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G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Channing Tatum, Adrianne Palicki, Byung-hun Lee, Ray Park, Elodie Yung

Written By: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick Directed By: Jon M. Chu

The Short Version

I’d say the G.I. Joe team is back, but I’d be lying.  Only two are.  Oh, wait; one.

Oh, well; things like continuity and logic happen to other movies.

Sure, there are action sequences, but the movie is lazy and just plain soulless.

From the director of…  Justin Bieber: Never Say Never?!  Well, that explains a lot.

GI Joe: Retaliation is an extremely disappointing sequel that’s not worth spending cash to experience.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


For when you barely even want to try.

Pairs Well With...


Malt liquor that bites in exactly the same way that this movie does.

“You know, they say this is a thankless job.  But yesterday, I hung out with Bono.  My new Secret Service?  They want to burn the Constitution.  Literally.  Do you know my favorite bit?  I get to blow stuff up.”

I’m starting to wonder if I’m seeing the same G.I. Joe movies that everyone else is.

When I first saw G.I. Joe: The Rise of COBRA in a theatre, I loved it.  Based other people’s reviews and general conversations I’ve had since then, I was one of about six people who did.  Never the less, roughly half a dozen blu ray watches later, it remains one of my favorite action flicks of the past decade.

Then came news of a sequel, for which, at the time, I was the only person I knew who started out excited.  There were major ad campaigns for a tentpole release date in 2012… followed by a sudden announcement that things were being put on hold for a year, allegedly to accommodate a last minute decision to convert the film for stereoscope.  That kind of delay – especially after major marketing has already begun – is never a good sign, and few people believed the flimsy excuse offered.  There were rumors of rewrites and reshoots, and things quieted down for a year.

But once that year had passed, a funny thing happened.  My anticipatory excitement died with the delay, but a whole lot of other people were suddenly anxious for G.I. Joe: Retaliation to arrive.  And then it did, and even people who hated the first movie loved it.  It didn’t exactly tear up the domestic box office, but even so, it got a warm reception overall, and it was generally agreed that this flick was a lot better and a lot more fun than the first one.

Like I said, I’m starting to wonder if I’m seeing the same G.I. Joe movies that everyone else is, because to me, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a lazy, soulless disappointment that isn’t even worth the cost of a cheap rental.

We’ll talk more about cheap (or not-so-cheap) rentals in just a few moments.  But first: a sketch of the story, which inevitably involves spoilers about the previous movie, so consider yourself warned.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation picks up roughly a year or two after G.I. Joe: The Rise of COBRA left off.  COBRA Commander and Destro are rotting away in a cryogenic prison while Zartan happily continues pretending to be the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce, Tomorrow Never Dies).  We pick up with the news that the President of Pakistan has been assassinated (because lately, Hollywood has decided that it’s okay to mess with real countries instead of inventing safe ones), and the resulting political uncertainty has some people worried about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons stockpile (which the audience will quickly learn is estimated to be roughly four warheads).  The impostor US President’s solution?  Send in the G.I. Joe team to “secure” (steal) the nukes!

Pause that.

I’m going to avoid the entire “real world politics” can of worms that this movie opens and never lets go of, and just focus in on the pertinent adventure movie detail of the G.I. Joe team itself, which looks almost nothing like it did in the first film.  The first time around (which is allegedly still canon) there was a massive underground HQ with lots of high tech equipment staffed by a wide array of unique specialists with cool call signs (a whole lot of named action figures) from around the world representing an international coalition.  Now, the cool HQ is gone… and so are most of the Joes.  As we start the movie, there are exactly two returning players: Duke (Channing Tatum, Jupiter Ascending) and an off-camera Snake Eyes (Ray Park, X-Men).  What happened to Scarlett and Ripcord and the rest of the gang is anyone’s guess.  Maybe they left when all of the non-Americans were sent packing, because what remains is clearly an Americans-only club that’s a small squad instead of a large team, and only a few of them have cool names, while the rest are such obvious “standard grunts” that they might as well have targets painted on their foreheads.  This stripping down of the team also removes nearly all of the G.I. Joe Cool Factor, and to me plays exactly like the handoff of a big screen franchise to a cut rate direct-to-video outfit.  Talk about underwhelming…

Press play.

After the now fairly generic assault team successfully carries out a by-the-numbers appropriation of the nukes, they’re ordered to hold position, making it all that much simpler for a ho-hum airstrike to take out what is supposed to be the world’s most elite fighting force – including Duke – with ridiculous ease.  (And this low rent cheese is supposed to be more exciting than the genuinely cool opening battle of the previous film how, exactly?)

