To be perfectly honest, I enjoyed 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. The special effects were cheesy, the performances were hammy and the plot was completely absurd. But as a big, dumb action blockbuster, the movie proved moderately entertaining by embracing these usually negative qualities and turning them into assets to a degree that was serviceable, though not nearly as successful as the Transformers films. Nonetheless that film, directed by Stephen Sommers of Mummy fame, was critically panned but still performed well enough at the box office to warrant a sequel. This sequel finally sees release after a several month delay to convert the film to 3D. Will this sequel make you want to shout “Go Joe!?”
Based on Hasbro’s classic toy line, G.I. Joe: Retaliation follows the titular special ops team as they battle against the sinister forces of terrorist organization Cobra. The previous movie ended with the Joes victorious, the villains captured and a devious shapeshifter (Jonathan Pryce, Pirates of the Caribbean) impersonating the President of the United States. The latter two are about the only significant plot threads carried over, as Retaliation begins by effectively undoing nearly everything that the previous film established. Almost none of the heroes from the previous film, including characters played by Dennis Quaid, Marlon Wayans and Rachel Nichols, return, with the exception of silent ninja warrior Snake Eyes (Ray Park, Star Wars) and team leader Duke (Channing Tatum, Magic Mike), the latter of whom is swiftly killed off after using his newfound star power to add credence to the film. Taking Duke’s place as leading man is Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson, Fast Five), joined by Snake Eyes, Flint (D.J. Cotrona, Dear John) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki, Red Dawn). After the “president” orders the termination of Duke and the other Joes, these three survivors set off on a quest to—you guessed it—save America from those evil forces in the shadows. Along the way, they uncover conspiracies, fight some one-dimensional henchmen and even recruit the likes of Bruce Willis who appears for about a third of the film as the retired namesake of the Joes, helping the movie make a few million more at the box office.
The film’s tone takes a much different turn than its predecessor, but it still manages to maintain that effective “dumb-but-fun” attitude. Instead of CGI mech suits and bio weapons, Retaliation relies on traditional, real guns and tanks, but still does not take itself too seriously so as to make the audience groan. It thankfully forgoes at least a couple of the eye-rolling tropes of the genre— there is no tacked-on romance subplot, and with one, surprisingly effective exception, there are no overwrought tragic backstories to artificially flesh out the characters. The toyetic nature of the movie helps bolster it in this regard— the main characters are fleshed out just enough to be likeable and not boring, largely due to the Rock’s charisma and a pretty fun performance from Pryce as both the real and impostor president.
The action is usually serviceable and occasionally excellent— there is a terrific scene taking place in the Himalayas which sees Snake Eyes do battle with a legion of enemy ninjas, slicing and dicing his foes as he ziplines through and scales the mountains. This visually brilliant and well choreographed scene—a testament to the experience of director John Chu, who had previously directed the Step Up films—proves that the 3D conversion was well worth the wait. While this scene is not quite matched by anything that follows, there is definitely more fun to be had with entertaining bits featuring Willis and Palicki and, of course, plenty of classic Rock action. The film often boasts some strong humor that mixes well with the action— Willis in particular shines in this regard with some very effective one-liners. Some of the early interactions between Johnson and Tatum are not quite as strong, but never reach cringe-worthy status. The general lightheartedness to the humor and action effectively contributes to the suspension of disbelief required to enjoy the absurdities on proud display.
If you find yourself with some time to kill over the next few weekends there is no shame in spending it seeing G.I. Joe: Retaliation in 3D. Those looking for two hours of decent, escapist entertainment will be adequately satisfied by the movie’s fun, run and gun action.