Review : G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)
"Do you have what it takes?"
Released (UK) 27th March 2013, Rated 12A. Runtime: 110 minutes (1 hours, 50 minutes).
Official Synopsis: The G.I. Joes are not only fighting their mortal enemy Cobra; they are forced to contend with threats from within the government that jeopardize their very existence.
Blue Corner Review, by Pete
Added April 14th, 2013
Whilst the Marvel Comics and Hasbro branded toys sold massively well in the 80s, the first attempt at turning this into a live-action film franchise akin to the Transformers series wasn’t the greatest, although having just finished re-watching it I will hold my hands up and admit that it wasn’t quite as bad as I had remembered. Rather than adopting the arguably easiest option of simply ‘rebooting’ everything and starting over, those in charge decided to go with a direct-sequel option, albeit with using just five (really three…) of the original cast. Given that most actors are contracted to do a number of movies when it comes to potential franchises, I can only ascertain that this meant that most of the cast simply wasn’t wanted, rather than them having refused to be in the next instalment. Sadly, this meant no return for the lovely Rachel Nichols as Scarlett – probably one of the few who done a decent job in G.I. Joe – The Rise of Cobra (2009), and not just thanks to being the aforementioned lovely.
Following on apparently just months after the original took place, Duke (Channing Tatum) is now in charge of the Joes, although outside of Snake Eyes (Ray Park) it seems that everyone else has either retired, been killed or are simply no part of the team. Even his ‘BFF’ Ripcord (Marlon Wayans). In their places are Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), with the film at pains to show that he’s the new ‘BFF’, Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) – the latter two being here to make up the numbers. The President (Jonathan Pryce), having been replaced at the end of the first movie by Cobra’s ‘Master of Disguise’ Zartan, makes his movie to rid the world of the Joes once and for all, setting up a somewhat convoluted plot to frame Snake Eyes for the assassination of a world leader and, in response, arranging for a strike force to step in and kill the Joes during a mission he’s sent them on. Despite this being the world’s fighting elite (although in this film it appears that it’s now the USA’s fighting elite), it seems that taking out each and every Joe is surprisingly easy – a few helicopters and a handful of troops done the job nicely, suggesting that for all the crazy master plans that Cobra have come up with over the years, there was a far more efficient solution that had somehow evaded consideration until now.
Despite appearing to have been killed in the first film, Storm Shadow Byung-hun Lee is back without reason, making him available to rescue Cobra Commander (formerly Joseph Gordon-Levitt, although now that he’s suited and masked the role is now taken by the presumably much cheaper Luke Bracey) from his very comic-book-esque prison. Completing our baddie roster, Ray Stevenson is brought on-board as Firefly, although given that the Cobra masterplan appears to have been going swimmingly despite the absence of their shiny-masked leader, the effort put into the breakout doesn’t appear to be warranted. It’s also not entirely clear why there’s even an attempt to have done so – The Doctor only became Cobra Commander at the very end of the last film, being captured by the Joes minutes after – the Cobra army wouldn’t even have known who he was…
As strange as this might sound, despite the move away from the over the top planes, missiles, futuristic vehicles and supersuits of the original, this latest release still feels like a ‘live action’ comic adaptation. Yes, there’s a slight tonal shift towards something marginally more ‘real world’, and everything’s been scaled back massively from the first, but the stereotyped characters, the merry disregard of trivial problems such as physics and aesthetics that result in the cast and vehicles looking like I seem to remember brings with it an acceptance that this is not intended to be a serious film, allowing us to take it for what it is. With this logic, Presidents and Prison Wardens directly referring to characters as ‘Cobra Commander’ and ‘Destro’ actually seemed acceptable, just as security monitors showing those names fit given the context, yet I feel this will be something the Red Corner will take issue with. Mind you, comic book adaptation or not, there’s no excuse for a poor story and lazy scripting.
