander (Bracey) as it must in a G.I. Joe flick. Oh, don’t act like that’s a spoiler. Anyhoo, CC embarks on a plan eerily similar to Dr. Evil’s in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. If you’re unfamiliar with that one, just think about most James Bond movies or any number of films where the bad guy has a super-duper powerful weapon that can blow up everything and threatens to use it unless everyone in the world gives him money.

I know. I’m just spoiling all types of stuff for you today.

Okay. So far we have a major star playing a popular character dying in the opening moments and a generic plot. Let’s add in the fact that it is lazily written and has more than its fair share of hammy acting performances. Sounds like a total nightmare, right? Well, not so fast. This movie knows what we’re here for and gives it to us. If you like the first G.I. Joe then you probably appreciated it for being a big movie filled with action and exciting visuals. This installment gives us much more of the same. Everything goes boom real good and there is lots of martial arts goodness. My favorite sequence is a ridiculous mountainside battle.

What makes it work is that it just is. It doesn’t take itself too seriously nor too lightly. It is simply a spectacle. And unlike a Michael Bay movie, thankfully, it resists the urge to hammer us with a barrage of terrible jokes meant for 13 year-old boys or an overly goofy love story. Best of all, it doesn’t keep going for what feels like 127 hours. Therefore, it might not be exactly true to whatever you think a G.I. Joe should be, but it’s fun.

MY SCORE: 6.5/10


  1. Just a bit better than the first, although it never does seem to end with the senseless acts of violence, that also seem to have no blood involved. Good review Wendell.

    1. Like the first one, I expected there to be no blood to keep that PG-13 rating. If you haven't, check out the old 80s G.I. Joe cartoon. It was also all sorts of violent, but strangely no one ever died. Most famously, pilots would always be able to parachute out of exploding aircraft just in the nick of time, both good guys and bad guys. Even to us kids, that seemed ridiculous.