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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

‘G.I. Joe’ 2: Cobra Strikes Back!

G.I. Joe: Retaliation:  3 ½ out of 5
Roadblock:  Let's move! The world ain't saving itself!
2009 saw the release of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.  While that film was a financial success and has its fans, it did not quite set the world on fire in the same way that Transformers, the other Hasbro toy-based movie franchise did.  The consensus seems to be that it was too campy for its own good.  While I may disagree, the idea for this sequel seems to have been to make it a lot more earnest, while still maintaining a level of fun.  The results are good enough, even if the film is more of an equal, as opposed to a greater piece of work than the former.  Retaliation may be a sequel that really wants to disassociate itself from the first movie, despite continuing on with where the first film’s story left off, but despite being ‘more serious’, it still has a lot of inherent goofiness and ridiculous, but enjoyable action sequences.  I may not be the biggest G.I. Joe fan (I had Star Wars toys), but this still fits as the kind of movie I would want to see made from this franchise.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation picks up a couple years after the first film.  Channing Tatum returns as Duke, who now leads Joes into various missions.  He is backed by a few new players, including Dwayne Johnson as Roadblock, Adrianne Palicki as Lady Jaye, and D.J. Cotrona as Flint.  Little do the G.I. Joes know (and knowing really is half the battle), the dastardly member of Cobra, Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), is still impersonating the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce).  An elaborate plan is put into motion, which frames the G.I. Joes for murdering the Pakistani President, while Cobra Commander escapes from his imprisonment.  A strike is ordered against the Joes, which leaves only Roadblock, Lady Jaye, and Flint left to try and learn who was behind their attack.  Elsewhere, Snake Eyes (Ray Park) is on his own mission to take down Storm Shadow (Byung-Hun Lee).  It will take a lot of effort from all these good guys, including the presence of the original ‘Joe’, General Joseph Colton (Bruce Willis), if they want to stop another world domination plan from Cobra Commander.
It is a little sad that the studios did not have enough faith in the spirit of the first film to make it a true sequel and bring back the other characters.  There were apparently enough good ideas in place to keep the same storyline going, but this film brings on a new director, writers, and actors, with Channing Tatum serving as the likable bridge to connect the two, before saying “so long” to the franchise.  Snake Eyes is still around too, but you really can’t have a G.I. Joe movie without him.  It does help that Jonathan Pryce really stepped up his game as the president this time around.  That was a fun cliffhanger to end the first film on and Pryce get a chance to have a lot of fun playing up the President who is more than meets the eye.  With these elements in mind, Retaliation is essentially a reboot that cherry-picked the things it wanted to keep in the storyline.

Given that this is based on a large franchise, there are plenty of other characters that can be introduced, so it is not too much of a loss to not see the further adventures of Ripcord and Scarlett, but it does not help that many of the new characters are hit or miss.  Palicki is gorgeous and capable as Lady Jaye, but a tale about how her daddy never respected her – meh.  Less important is Flint, who seems to exist so The Rock isn’t just talking to himself.  It doesn’t hurt that Flint has fun parkour moves to do throughout the film, but the guy is nothing as a character.  Bruce Willis, true to form, only wants to try when he’s in a movie that he finds interesting, so it comes as no surprise that he’s just hanging out in this film.  With that said, he is better here than he was in either A Good Day to Die Hard or Expendables 2.  The biggest addition is Dwayne Johnson, who takes over for Channing Tatum as the de facto lead of the film.  I love Johnson’s onscreen presence, so I was happy to see him jumping into action here.  This is a film that has a “bigger than life” sort of attitude, so someone like The Rock is the right kind of persona to bring into the film.
Having mentioned “bigger than life”, one of the stranger things about this film is what we are meant to assume regarding the strike against the Joes.  The first film establishes that the Joes have an enormous base camp in the Egyptian desert (one of the more entertaining recap sentences I’ve had to write).  This film seems to limit the Joes to no more than 50 guys, maybe, who all happened to be in the same place at the same time (aside from Snake Eyes), when the ambush occurs.  I point this out because the film seems limited at times, but also super expansive at others.  I know the budget was large, yet putting the bombastic soundtrack aside, I still feel like areas of the film seemed fairly cheap.  Half of this film is a straight-forward revenge story and features lots of practical effects in bland locations.  The other half contains the larger than life aspects, which feature intricate and explosive prison escapes and a spectacular sequence involving ninja fights on a mountain side.

Let’s talk about the Snake Eyes portion of this film.  Snake Eyes is paired with a new character, Jinx (Elodie Yung), and put on a mission to take down Storm Shadow.  Getting to this sequence is ridiculous, as it involves RZA as a Blind Master ninja delivering terrible narration to establish what is going on, but once the action with Snake Eyes kicks into gear, the film has a ton of fun with ninja-mountain climbing action.  For a film that has decided to ground itself in more reality-based action, the most ludicrous of action sequences was easily a highlight of the film.
There’s another area I can delve into – the direction.  When it was announced that Jon M. Chu was directing the film, I was quite excited.  Chu was previously responsible for Step Up 2: The Streets and Step Up 3D, and while those films are what they are, the filming of the dance sequences were basically staged as great action sequences.  Now Chu is delivering on much larger action sequences and I think he does a pretty good job for a film of this scope.  The Snake Eyes sequence is a highlight, but while the film, in its entirety, is not as over-the-top as that sequence, let alone the first film, I enjoyed the action that I was seeing.  Given whatever was going on behind the scenes, aside from just the 3D conversion, which delayed this film for over half a year, the final product may not be delivering the ultimate action experience compared to other upcoming blockbusters, but the delivered product is an enjoyable one.

Spotting the differences between this film and the first is the only other thing I can really go into.  Personally, I find the first film to be fun because of its goofiness.  It is a big, colorful movie about toys and comic book characters coming to life and it resembles what one should mostly expect from a G.I. Joe movie.  I think it was also notable for having an international cast, with performances that were all over the place (see: Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Cobra Commander).  For Retaliation, the new screenwriters, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (of Zombieland fame), came up with a film that is much more focused on real American heroes, toning down the colorfulness of the series, and amping up the seriousness.  Despite these differences, it is more about having two different flavors of the same thing, rather than having one that seems clearly better than the other.
I had the kind of fun I was expecting from G.I. Joe: Retaliation.  This time around, the film has decided to skew more towards the hardened comic book/action crowd, rather than having what could be considered a more family-friendly tone like the first film (I say that loosely).  Adding a little bit of The Rock goes a long way for me though, so that factor, along with the mixture of ninja action we get to see kept me having all the fun I wanted from another movie that opens with the Hasbro logo on the big screen.  Sometimes this is a silly film, sometimes it is more serious than it needs to be, but the film delivers on being escapist fun for the time being, before we get to the big summer movie season.

Roadblock: Did I miss anything General?
Joe Colton: Call me Joe.
[Additional Note:  For those concerned about 3D, if you liked the 3D in The Avengers, which I found to do little to add to the film, then you’ll enjoy the 3D in G.I. Joe: Retaliation.]



Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS3.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.

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