"G.I. Joe" Sequel Clears Bar Set By Abysmal Predecessor

It takes a special kind of movie to turn the arrival of the end credits into a state of intense exaltation. “G.I. Joe: Rise Of Cobra” is one of those movies. ★ out of ★★★★★

-J. Olson, August 2009

In the five years prior to the launch of this website, I would pen a few lines in response to every film I saw and assign each a star rating. It was great preparation for writing full-length reviews, but even more importantly, it serves as a written record of the hundreds of films I saw from 2007 through 2012. Stephen Sommers’ 2009 pic, “G.I. Joe: Rise Of Cobra,” stands out as one of the worst. It literally put me to sleep, likely a combination of its overlong running time, my disdain for what I was seeing, and the fact that it was a late night showing.

Needless to say, I didn’t have a good time with it. Cut to four years later, and I wasn’t particularly excited for its long-gestating sequel. “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” was filmed two years ago and scheduled for a June 2012 release, before being delayed by nearly a year. Paramount played the “3D conversion” card, but early buzz was bad and the film would have faced stiff competition from “The Amazing Spider-Man” less than a week after its release (Seth MacFarlane’s “Ted” would quickly jump on the open date and do enormous business).

The film’s delay is felt in its dated jokes (a “Snuggie” reference is played for laughs) and passé musical choices (“How You Like Me Now?” is so 2010-2011). But is it better than its predecessor? Of course it is. There was nowhere to go but up. Where “Rise Of Cobra” went down in flames, “Retaliation” is content to be supremely mediocre, which makes it far less painful, but also less worthy of discussion. This is boilerplate action filmmaking – exactly what you’d expect from the director of the “Step Up” sequels and “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never.” Amidst a couple of nice action beats, there’s plenty of stilted dialogue, poorly drawn characters, and heaps of generic rock music.

The film strikes a much better balance between feature length toy commercial and summer action pic, but Hasbro’s cinematic track record has set the bar incredibly low. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as Roadblock, member of the Joes and best friend of Channing Tatum’s Duke. Unfortunately, Johnson has never been less engaged than he is here and Tatum’s role is little more than a cameo. When the G.I. Joe base is attacked, Roadblock is tasked with leading the remaining Joes in a war against the evil organization Cobra.

Adrianne Palicki co-stars as the token female Joe, while D.J. Cotrona plays Flint, one of the most useless, underdeveloped characters in recent memory. Jonathan Pryce (along with Tatum) is one of the few returning cast members, and he seems to be having fun with his two roles – one as the President and one as a sinister impostor. Not so fun? The Joes figuring out that the President is an impostor because he starts saying “pop” instead of “soda.” Seriously.

It speaks volumes that the most interesting character in the picture, Snake Eyes (played by longtime martial artist, Ray Park), is a faceless, mute ninja who dresses in all black. Meanwhile, in a nod to the toy line’s history, Bruce Willis plays the original Joe (in what amounts to a cameo). It’s a nice idea, but Joe drops in out of nowhere without any backstory and Willis gives a typical Willis-circa-2013 performance (read: uninspired). The most enjoyable performance in the film is from Walton Goggins as a prison warden, and while he’s also given minimal screen time, he seems to grasp the silliness of the material – something that escapes the leads entirely.

The action is surprisingly sparse, but the showstopping snow-covered fight sequence in the middle of the film more than makes up for it – even if the 3D is hampered by serious ghosting issues throughout. Ultimately, it’s hard to say if die-hard “Joe” fans will embrace the film, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Yet, I still question the series’ uneasy mix of sci-fi and war movie tropes, a concoction that seems untrue to the toy line’s roots. In the end, it’s too violent for young kids but too stupid for most adults. In an era of mind-numbing action films, you could definitely do worse than “G.I. Joe: Retaliation.” But you – and Hollywood – could do so, so much better.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ out of ★★★★★ (Not So Good)

Release Date: March 28, 2013
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: Jon M. Chu
Screenwriter: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Starring: D.J. Cotrona, Byung-hun Lee, Adrianne Palicki, Ray Park, Jonathan Pryce, Ray Stevenson, Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis, Dwayne Johnson
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of combat violence and martial arts action throughout, and for brief sensuality and language)