After nearly a nine month delay (for 3D conversion) G.I. Joe returns with the sequel to 2009’s flawed, campy, yet enjoyable (but critically lambasted) big screen adaptation of one of the most popular toy lines in history. GI Joe: Retaliation invites the audience along for a new cast of Joes (though some familiar faces return) in this equally flawed but vastly more realistic take on the Real American Hero.
Kicking off months after the first installment, the Joes are still doing their thing—kicking ass and taking names. But things get a bit more complicated and deadly for the elite unite when the Cobra disguise specialist Zartan, who’s been masquerading as the President since the end of the first movie, unleashes hell on the unsuspecting Joes. The attack is efficient, brutal and viscerally realistic—wipes out the entire contingent of Joes save for three newcomers to the franchise whose call signs (Roadblock, Lady Jaye, and Flint) are staples in the GI Joe lexicon. Vowing to find justice for their fallen comrades, the remaining Joes, led by Roadblock and joined by a legend (Bruce Willis’s General Joe Colton), a familiar face (Snake Eyes), a newcomer with ties to Storm Shadow (Jinx) and one surprise ally, take the fight to Cobra in order to clear their names and wipe the ruthless terrorist organization off the map.
It’s tough to compare Retaliation with the original GI Joe, and for those not fans of the original, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For one, Jon Chu presents a grittier, more intense product to the screen. The action is fast-paced and carries a Black Hawk Down/Bourne Identity type realism to it. Much of this is the focal point of the storyline but also the characters themselves. DJ Cotrona’s Flint brings a parkour-type element to the battlefield, a diametric opposite to Dwayne Johnson’s straight-ahead power as Roadblock. The latter’s fights against Cobra’s newest merc, Firefly (brilliantly portrayed by Ray Stevenson) are deliciously violent and take no prisoners variety. The ninja contingent of Snake eyes (Ray Park), Storm Shadow (Byung hun-Lee), and rookie Jinx (Elodie Yung) elevate the martial arts and swordplay to a much higher and intense level than the first installment. Oh, and let’s not forget Willis as the stodgy General Colton and Adrianna Padilicki, the latter bringing every bit of the dangerous beauty vibe as Rachel Nichol’s Scarlett.
On the Cobra side, it’s unfortunate that Arnold Vosloo has so little screen time but Jonathan Pryce makes up for it quite well as the POTUS. The diabolical fun he has with his role mirrors Zartan’s carefree attitude from the first film while the newly masked Cobra Commander, in limited time in front of the camera, ushers in the overt menace lacking from the previous representation. The smooth talking Firefly rounds out the Cobra lineup and though we’re solidly behind the Joes, I have to say I was clamoring for a bit more face time for Stevenson and the Commander.
The script itself, penned by Rhett Reece and Paul Wernick, offers some excellent one-liners and retains a sense of fun despite the dire urgency of the events and staggering death toll. Pryce and Stevenson have the best material though Johnson’s give and take with Channing Tatum’s Duke build a solid foundation of camaraderie between the two brothers in arms. As the leader of the Joes, one would expect Duke to have a more prominent role but it’s nothing more than a glorified cameo. Though one could argue Duke’s fate is inextricably tied to where Retaliation shines. It does a fantastic job elevating the sense of danger for our heroes, an aspect missing from both the first movie and original cartoon.
That’s not to say G.I. Joe: Retaliation is not without its faults. Despite the fantastic and tight action that’s intensified by great camera work,
there are a couple of things one has to put logic aside to accept, primarily the small contingent of Joes and allies taking on such a large, heavily funded and well trained group of soldiers with no real backup or heavy support. The ease of which everyone believes the Joe’s betrayal of the nation also is a head scratcher. And then there’s the Storm Shadow ret-con. In truth, it’s not a ret-con per se, as it’s more closely tied to events from the comic more than anything and while I appreciate staying true to source material, the inclusion is somewhat sloppy and comes across as more an afterthought rather than an organic confluence of events. It’s most likely that an additional ten or fifteen minutes of run time would have helped integrate these events more seamlessly into the overall story.
Despite those flaws, the most egregious fail point is the musical score. While not bad in itself, the score’s meshing with the movie is poorly done. A good score should immerse one into the scene, never pulling you from the action. Save for early in the movie, I was all too aware of the music; it completely failed to create the synergistic vibe with the action, more often pulling me out of the story rather than further into it.
At the end of the day GI Joe: Retaliation won’t win any awards. Still, it’s a good addition to a storied American franchise. The primary factor of a sequel is to build upon the foundation of its predecessor while upping the stakes. Retaliation does that in spades and presents us with an enjoyable action flick with a fair amount of humor. Fans of the original will like this new installment but, more importantly, those that were less than enamored with The Rise of Cobra will find that Retaliation offers enough of an overhaul for them to enjoy, warts and all.