Pause again.

The rumors of script changes and extra shoots being the real reason that G.I. Joe: Retaliation was delayed were correct, but not for the usual causes.  Instead, it turned out that someone noticed that Channing Tatum had become a major box office draw, and since his character gets bumped off almost immediately, maybe the opportunity could be taken to shoot a few extra scenes with him and, say, Dwayne Johnson (The Scorpion King) buddying up.  Y’know; to keep the people happy.  For the record, the cheap (or not cheap, since I don’t imagine Mr. Tatum worked for free) stunt of the extra scenes is highly transparent – they’re obvious tack-ons and pointless – and giving Tatum high billing for what amounts to a cameo appearance is a cheap (payable in millions of ad dollars) marketing lie.

Press play.

Turns out that President Phony set up the G.I. Joes, publicly accusing Snake Eyes of murdering the Pakistani President and charging the rest of the Joes with nuclear theft.  Not to worry, though; he announces that his new strike team, COBRA, has terminated the entire G.I. Joe team!

Pause again.

Okay, so that guy who was very publicly placed in cryogenic prison after the last flick was called COBRA Commander.  Is the world really so damn dense that two and two aren’t being put together here?  No?

Press play.

As it so happens, Snake Eyes wasn’t the assassin; it was Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee, I Saw the Devil) dressed up as Snake Eyes. 

Pause again.

Didn’t he die in the last flick?

Press play.

And now Storm Shadow is off to break COBRA Commander out of prison, while the three Joes who survived the air raid, Snake Eyes, and Snake Eyes’ ninja apprentice, Jinx (Elodie Yung, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) try to regroup and get to the bottom of the COBRA conspiracy before something really awful happens, like, say, a global nuclear holocaust or some kind of death satellite or –

Okay, enough already.  How exactly was this supposed to be less convoluted than the first movie again?

Was it the part where the ninja school Snake Eyes trained at as a child has suddenly become some kind of G.I. Joe surrogate?  I like ninja stuff as much as the next guy, but this belongs in a Tarantino flick, not a G.I. Joe movie, especially with RZA (The Man with the Iron Fists) reading Blind Master’s lines as though they’re being badly dubbed by someone else.  And whether its roots are in old G.I. Joe comic books or not, the revelations about Hard Master’s death play out as a ridiculously contrived excuse to turn the popular Storm Shadow into… well, you’ll see, if you decide to bother.

But so what if G.I. Joe: Retaliation doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and if the plot’s just an excuse to pile one action sequence onto another?  After all, it is an action movie, right?  And the fun part about action movies is the action!  Surely I must remember what fun is!

Fun is Bruce Willis laughing all the way to the bank for an extended cameo requiring him to do less real work than he did in Expendables 2, right?  Maybe if he did something other than phone it in, it could be, but no; he’s really just phoning it in here.  Oh, well.

Fun is a collection of cool vehicles that hearken back to the toys of old, right?  HISS tanks, FANG helicopters… and hey, how about that motorcycle that breaks up into a whole bunch of bombs!  Again, these could be cool, and they should be cool… but they’re just kind of there.  Only the bike really gets any kind of potentially kickass use, but like the rest of the action sequences in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, it just doesn’t “pop” for me.  The scene feels like a visual product, not an exciting piece of visual art that’s got emotion and soul behind it.  Similarly, when the good ninjas and the bad ninjas have their mountainside fight over zip lines and swinging ropes, it should be awesome – indeed, by most accounts, it’s the film’s greatest shining moment – but for me, there’s just nothing.  I know that I’m supposed to be excited by it, but the director – he of Justin Bieber movie fame – seems to take it for granted that I will be a good little viewer and be excited just because that’s what the manual says.  He and his team put no real effort forward to give it, or anything about this movie, that extra “oomph” needed to switch over from “should be cool” to “is cool.”  The movie’s selling – boy, is it selling – but I’m just not buying.

And so, when all is said and done, the hacking up of the ensemble sucks, the script is terrible, and the acting is questionable at best, but the real killing blow that makes me actively dislike this flick is the utterly soulless direction of Jon M. Chu.  In the hands of someone else, maybe low mediocrity would have been possible, but with this guy at the helm… nope; I just don’t feel a thing.

Bottom line, I may have enjoyed its predecessor, but I found G.I. Joe: Retaliation to be a glaring disappointment.  If you must see it for yourself, at least try to use a streaming service, because this flick’s not worth spending any extra cash to experience.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, April, 2014

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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