Stephen Sommers’s 2009 film adaptation of the Hasbro toy, TV and comic series G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra was utter garbage. Real trash and yet guiltily easily watchable stuff but some fans felt the spirit was missing. Well with this sequel, many of the disappointed may feel rewarded. GI Joe: Retaliation is not, what one would call, excellent. The film is big, impossibly macho, ludicrous and ridiculous but it is a G.I. Joe film, so what on earth did you expect? Taken as a straight piece of filmmaking craft this is not art, but dismissing it as trash is difficult, as the film successfully captures the tone and spirit of its material inspiration. Let your inner 12 year old be the critic and you’ll find fun to be had here.
The plotting is preposterous. In fact, after a while you’ll likely give up. Allegiances are formed; new characters/old characters are brought to the screen, nuclear plots, revenge missions, and so on and so forth. This is not a structurally tight film at all but when the action notes are hit and the punch-ups take place, you have enough vital info to compute… just. Director Jon M. Chu directs with a stylish eye and in terms of capturing the action, he does his job. Yet, in terms of managing the chaos, character and plot, the direction is a bit indifferent to coherency. Then again, where it counts, Chu does his job well. It’s almost laughable that a film this testosterone drenched was from the director of Justin Bieber: Never Say Never.
Audiences are well served by excellent set pieces, the highlight of which being a mountainside assault that is simply breathtaking. The 3D works well in some cases and the martial arts and “awesome” gadgetry is all here to be gawped at. It is easy to sit back, stop thinking and breathe in the action fumes. It still won’t be to everyone’s tastes of course and certain cinema fans will want a bullet in the head. Yet for the Joe fanbase and the intended audience, this sequel scores some good points.
Henry Jackman’s muscular scoring is, at points, grand and impressive, if on other occasions forgettable, backing up improved digital effects and stuntwork. The casting and acting is effective mostly, with WWE Champion Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson perfectly badass as Roadblock, more interest paid to Storm Shadow (returning Lee Byung-hunn excels again) and the speechless Snake Eyes (Ray Park) remains a calm and cool presence. Channing Tatum’s return as Duke is well used, Adrianne Palicki as Lady Jaye makes a harder impact and Bruce Willis’s introduction, as General Joseph Colton is welcome.
The villains have also vastly improved, The Cobra Commander looks (and sounds) better and Ray Stevenson pleasurably pounds his way through the film as mercenary Firefly. In fact his fights with Roadblock are a highlight. There is also an improved usage of the ever-watchable Jonathan Pryce as “The President”. Still RZA as The Blind master is unintentionally hilarious and just a mickey take, Arnold Vosloo hardly shows his face and Elodie Yung as Jinx needs work. Still fans will likely be pleased with the handling of characters from the Joe world.
Retaliation is riddled with holes but they are expected and, in spite of the problematic mechanics, this vehicle is easily enjoyed as pure burger and drink entertainment – which in many ways is the exact spirit this film and its source material was intended for. Grand, overblown and ridiculous but it knows it and while watching you can easily have lots of fun.