While it has its issues, the long-delayed G.I. JOE: RETALIATION is better than Rise of Cobra. But that's not saying much.
I completely understand how upset Nerd America was with 2009's G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra. It was silly, poorly cast, and barely stuck to canon, resulting in an embarrassing debut for the franchise. The movie was passable as rainy day fare, but I do get the venomous reaction that emanated from Joe fans. Undaunted, Paramount moved forward and in 2012 G.I. JOE: RETALIATION was set to be released. Trailers were previewed, Hasbro's toys were sent to the stores, and then something extraordinary happened: the movie was postponed one week before its release. In an act unseen for as long as I can remember, moviegoers and Joe fans cringed and questioned Paramount's 'We're converting the movie into 3D' hogwash. And so finally, after almost a year of delay, Retaliation arrives in theaters. And while it's a lot better than Cobra, there are still nagging issues that I can't get past.
Picking up sometime after Cobra, the elite fighting unit known as The Joes are on another mission, lead by 'Duke' Hauser (Channing Tatum, Magic Mike). The Joes have locked up Cobra Commander and Destro but are still hunting Cobra leaders Zartan (Arnold Vosloo, The Mummy) and the remains of Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee, The Good, The Bad, and The Weird). What The Joes do not know is that the US President (Jonathon Pryce, Tomorrow Never Dies) has been overtaken by Zartan, who is planning to eliminate The Joes. As a master of disguise, no one is aware of his plans, which he carries out with lethal effectiveness. With most of the team eliminated, a few survivors including Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson, Snitch), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki, Red Dawn 2012), and Flint (D.J. Cotrona, Venom), set out to avenge their friends and comrades. But they'll need help from their allies Snake Eyes (stuntman Ray Park), Jinx (Elodie Yung, Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), and the original leader of The Joes, Retired Colonel Colton (Bruce Willis, Die Hard franchise) if they are to bring all of Cobra to justice.
Having purposely left out several reveals in an effort to not play the spoiler, Retaliation is really a Jekyll Hyde mixture. On the one hand, it features a number of well-planned and executed action pieces, along with snappy dialogue in the first act. But, Retaliation also features an uneven Act 2 where any sense of character momentum and chemistry get pummeled into the ground, missing every opportunity to advance the characters in ways other than with a gun. What begins as an excellent action/buddy flick complete with terrific one-liners and a chemistry half of 2013's early of films would have envied, Retaliation turns into a straight-up and mindless action flick that's as flat in many points as the paper used to print the script. It's almost as if Director Jon Chu (Justin Beiber: Never Say Never) shot new sequences after the film was finished and....wait a minute, he actually DID shoot new sequences after the film was finished, because early tests were decidedly negative. While I credit Paramount with only slightly tweaking their original script, audiences are very likely to reject it altogether if they arrive expecting a character-driven action film or more of Tatum than they actually get.
Speaking of which,Tatum and Johnson have terrific chemistry that no one else commands after Act 1; when that dimension is taken off the table, the film clearly loses its momentum. Then, the explosions and sword fights happen, and you forget about this shortcoming, until the fighting stops again and someone has to actually act. As a result, those who survive turn in serviceable but not great performances. Audiences will no doubt wonder why Tatum was sacrificed so early in favor of Cotrona, which is an interesting story I encourage you to research. Rapper RZA is so poorly cast as "The Blind Master" that any cred he had gained from last year's Man with the Iron Fists is probably gone.
There are several things to like about G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Hardcore fans will appreciate the nods to Joe vehicles like the HISS Tank, and frequent moviegoers will like the good post-converted 3D and general end-of-world chaos which Chu brings. Palecki packs the hotness while Pryce plays double duty quite well. The music by Henry Jackman (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) is good, although hearing an updated version of the G.I. Joe theme would have been upped the ante. And that's the problem with Retaliation, for while it's a vast improvement over the thoroughly unmemorable Rise of Cobra, it doesn't consistently hit the heights it needed. After watching it, I encourage you to view Retaliation using The Rule of Contrasts or Arbitrary Coherence, which states that the value of something new is related to the value of the original - in this case, Cobra was so bad that audiences could be fooled into thinking Retaliation to be quite good. While Chu has the franchise generally pointed in the right direction, don't allow yourself to lulled into this false sense of security.
I wasn't expecting a perfect action flick, but I did expect Chu to recognize and fix the problems that the test screenings unearthed. Whether he accomplished that is debatable but at least Retaliation entertains even though you won't remember much afterwards. Whether the G.I. Joe franchise survives beyond Retaliation lies more in the hands of moviegoers than with its loyal and hardcore fans. Chu has made his film - now it's anyone's guess whether it will live to see May. G.I. Joe: Retaliation is rated PG-13 and has a runtime of 110 minutes.
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