G.I. Joe 2: Retaliation
Directed by John Chu. Starring Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis, Ray Park, Dwayne Johnson, Elodie Yung, RZA, D.J. Cotrona, Adrianne Palicki, Ray Stevenson, Arnold Vosloo, Byeong-heon Lee, Jonathan Pryce, Joseph Mazzello, Joe Chrest, Walton Goggins, Phil Austin, James Rawlings, Brittney Alger, Philippe Radelet. Written by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick.
It says something when the most compelling performance in your movie comes from an actor playing a character who wears a mask that completely covers his face and doesn’t have a single line of dialogue. But when you’re making a movie based on a line of action figures, I guess that’s almost the point; G.I. Joe: Retaliation is the cinematic equivalent of a boy mashing together his plastic toys.
I don’t remember much of the first G.I. Joe, but I remember half-enjoying its over-the-top cartoonish nature. It’s all about tone; unlike the more recent Transformers films, which took themselves far too seriously, Rise of the Cobra knew what kind of movie it was. I was a little worried that Retaliation was becoming too somber, but then RZA shows up as a sensei master spouting off inane dialogue in a rinkydink dojo.
I have a feeling the filmmakers didn’t remember much of the previous film, either. The script, by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Zombieland), only brings back a handful of characters, with five actors reprising their roles: Channing Tatum (Duke), Ray Park (Snake Eyes), Arnold Vosloo (Zartan), Byung-hun Lee (Storm Shadow) and Jonathan Pryce (as the US President). Cobra Commander is back, too, but Luke Bracey has replaced Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the man behind the mask.
This time around, Dwayne Johnson takes center stage as Roadblock, who teams up with Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), and Flint (D.J. Cotrona) to stop a terrorist attack and clear the G.I. Joe name after they’ve been labeled traitors by the US President. It’s not a good sign, but this, the film’s main storyline, is dull and predictable, livened only by an extended cameo featuring Bruce Willis as General Joseph Colton, the original Joe.
The villain-centered ‘B’ storyline fares a little better: shape-shifting Zartan has taken over as the US President, disposed of most of the Joes, and set up a laugh-out-loud ridiculous plan for world domination that hinges on interesting strategy for nuclear disarmament: getting world leaders to launch all their nukes simultaneously, and then self-destruct them before they reach their intended targets.
It’s a dynamite prison breakout sequence featuring Firefly (Ray Stevenson), Storm Shadow, Cobra Commander, and Walton Goggins as a warden that really gets the ball rolling; elegantly choreographed and constructed, you gotta love that shot of a motorcycle hitting a ramp, and then transforming into five separate bombs – mid-air – before blowing a wall apart.
But it’s the ‘C’ storyline where Retaliation really delivers. Featuring Snake Eyes – who steals the movie just by standing there – and Jinx and all the RZA nonsense, an extended sequence involving the kidnapping of Storm Shadow that culminates with zipline wire-swinging action across the peaks of the Himalayas is easily the height of the movie.
The director here, John M. Chu, previously made the dance flicks Step Up 2: The Streets and Step Up 3D; the prison break and mountaintop action scenes are expertly conceived and executed, delivered with the precision of a good dance sequence. But something went awry during most of the other action scenes in Retaliation, which involve a good deal of hyper-edit, shaky-cam incoherence.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation is big, dumb, and loud, but you wouldn’t want it any other way. For a film based on a line of action figures, this is likely as good as it gets; with a stronger lead storyline and some more consistency with the action scenes (the finale, in particular, is a letdown), it might have even been legitimately good.
Retaliation was converted to 3D after a lenghty delay in post-production (the film was originally scheduled for release a year ago); seen in IMAX, the 3D was adequate but rarely more than a temporary distraction.
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