G.I. Joe: Retaliation Review: No ‘Yo’ for this Joe

G.I. Joe: Retaliation Review: No 'Yo' for this JoeAfter three terrible Transformers films and one G.I. Joe movie that failed more often than it succeeded, I was pretty convinced that I would never be satisfied with a live action interpretation of a property that meant so much to me as a kid.

The latest attempt to right this quickly sinking ship is GI Joe: Retaliation, a sequel to 2009’s G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra. Retaliation picks up months after the events at the end of the first film, with Cobra Commander and Destro in federal custody and the G.I. Joe team continuing as a Special Forces military unit that is called in to handle the “tough jobs” when the regular military just can’t handle it.

Duke (Channing Tatum) and Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) are best friends (I guess the whole Marlon Wayans as Wallace ‘Ripcord’ Weems thing never happened… lord knows I’ve tried to forget him) and brothers in arms. G.I. Joe is now primarily made up of Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) and Snake Eyes (Ray park, also returning from the first film), with zero exposition to what happened to every other character from the first film. No General Hawk. No Scarlett. It just never happened. Yet, Tatum’s Duke is still there for some reason.

When the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce) who is actually COBRA Master of Disguise, Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), orders the GI Joes attacked and killed in the Indus Valley, the only military force that could stand up to COBRA is wiped off the earth. Except Roadblock, Flint and Lady Jaye survive and are left to figure out why they were targeted. Only three Joes remain.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation Review: No 'Yo' for this Joe

Meanwhile, in an Supermax-like prison, COBRA operatives Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee), who was actually killed in the first film and just appears without any explanation as to why he is alive, and Firefly (Ray Stevenson) free Cobra Commander and COBRA is now back in business.

In another part of the world, Snake Eyes and Jinx (Elodie Yung) are instructed by the Blind Master (RZA) to find Storm Shadow to find out once and for all why their master, the Hard Master was killed (this happened in the first film. Marlon Wayans’ exit gets no explanation, but we revisit the Hard Master). There is no set up to any of this. Snake Eyes has just been sitting in a dojo atop a Tokyo sky rise being preached to by the Blind Master for these last months, or so we have to believe.

Somehow, the three surviving Joes get back to America and set up a new PITT in a dirty, run down gym in Roadblock’s old hood. From there, they discover that the President is Zartan and then they go and recruit retired General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis, who really needs to stop and question his recent career choices) to aid them in stopping COBRA. Colton is the original G.I. Joe, and where they got their name (I guess the whole acronym for Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity established in the first film is also just rampantly ignored.)

G.I. Joe: Retaliation Review: No 'Yo' for this Joe

Now, if that synopsis seemed choppy and made little sense, it’s not me. This is how it is presented in the film. Scenes just happen with ZERO exposition and characters seem to just know everything that is going on. There is one “mission” that allows an undercover Lady Jaye to get close to the President, but it’s basically a vehicle to show the beautiful Palicki in a sexy dress (and later in her undies). The amount of information the three Joes are able to figure out on an old PC running Windows 97 that they found in a dump bin in the abandoned gym is mind-boggling.

But it keeps getting worse. COBRA is fully formed and ready to pull off a master plan that involves satellites that are never launched into space, but just suddenly appear there when the script calls for them to be (even though Cobra Commander and Destro, their weapons supplier, have both been incarcerated). By the time Cobra Commander makes his move in the third act, any kind of story or plot are just thrown out the window for ridiculous action pieces with high-tech looking vehicles and weapons, and ludicrous fistfights between an actor who used to wrestle and anyone he comes in contact with.


Jon M. Chu, whose previous directing efforts were the Step Up dance movies and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, is simply a terrible choice to direct G.I. Joe: Retaliation. The film is a series of discombobulated set pieces with no narrative to hold it all together. The characters have knowledge that they shouldn’t have. As an example, the secret location that COBRA is holding the real president is never revealed or discovered, but the Joes just magically know where he is and they go rescue him. And this important scene couldn’t have just ended up on the cutting room floor seeing as this charade is the key to COBRA’s entire plot. Also, Roadblock happens to know everything about COBRA’s endgame, including how to stop it, which makes him the perfect operative to go in and save the day.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation Review: No 'Yo' for this Joe

The script, by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Zombieland), is a total misfire. The film showcases COBRA in an interesting light, and the groundwork for future films is laid out with a solid Cobra Commander and a bevy of bad guy operatives to draw from, but again, the Joes themselves are wrong in almost every way. And then instead of trying to fix these mistakes in the Joe characters, Paramount and Hasbro just add new characters that they also screw up. I found myself having to physically restrain myself from throwing my arms up in the air in total disgust. After the assault that wipes out the team, everyone refers to Roadblock as the ranking soldier, even though Flint, a Warrant Officer, would outrank him. I guess box office appeal outranks military classifications.

If there are positives in Retaliation, it’s in the character of Firefly (both in look and screen presence) that is as close to any character to the original source (toy, cartoon and comic), and in the Storm Shadow/Snake Eyes confrontation in the second act that runs much longer than the 4 minute preview that was attached to IMAX prints of Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters in February. The action is fast and wonderfully staged (of course, Chu knows his Dance movies), and the battle between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow – that quickly adds Jinx and a hundred or so red ninjas on the side of mountain – is crazy and cool. If the whole film could have kept this intensity, this entire review would be different. But as soon as this scene ends, the film goes back to its nonsensical narrative and the film falls flat on its face.

Another positive can be drawn from how COBRA is portrayed. They are a ruthless terrorist organization ruled by a chrome-faced madman and they cause massive amounts of destruction on the way to trying to rule the world. Also, Pryce, playing Zartan disguised as the president, has fun with the role and does a great job.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation Review: No 'Yo' for this Joe

It is well documented that G.I. Joe Retaliation was postponed from its original release date to convert the film to 3D (and to shoot more Channing Tatum scenes). The 3D is very weak and does absolutely nothing to the film (even though the kick-ass mountainside ninja fight benefits from the depth of field, the 3D in the rest of the film is terrible). If Paramount had taken that extra time to, I don’t know, reshoot some scenes to make this a better film, then the time wouldn’t have been so wasted.

I am now resigned to the fact that I will never see a good live-action G.I. JOE or Transformers movie. As long as Paramount and Hasbro produce these films with the toy store shelves in mind, they will continue to create big screen garbage that insults the audience and ruins two properties that have a following for a reason. And this is coming from two properties that began as toy lines and spread into successful comics and cartoon series. Hasbro proved that using additional mediums to sell toys could be done very well, as they did it before!

With G.I. Joe, next year is the 50th anniversary of the original 12″ action dolls, and the Real American Hero line, which began in 1982, just celebrated its 30th anniversary. G.I. Joe fans are legion, and they shouldn’t have to go to the theater with the lowest of expectation in hopes that they will be entertained. I just wish Hasbro knew this, as knowing is half the battle.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation opens nationwide on March 28, 2013.

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