A Film Review of G.I. Joe: Retaliation
By: Lawrence Napoli
THIS is what a 9 month release delay, rewrites, reshoots and reformatting gets anyone remotely interested in action films, let alone what Hasbro has allowed in a complete and utter mortification of one of the best IPs of the 1980s? Push comes to shove, GI Joe: Retaliation was strictly made for 10 year old boys and although I’m no fan of the money-grabbing, demographic gravity well that is the PG-13 rating, there are plenty that deliver more than what these Joes are hauling. The addition of “The Rock,” Dwayne Johnson and the subtraction of Marlon Wayans does make an immediate impact on the quality of this picture, but by no means is this a vast improvement. Then you throw in Bruce Willis for a grand total of about 10 minutes of screen time and I’m left wondering whether director Jon M. Chu used the time off (thanks to the incredibly embarrassing suspended release of this film) wisely. Turns out that cleaning house from The Rise of Cobra, minus Byung-hun Lee’s Storm Shadow, Ray Park’s Snake Eyes, Channing Tatum’s Duke and Jonathan Pryce’s “US President,” doesn’t leave the audience with a superior experience in Retaliation. Plot gaps a plenty, continuity be damned and utter absurdity abound in this film. Now you know and knowing is half the battle.
Hopefully we aren't shooting down our careers.
Immediately what detracts from this cinematic adventure is the atrocious dialogue amongst every character at all times. If any of you are familiar with TBS’s (not so “very funny”) sitcom Men at Work, you’ll notice an eerily similar sensation of awkward, bromantic and twenty-something wanna-be, yuppie talk that is in no way appropriate for the likes of GI Joe and Cobra in any capacity. I certainly don’t remember the original GI Joe cartoon sounding so juvenile. The worst examples happen to be every Channing Tatum scene, and The Rock shares as much of the blame here thanks to some of the most eye-rolling delivery we haven’t seen since his days as Rocky Maivia. The purpose of these scenes was clearly meant to build up the camaraderie between Duke and Roadblock, but they come off like college dorm mates constantly trying to haggle each other like teenie boppers. Then the plot takes a serious turn and the dialogue’s tone jumps to “killing” and “revenge” in a manner that is way above (or below) the frat house culture. Consistency in dialogue is what builds character and this is a failure throughout this movie. The screenwriting team of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick would have been better off low-jacking the dialogue from Act of Valor rather than Clueless.
Cue the dorm room antics.
I will, however, give the story credit for taking what amounts to a garden variety, Cobra plot for world domination and giving it a neat twist on manipulating the globe’s nuclear weapons. Combined with a very dark inciting incident, the story seems to have a solid skeleton if one ignores most of what was established from the first film. This is where my praise ends. Characters established in the first film aren’t acknowledged in any way in Retaliation. How did Storm Shadow survive The Rise of Cobra? That’s swept under the rug. When did Flint transition from a Joe instructor to a rookie with parkour skills? All of this is the result of fanboys kicking back one afternoon and tossing around a bunch of “what if’s” in regards to GI Joe mythos and throwing it all in the script. This may be the preferred method of screenwriting for adaptation efforts that ultimately don’t give a damn, but I would prefer a bit of focus -- of which Retaliation has little. Too many subplots combined with the introduction of several new characters having little (if any) relevance to the origin film makes for a very manic experience. At this point, the script has less to do with story and more to do with marketing Hasbro’s merchandise. The only thing that keeps you in your seat is waiting for the next explosion.
I kinda like your new mask that's like your old mask.
As for those explosions, they aren’t exactly what I would refer to as “cutting edge.” They are all standard fare with nothing uniquely negative or positive to report. Vehicular combat is somewhat satisfying during the tank-like battle towards the end of the film, but jets in the sky and boats in the water are strictly CG transitions that deliver zero punch. Firefights that feature the Joe team as a unit utilize a lot of hand held camera work with quick cuts that make conscious efforts to obscure close-ups and sell the featured actors better. The problem is that it makes appreciating these well choreographed sequences a bit of a chore, thus negating its entertainment value. One on one fights are easily the best action elements to GI Joe: Retaliation. The instant any rumor surrounding a GI Joe adaptation hit the internet, every fanboy went nuts over the possibilities of a Snake Eyes vs. Storm Shadow scenario. Their rematch in this film is very nice, but their original showdown in The Rise of Cobra was better. I suppose if Darth Maul can make a comeback from what seems like the exact same fate, so too can Storm Shadow. Roadblock’s fisticuffs obviously feature more brawn over ballet, but they simply do not compare to ninja stars being shot out of the air by an uzi. Perhaps director Jon M. Chu should have ignored everything else and strictly made a GI Joe Ninja force movie because the mountainside repelling scenes featuring Snake Eyes and Jinx were very satisfying. I just wish I hadn’t already been spoiled on this sequence thanks to the teaser trailers I’ve been seeing for more than half a year.
