Four years after the train wreck that was G.I. JOE: The Rise of Cobra, the sequel finally makes it to theaters after converting the movie to 3D and shooting additional scenes to cash-in on Channing Tatum‘s increased celebrity. G.I. JOE: Retaliation doesn’t prove to be worth the wait, but it’s certainly far better than the original.
For those of you unlucky enough to have witnessed the first film, you know that the terrorist organization known as Cobra had risen. Even if they had been defeated by the American special anti-terrorism force known as G.I. JOE, one of Cobra’s own, the master of disguise known as Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), had taken the place of the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce).
G.I. JOE: Retaliation picks up some months later with President Zartan orchestrating the public disgrace and destruction of the JOEs while Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) and Firefly (Ray Stevenson) break Cobra Commander (now played by Luke Bracey) out of futuristic prison in an overly-elaborate plan.
Barely into the film, we’re already at a rather large plot issue. The United States Government is now controlled by Cobra, and has been for months. If that’s the case you would think a couple of things would be relatively easy to accomplish. The President could certainly pardon Cobra Commander (or arrange his release off the books) as well as shutdown the JOEs without all the elaborate behind-the-scenes maneuvering.
In fact, for all of Zartan’s crazy posturing, having their own man in the White House doesn’t really further Cobra’s latest insane scheme at all, at least not until the film’s insane final act involving nuclear weapons, Cobra’s new satellite weapon, and a whole host of plot problems that make small issues like this seem inconsequential by comparison.
With the JOEs disgraced and dead, three remaining survivors are left to finish the fight and avenge the deaths of Duke (Tatum) and the other JOEs. Led by Roadblock (Dwayne “It’s Okay to Call Me The Rock Again” Johnson), Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) head home for answers and retribution. For support they turn to retired General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis), the man whom the G.I. JOEs were named for, and, thankfully for them, has an entire arsenal hidden around his suburban home.
Willis is fine in the role that’s not all that different from what audiences saw him do in Red (which also has a sequel on the way). The banter between Joe and Lady Jaye feels a bit forced, as do many of the film’s corny jokes, but Willis manages to imbue the character with his trademark charm which helps soften some of the more groan-worthy moments. Knowing where it’s strength lies, The Rock is the real star of this portion of the film as the other characters are really present only to support his lead.
Meanwhile, Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Jinx (Elodie Yung) are ordered by the Blind Master (RZA) of the Arashikage Ninja Clan to find Storm Shadow and bring him home to answer for his crimes. Although this storyline hinges on a revelation and twist involving Storm Shadow’s past (that makes absolutely no sense given basic concepts like the natural passage of time), it provides several of the film’s best action sequences including Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow battling for several minutes one-on-one, and Jinx and Snake Eyes fighting off Storm Shadow’s ninja on the cliffs surrounding the ninja’s retreat.
Several changes are made in terms of casting the sequel. On the JOE side we’re missing nearly all the JOEs from the first film (who don’t show up even in cameo roles for the attack that leaves the group decimated): General Hawk (Dennis Quaid), Ripcord (Marlon Wayans), Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Cover Girl (Karolina Kurkova), and most notably Scarlett (Rachel Nichols who was one of the few bright spots of the first film). And Cobra has lost Destro (Christopher Eccleston) in all but a non-speaking cameo, the Baroness (Sienna Miller), and Dr. Mindbender (Kevin J. O’Connor).
Like the first film, G.I. JOE: Retaliation throws in tons of gadgets and toys. Some work better than others, such as Firefly’s explosive insects, while others are completely ridiculous (although thankfully nothing as bad as those crappy accelerator suits from the first film). Personally, I’d have preferred the original design of several of the weapons and vehicles used, particularly the H.I.S.S. Tanks, but the design of what we get here, although often completely ridiculous, works for the kind of B-movie G.I. JOE: Retaliation settles in to be.
The screenplay by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick has a confusing ability to overstate certain facts while at the same time expecting audiences to go in with a basic knowledge of the franchise, the relationships of the various characters, and their motivations. Over the course of the film nearly every character is introduced by having their full name used repeatedly, even when doing so makes the scene incredibly awkward. The film also nearly grinds halt several times in order for a single character explain an important plot point through exposition thinly disguised as dialogue.
Although certainly better than G.I. JOE: The Rise of Cobra, G.I. JOE: Retaliation can’t really be considered a good film. However fans of the toys, comics, and cartoons, may be able to find a guilty pleasure in the action sequences and the pieces of the film that do work. One final note: I saw the film in retrofitted 3D which didn’t have the usual unintended darkening effect of the scenes but also felt mostly unnecessary as more action seem blurred by the effects than enhanced by them. If you do see the movie in theaters I’d recommend saving a couple bucks rather than paying extra for the 3D.