Film Review: G.I. Joe: Retaliation

daniel cohen is letting you know that knowing is half the battle …

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Plot: When the Joes are set up by Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) who’s masquerading as the President (Jonathan Pryce), the remaining Joes led by Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) attempt to uncover Cobra’s ultimate plan, a doomsday device that could destroy the whole planet.

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The first G.I. Joe movie knew what it was – campy, ridiculous, dumb, but also a lot of fun. It made no apologies for what it was, but also didn’t go the Transformers route of juvenile humor, douche-bag characters, and action that was filmed while riding a roller coaster. Yeah, I enjoyed the first G.I. Joe … sue me. The problem with G.I. Joe: Retaliation is that it grounds itself too much, but still dumb enough not to be taken seriously. The original went so over the top, you had no choice but to take it as a cartoon. It embraced the crazy with underwater military bases and accelerator suits. This movie is just lame and boring. But what really surprised me about Retaliation is that while it looks like they made an improvement in the cast, it’s actually a lot worse. Maybe it’s the director’s fault (Jon M. Chu), but these actors just didn’t want to be here at all.

Let’s talk about the main dude, Dwayne ‘I’m in Every Movie Now’ Johnson. He was fine, but I’ve actually liked him a lot better in his last couple roles. He was sort of going through the motions here. The best stuff with him though is his relationship with Duke, played by Channing Tatum, and leader of the Joes. Their friendship was one of the best parts of the movie – a little schmaltzy, but fun. Tatum has a smaller role here, and I was actually kind of disappointed he didn’t get more screen time. For all the shit he gets, Tatum really is becoming a better actor whether people want to accept it or not. And quite honestly, he gave one of the better performances in this film.

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Aside from Byung-hun Lee (Storm Shadow) and Ray Park (Snake Eyes), who doesn’t really act, but just jumps around in a black suit, the rest of the acting was pretty poor. Adrianne Palicki, who’s good in Friday Night Lights, was terrible as the new female lead, Lady Jaye. There is absolutely nothing to this character, and Palicki looks disgusted to be there. I don’t understand why they couldn’t just bring back Scarlett, who I thought was a fun character played by Rachel Nichols.

But if you thought Lady Jaye was the only throw away character, don’t you worry. Flint (D.J. Cotrona) is another new Joe member, and is about as memorable as a pad of paper. Elodie Yung plays Jinx, Snake Eye’s protégé … she’s a big nothing. And then there’s Bruce Willis (General Joe Colton), who I know everybody was excited about, but he brings absolutely nothing to the table. I guess Bruce Willis did this during lunch breaks on Looper, because he sleep walks through this entire thing. He’s sort of the Dennis Quaid character this time around, but not as good. Quaid was a lot of fun as General Hawk, which is another point for the original.

The villains were mediocre at best. Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey) was sort of cool, but we needed more of him. Jonathan Pryce kind of plays Zartan, as he’s under the guise of the President. He’s fun at first, but his whole gimmick gets pretty dumb pretty fast in the third act. Right after a bunch of nukes get launched, he sits in his chair playing iPhone games as the World leaders react in horror. Really? We need to see the villain play iPhone games … ugh. Ray Stevenson joins the fun as Firefly, who’s really annoying, and tries to hard to be a bad ass. He was a fairly lame villain overall.

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The only cool element to this film is the ninja stuff, and the conflict between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, who is played pretty well by Byung-hun Lee, even though there’s a terrible plot twist with his character that makes absolutely no sense. Also, Snake Eyes and Jinx have a new master played by RZA, who’s absolutely atrocious, almost ruining the Snake Eyes/Storm Shadow scenes. But they were definitely the highlight of the film, and when they see each other again for the first time, it’s pretty intense. They should just make a G.I. Joe movie about them. The ninja chase on the mountain was the only cool action scene in the entire film.

The rest of the action is filmed horribly. Everything is tight, and you can barely tell what’s going on. I’ve ranted and raved enough about the way action is filmed in movies these days, so I’m going to spare you all on that front.

The film could have used a lot more action, but instead fills the gaps with hokey non-sense and bad humor. The one scene that completely made me stop caring was right before the climax when all the Joes meet at General Colton’s house and start opening a bunch of secret cabinets where there are guns hidden, as a terrible grungy song blasts in the background. I just hated the whole tone of this, and a sense of dread came over me as I knew I still had a boring uninspired 20 minute climax coming my way.

I can’t completely say this is a bad movie, because I do like the ninja stuff, and Channing Tatum and The Rock were a fun pairing, but otherwise, this is a waste of time. Say what you want about the original, but the actors wanted to be there, and wanted to make it fun. This is watching a watered down version that is still just as dumb, and the actors are on auto-pilot. This is a lifeless film, and now you know … and knowing is half the battle.

Rating: 5 out of 10 (Barely Passable Entertainment)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.