G.I. Joe: Retaliation Review

Yo Joe! Does the belated sequel get the action franchise back on track?

Bringing new meaning to the word ‘dumb’, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is as much of a disappointment as its predecessor, though in a completely different way. Where Stephen Sommers’s CGI-orgy of futuristic action provided plenty of visual razzle-dazzle but little excitement, director Jon M. Chu’s sequel changes tack by ditching the gadgets and technology, replacing them with old school pyrotechnics and patriotic flag-waving. And while this approach does raise the pulse a little more, the laughably lazy plot and dialogue make it impossible to enjoy even on a superficial level of escapism. Maybe it will be a case of third time’s the charm.

Picking up shortly after the events of the 2009 movie, we find Duke (Channing Tatum) has been put in charge of a team consisting of, among others, Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), tasked with tracking down the remnants of criminal organisation Cobra. When Duke’s team is all but wiped out while conducting a covert operation in Pakistan (one of several real-world hotspots that this film merrily plays with), Roadblock and company head back to the US to try and figure out who betrayed them and why. At the same time, Cobra Commander escapes from prison with the help of Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee), and a plot to take control of the world is revealed.

Duke’s team members from part one are almost entirely absent, unfortunate narrative victims of this sequel-cum-reboot’s attempt to put as much distance between itself and the original film as possible without embarrassing anyone. Spare a thought then for poor old brick-neck Tatum; shunted aside from the blockbuster franchise he helped launch, and of which he was supposed to be the star. He pops up in a role that has ‘contractual obligation’ written all over it, staying around just long enough to pass the baton to Johnson before collecting his P45. It’s an odd decision, and one that works against the film because the relationship between their two characters is far more fun than anything in Sommers’ effort.

After that though, it quickly becomes apparent that Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s script is every bit as thin and dumb as was the first film’s, and they don’t even have the excuse that it was produced during a writer’s strike. Lame gags, silly costumes and a nonsensical plot simply reinforce the feeling that this is an expensive and starry live-action version of a Saturday morning cartoon, more akin to Power Rangers than anything else. That would be no bad thing if it was fun; but the tone strives to be earnest when it’s clearly as daft as your average North Korean dictator. Questionable jokes about waterboarding and other politically sensitive issues leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth too, and don’t really belong in a film based on a toy line.

There are a few highlights though: the mountainside martial arts battle featuring Snake Eyes (holdover Ray Park) is inspired and easily the best bit in the whole thing. Jonathan Pryce, another returning cast member, in the dual role of both the real and a doppelganger President of the United States, is clearly having plenty of fun, as does Bruce Willis (likely present only because the cheque cleared) as General Joe Colton, the first ever GI Joe. And the film sure does blow London up real good, sneaking in before Fast and Furious 6 and Star Trek Into Darkness come along to do much the same later this summer. Perhaps next time they should take a leaf out of the comics and do a crossover story with Transformers? Just don’t let Michael Bay near it.

Gavin Midgley

Updated: Apr 06, 2013

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