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