There’s no doubt that it is possible for an action film to survive and do well without much of a plot, but in order to do so they need to provide incessant and entertaining action scenes, preferably including some kind of motivation for us to invest a modicum of care in the main characters – all elements that Director Jon M. Chu has unfortunately been unable to provide. Outside of the mountain based ninja-fight (inventive and different, albeit without genuine sense of peril), most of the fights and shoot-outs lack any real imagination or creativity, whilst there’s so many sub-plots being played simultaneously the constant jumping back and forth all over the world simply becomes tedious (and a few of those sub-plots are tedious in themselves). Having overloaded the film with these arbitrary side stories it leaves little time to allow any real development for any of ‘b-plots’ or the characters involved, whilst there’s not even a mention of the fates of the former G.I. Joe elites. What did happen to Heavy Duty, Breaker, Scarlett, Ana, Ripcord and General Hawk since the last film?
Following the recent school of directorial/producer logic used for even the likes of Die Hard 5, scores of generic unnamed baddies are cut or gunned down without even a hint of bloodied swords or blood spatter (Grissom would be upset), although for a film based on an 80’s kids cartoon series and realistically aimed for that kind of market now that’s something which I can make an allowance for in this particular instance. The sub-standard plot is pretty much complete ludicrousness from start to finish, although it feels that a number of the characters have been brought in simply to allow for a new toy line or two. Jinx (Elodie Yung) is presumably here only to ensure that the film is slightly less dominated by the almost entirely-male cast, even if her introduction suggested that she would be a key component in the battle against Cobra (and needlessly made her a cousin of Snake Eyes), although Flint is a strange option – lacking charisma or any real redeeming or memorable quality, I can’t quite understand how that type of blandness is supposed to translate into new sales of his toy line. Then again, given that I can remember the name from the original comics as a kid, I can’t remember much about the character – perhaps he’s always been that bland and they’ve simply been faithful to the source material? Lady Jaye is afforded the most screen time outside of Johnson, although this seems solely to provide some on-screen eye candy. The point of retired Joe’s (Bruce Willis) recurring line whereby he calls Jaye ‘Brenda’ appears to have gone completely over my head – having been expecting some sort of jokey pay off at the end of the film, or some painful shoehorning of Willis being her father (thankfully they skipped that option), I can only assume that I’ve either missed it or there’s footage sitting on a cutting room floor somewhere.
Originally scheduled for release during the summer last year, G.I. Joe: Retaliation was delayed for almost a year despite having already received a fairly hefty advertising campaign at the time, purportedly to give the film a post-production 3D makeover – never an improvement to any movie. Even allowing for my own disdain of 3D in general, there is genuinely nothing here that suggests that this has been time or money well spent, although rumourslast summer did also suggest that producers wanted to incorporate additional scenes with Channing Tatum given his increasing star status and fairly weak reviews from the studio’s test audiences. If this is true, it would explain why the hastily cobbled together early scenes between Johnson and Tatum felt out of place, although it further renders the logic behind killing off Duke even stranger.
Had this film been a straight forward buddy-action flick with The Rock and Willis, The Rock and Tatum, or The Rock, Willis and Tatum (as suggested by the promotional materials), with a side-order of ninja fights, it would have improved massively. Instead, we have a mishmash of dull plots which vaguely come together for an equally dull ending, although watching the cast grin through an awards ceremony and a Presidential speech without any sort of mention of the apparent destruction of London – if not the whole of England – amused me slightly. The Rock and Willis are the sole saving graces of this feature, but with the latter simply being a (likely very well paid) cameo this leaves The Rock with too much film to save on his own – something that just wasn’t possible given the lack of material for him to work with and the failure to give him a secondary character to bounce off after Duke’s untimely death. Including Willis heavily in the posters and adverts is certainly something of a cheek though given that he must have had 4-5 minutes of screen-time (granted, he does steal every scene he’s in), although Tatum himself probably didn’t receive much more (impressive if the rumours regarding him having had scenes added are true). The only real pluses I can give the film over the original is that they’ve removed the stupid looking moulded mouth on Snake Eye’s outfit, and that ‘amusing comedy relief’ Ripcord hasn’t been included at all. Both of those pluses are, however, negated by the lack of Rachael Nicols. She’s lovely.