G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a Hollywood popularity contest. It is technically a sequel to 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra but these two films have almost nothing in common. Marlon Wayans is not too popular anymore so he is out and when they made Retaliation, Channing Tatum was not as big of a box office draw as he is today. Therefore, the studio cancelled it’s original release for June 2012, reshot more scenes with Tatum, who at that time skyrocketed in fame, and here we are now with all new lead characters in what is supposed to be the next chapter in the same story.
These actor and character do-overs are akin to voting for the prom king. Unfortunately, the story is just as ridiculous even though they brought in really popular action stars Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Bruce Willis. The President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce) was kidnapped by Cobra and replaced by Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) who copied his face courtesy of nano-technology. Try and stay with me here folks.
Duke (Tatum), Roadblock (Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), Flint (D.J. Cotrona), and Snake Eyes (Ray Park) are the main Joes and they are off saving nukes from falling into the wrong hands or some such nonsense when evil President Zartan orders their destruction and frames them for something or other. Now that all of the G.I. Joes are presumed dead, which they are not because then there would be no film, they can get down to business of uncovering the mystery of the President, the nukes, and why Bruce Willis plays the same character he does in Red (2010).
Even though Retaliation is saddled with being part of the remedial G.I. Joe franchise, it was not a requirement to cater it towards the lowest common denominator of movie-goes, they chose to make it that way. There is a sequence towards the end that touches on so many geopolitical issues concerning nuclear weapons that Retaliation could have aimed much higher. Instead, we get an hour-and-a-half of The Rock’s bulging biceps, impossible state-of-the-art technology, the most ridiculous detective work performed by Lady Jaye, and the swooshing sounds of swords which in reality everyone knows do not make those sounds.
Oh, and RZA shows up! He may be the world’s worst actor, but at least they got a die-hard Shaolin kung-fu fanboy to play the Blind Master. His scenes come off as parody, but it gives the audience a chance to see what remedial filmmaking does to the genre of Asian martial arts. Give me Tarantino’s Kill Bill vol. 1 any day over this bargain bin knock-off.
Not only did they bring in a new cast, the studio also brought in a new director, Jon M. Chu. They certainly did not hire him for his strong credentials in directing mega-budget action films. His resume highlights include the documentary Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and two installments of the Step Up franchise. Perhaps this is why Retaliation is campy instead of tongue-in-cheek funny.
When I was a kid, it was “G.I. Joe, the American Hero.” Now it’s, “G.I. Joe, we will cast whoever is kind of a box office draw right now and trade in plot and rationality for home-made tanks and all things that go Boom!” G.I. Joe: Retaliation is all things that should be avoided in the movie theater.
Directed by: Jon M. Chu
Written by: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Bruce Willis, Adrianne Palicki, D.J. Cotrona, Jonathan Pryce, Ray Park, Byung-hun Lee, Elodie Yung, Ray Stevenson, Channing Tatum, Arnold Vosloo, Joseph Mazzello, RZA