What’s this? Two film reviews in the space of a week? It’s almost as if I have more spare time on my hands suddenly. Yay for redundancy!!! Anyway, decided to take a trip to the cinema today to see G.I. Joe Retaliation because, well, I had nothing better to do. Other than find a new job I mean. I’ve reviewed the two previous G.I. Joe films on the blog already so I figured it would be a good idea to get the trifecta. This film is a direct sequel to the Channing Tatum starring G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra from 2009. That film was fecking awful. A lazy, poorly made and badly written piece of tripe that at least had the decency to know it was tripe. G.I. Joe Retaliation also knows it is tripe, but you know what it isn’t? Lazy or poorly made. What? You expected me to say it was well written too? C’mon, this is G.I. Joe we’re talking about. Click the link for the full review.
G.I. Joe Retaliation is set 6 years (at least) after the previous film. During the intervening years Duke (Channing Tatum) has got himself a new BFF in the form of Roadblock (The Rock… OK Dwayne Johnson) and somewhere along the line ditched his previous BFF Ripcord. In his defence, if you had the chance of swapping out one of the Wayans brothers for The Rock you’d go for The Rock too. Many more cast and characters from the previous film have vanished too, and I don’t miss a single one of them. Well, except maybe Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but would it be worth hiring him when his face is covered all the time? I mean, Ray Park expects his face to never get on screen so it’s OK that he’s back as Snake Eyes, but you don’t hire JGL and not give him face time. He’s a big star and stuff now after all. Ray Park will always be Ray Park. No-one wants to be Ray Park.
Well, that paragraph was meant to explain the plot but I kinda got distracted there. Let me try again. In G.I. Joe Retaliation Zartan (Arnold Vosloo.. barely) is still in disguise as the US President err… President. He actually doesn’t have a name? I’m looking up and down Wiki and imdb and sure enough… no name. Well he’s played by Jonathan Pryce and Jesus H Benjamin Christ does he steal the show. He’s a Raul Julia as M Bison level deranged, over the top with a shit wouldn’t touch him style swagger of a President. Not kidding, he gets away with saying the line “They call it water-boarding, but I never get bored”. You have to be pulling off a special level of brilliant malevolence to be able to get away with a line like that, and man does he. Makes me want Jonathan Pryce to be the villain in more films. God dammit, I got off tangent again… Take three!
So President/Zartan is all ready to set Cobra on it’s way to world domination and he’ll get right on that the moment he can find out where Cobra Commander and Destro are being held prisoner. Once he does the Joes are framed for the crime of stealing nukes and a strike team is sent to wipe them out before they can mount a retaliation against anyone. This leaves all but a few Joes left alive, even Channing Tatum gets killed off putting to bed rumours that the films delay was so they could do massive re-shoots to insert him back into the film. Cobra is established at the official US special military force, remember that they weren’t named officially in the first film, and President/The Mummy set about the noble goal of worldwide nuclear disarmament. See, they ain’t all bad. What’s that? They have a way worse weapon being made… Well go kick their arses Joes! The remaining Joes lead by The Rock, sorry, Roadblock figure out through pure deduction that it’s probably the President that set them up cos only he could order a strike and they set about being all covert, locating Snake Eyes and heading off to kick some Cobra arse. Also, they recruit Bruce Willis and the RZA is there also. I’m not kidding. RZA has a cameo as Snake Eyes and Jinx’s (Elodie Young) master, and yes he’s as dreadful as you’d think.
The plot is a pretty standard people kicking arse based scenario and, to be honest, it didn’t need to be much more. The script is spotty and at least one character serves little to no purpose, that being Flint (D.J. Cotrona) but in general everything moves along at a quick pace once the second act is under-way. The first act, though, does have a few pacing issues. There’s a few scenes of Duke and Roadblock being bestest bros that are just there to reinforce their friendship so that when Duke does bite the dust the retaliation of the film’s title can be a little more personal. But as mentioned, the script is spotty and there really isn’t much in the form of emotion coming from Roadblock. The entire team of G.I. Joes gets wiped out but once the remaining members have got the ball rolling on a counter strike there’s little mention of their fallen comrades. There’s also no explanation of why all the Joes were dispatched for one mission. Wasn’t there a whole mountain full of them in the last film? Here they’re depicted more as a small strike force group rather then a whole army but there’s still been no explanation as to what happened to the other Joes from the last film. Maybe they got crushed under the weight of all the CGI and poorly built sets used for the Joe base in The Rise Of Cobra.
I realise I’m sounding like I’m mocking a large amount of the film but I’m really not. I’m having fun with it because that’s exactly what this film is. It knows it’s big dumb fun and it really revels in it. But what it also does is makes sure that the stakes are high, that the action matters and that, through it all, you’re given something new to look at with each action scene. Director Jon M Chu realises that you can’t just go giving out boring action scene after boring action scene. Each one needs to have a reason and a gimmick to make each feel different enough from the last. A few of the battles happen on multiple stages and even then this relatively inexperienced director makes sure you’re not lost. He is prone to using shaky cam but it seemed mostly confined to Roadblocks fights which suggests that Chu was giving The Rock his own distinct feel in a fight. Early on Duke refers to how Roadblock “fights messy” and this is translated to how his fights are shot. In a similar manner whenever Snake Eyes or Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) are involved in a fight the camera work is graceful and makes use of swooping angles. The two ninjas also have the coolest sets of individual moments showing that Chu understands their fan base and wants to please them. A good start to that was removing those stupid lips from Snake Eyes costume and never having him say a word. The other characters even joke about how he never talks just to remind you that when Stephen Sommers had Snake Eyes talk at the end of the last film he was kinda being a dick to the fans.
So basically I enjoyed the shit out of G.I. Joe Retaliation. It is a marked step up from the previous film. Production wise it’s been handled very well. No computer generated sets here for no good reason. The cliff side ninja fight easily stands out as the best action sequence, there’s a reason they put clips from it in all the trailers. The stand out scene for me came towards the end though. I won’t spoil much but it involves The President being a true cocky evil mastermind and it was brilliant. Cobra Commander gets given a makeover that is sure to please the fans, he’s a much more imposing threat in that faceless mask than he was wearing… whatever the hell that was at the end of the last film. Jon M Chu has even been smart enough to leave a few threads about for a potential sequel which I’m all for, but only if The Rock is still in it. G.I. Joe Retaliation isn’t big, clever or even objectively good, but it is honest about the sort of film it is. My biggest gripe with The Rise Of Cobra was how lazy everything was, the entire film felt like no-one could be arsed to try from production all the way through to the cast. This feels like a film that people wanted to make well, and mostly they have succeeded. It’s not the best around but there’s always much worse you could spend your money on.