Ninjas; not nonjas!
I’d like to take a moment to single out the poor casting in GI Joe: Retaliation. I must give two thumbs way, WAY down for Ronna Kress, the casting of director of Retaliation. It’s not that she selected the wrong actors for this type of film, but that they were misused and underused for the roles they were chosen to play. There’s no question that The Rock is an action star worthy of this license, but he’s about as much of a gourmet cooking, black man from Mississippi as I am. To put it plainly: Rock’s line delivery is not ethnic enough to sell the role of Roadlblock. Bruce Willis practically invented the contemporary action blockbuster and even at his advanced age, can still make valuable contributions to any film production. Having him play the “original Joe,” General Joe Colton, would have been a great idea had they actually made that character important to the story with some legitimate screen time. I’d really like to know who’s bar mitzvah did the Rza agree to personally perform at to get his name on this cast list. Having created The Man with the Iron Fists does not make him uniquely qualified to play the role of the Blind Master, yet there he is and he looks absolutely foolish in the role. Note how these examples are the biggest names attached to this production. When your casting strategy revolves around simply adding “names” with no intention of taking advantage of what each actor actually brings to the table, this proves that the production staff doesn’t care to some extent. That, my friends, is bush league, corporate mass production of cinema at its worst.
I present to you: the blind master.
The performances in Retaliation are so unremarkable that only three are worth mentioning. Adrianne Palicki’s performance as Lady Jaye is solid, and it’s always a tricky situation playing a role that is ear marked for sex appeal without coming off as absurdly overcompensating just like Rachel Nichols’ performance as Scarlett in The Rise of Cobra. Adrianne is still channeling girl power to a large extent, but does so sympathetically by behaving as an equal member of the unit. Byung-hun Lee is the only actor who provides intensity and intimidation for this film in his role as Storm Shadow. Certainly, his physicality is on display showcasing a variety of martial artistry with his shirt conveniently ripped off in several instances. However, it is his presence and demeanor that makes his character not one to be trifled with to the point that he comes off as a white version of Darth Vader sans force choking abilities. Channing Tatum found a way to turn his snicker-inducing performance as Duke in the first film into an all night laugher in Retaliation. What can I say? The movie makes a point of designating Duke as the field commander of the Joes after having X number of year’s experience, but Tatum has the command presence of whoever hosts the MTV Movie Awards. Duke is awkward and completely incapable of shouting a battle cry that isn’t instantly ridiculed by his unit. I don’t know what Tatum was thinking by portraying Duke in this manner, but I would expect “not a lot” being the right answer.
Lady Jaye > Scarlett
So this film franchise has been green lit for a third installment. Hurray for Hollywood, but this movie is barely worth a Red Box rental. Right now, the superior alternative for an action fix is Olympus Has Fallen. When compared to GI Joe: Retaliation, I think about the difference between a little boy and a grown man: one has a pair while the other is waiting for them to drop. Yet again, another licensed adaptation leans far too heavily on its own mythos and popularity rather than making an undeniable effort to be its own entity. GI Joe: Retaliation is the poster child for going through the motions and proving that adherence to formulaic filmmaking is on the mind of every no name/novice filmmaker because they haven’t the intestinal fortitude to be assertive with their own ideas (assuming they have them) when dealing with brand names like Hasbro. I wouldn’t qualify this as a family film, but if you have young boys, this might be worth a trek to the cinema. But if you have any appreciation for GI Joe from the comic books or the F.H.E. animated series you will feel like someone just took one of your favorite fictions from childhood and urinated on it. You know, just like what Michael Bay did to Transformers and will probably do to "Teenage Mutant" Ninja Turtles.
Storm Shadow may be convinced to handle Michael Bay's nonsense.
(Side note: I find it hilarious how Channing Tatum has an Olympus Has Fallen clone film coming out later this summer where he must go on a solo mission to rescue President Jaime Fox)