Movie Review: G. I. Joe: Retaliation
By Matthew Huntley
April 10, 2013

Okay, we're doing massive re-shoots. Does anyone have any screenwriting experience?

Regarding the original G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009), I had written it was mindless movie junk food that I enjoyed on a juvenile level. I also mentioned I could not, in good conscience, recommend it because I didn’t want to condone more cinematic cavities. But I’d be lying if I said G.I. Joe: Retaliation didn’t surprise me or that I didn’t enjoy it more, this time on a more adult level. And if you’ll allow me to exhaust the food analogy a bit further, if the first G.I. Joe was artificial sugar packed with empty calories, Retaliation is at least natural sugar, and may even contain a few nutrients.

Those nutrients come mostly in the form of some crafty and grandiose action sequences, which are exciting and lively, maybe even original, or as original as big budget action sequences can be these days. Another benefit is the movie has a competent head on its shoulders in the intelligence department - sure, it’s stupid, but not over-the-top or offensively stupid and it plays the material straight enough so we’re not laughing at it. We’re just enjoying it for its energy and charisma, which is what we’ve paid for.

It surprises me to write any of this, and not just because it’s G.I. Joe, but because Paramount moved the release date of Retaliation from the summer of 2012 to the spring of 2013, which is usually a dead giveaway the studio didn’t have much faith in it to begin with. But allegedly its postponement was done to convert the film to 3D and to shoot additional scenes with star Channing Tatum, whose popularity rose significantly over the past year thanks to hits like The Vow, 21 Jump Street and Magic Mike. Whether or not the conversion to 3D or Tatum’s extra screen time made a difference is anybody’s guess, but luckily the entertainment value of Retaliation was left intact.

The story picks up shortly after The Rise of Cobra, with Duke (Tatum) now leading an elite squad of the U.S. Special Forces team known as G.I. Joe. Despite its rampant absurdity, the sequel actually feels more grounded and less cartoonish than the original, even though it’s based on the Hasbro cartoon series and action figures from the 1980s. Duke’s squad is comprised of the muscle-bound yet dedicated Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson); the sexy and resourceful Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki); an average Joe (no pun intended) named Flint (D.J. Cotrona); and, returning from the last movie, the evasive and stealthy martial arts master named Snake Eyes (Ray Park), who still abides by his vow of silence. Absent this time around is Ripcord (Marlon Wayans), who brought a zest and lightheartedness to the first movie, but I guess the studio wanted to take the franchise in a more serious direction.

And things do get serious, for the Joes anyway, when they’re all but massacred after completing their mission in Pakistan by intercepting highly dangerous nuclear warheads. Duke is killed and only his aforementioned team members survive. Roadblock deduces there is only one man in the world who could have ordered such an attack on them, “and I voted for him.” Yep, he’s referring to the President of the United States (Jonathon Pryce), only he’s not the actual president, he’s an impostor. You’ll recall at the end of the last movie the real president was kidnapped by the evil Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), who used advanced nano-mite technology to alter his appearance to impersonate the Commander-in-Chief.

Zartan serves the even more sinister Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey), the steel-faced nemesis of the Joes who possesses the standard “maniacal bad guy” aspirations to take over the world. His and Zartan’s eventual plan involves gathering the world’s leaders at a nuclear arms summit and deceiving them into launching, and then destroying, their nuclear weapons, leaving Cobra the only one remaining in the world. And should they not comply and swear allegiance to him, he’ll release it and destroy their countries one by one. It is, of course, up to the Joes to stop him and disarm the warheads via one of those briefcases with a countdown clock, but not without waiting until the last possible second.

To expect anything more or different from G.I. Joe: Retaliation as far as plot is concerned would just be silly on the moviegoer’s part. Besides, what anyone paying to see this movie really cares about is its action and sensational value, and on those levels, the movie fires on all cylinders from its opening scene and doesn’t let up. But luckily it’s not exhausting, and the screenplay even allows for the action to take a breather from time to time. When it is rip-roaring, director Jon M. Chu keeps things coherent and we always know what’s going on in front of us. That’s impressive considering a movie like this could have easily gotten out of control with its editing.

One of the best sequences takes place when Snake Eyes and another Joe protégé named Jinx (Elodie Yung) engage in a zip line battle with a swarm of ninjas on a cold and rocky mountain range in the Himalayas. What are they doing up there, you ask? Their mission was infiltrate a temple and capture Storm Shadow (Byun-hung Lee), who’s alive and well and undergoing skin reconstruction after freeing Cobra Commander from a subterranean prison. Snake Eyes’ confrontation with Storm Shadow actually leads to a greater understanding of their turbulent past, suggesting Storm Shadow might be an asset in the future.

As you might expect, all this leads to one great big action climax, with lots of chases, shootouts, hand-to-hand combat, and explosions of all kinds, some of which come courtesy of Bruce Willis as General Joe Colton, who was forced into early retirement. Ultimately, there are no surprises with “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” but it’s fun without being altogether craft-less. It’s like eating a piece of fruit you’ve had hundreds of times: it gives you energy and pleasure, as well as some nutritional value, even though you know exactly how it’s going to taste. In terms of an action movie, that’s better than it being pure junk food.