After Stephen Sommers got it woefully wrong with 2009’s G.I Joe: Rise of Cobra, the responsibility to turn popular toy franchise into a semi coherent film falls to Step Up director John M. Chu. He gives it a good go with G.I Joe: Retaliation and the end result lies somewhere between the first movie and a good movie, not a complete disaster but a clunky, meat-heated film that lurches from one plot point to another.
The last minute decision to delay the film’s release for a year prompted rumours that the studio wanted to give more screen-time to Channing Tatum, the star of the original film who saw three of his films pass the $100 million mark last year. Evidently those rumours are untrue as Tatum’s character Duke is axed in the first 20 minutes in an attack on the Joe camp that leaves only three survivors: Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) and the exceptionally pointless Flint (D.J Cotrona).
The attack was ordered by the Cobra operatives who have kidnapped the president and replaced him with master of disguise Zartan. As well as wiping out the Joes, Cobra sends skilled ninja Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) to break out their leader Cobra Commander to execute their evil plan. Something to do with nuclear weapons blowing up the whole world. What they plan to do after that is anyone’s guess. Pryce has great fun in a duel role as the captive president and his evil impersonator and the Darth Vader-esque Cobra Commander is sufficiently menacing but some of the dialogue in these scenes really beggars belief. Thankfully Walton Goggins is on hand to lighten things up as a shit-head warden at a high-security prison.
After all the exposition and set-up, the film moves at a fair pace through a number of generic plot points as the Joes try to infiltrate Cobra and stop their dastardly plan. Amidst the usual action beats, there are some moments of inspiration, especially a mass ninja battle on the side of a mountain which provides the film’s standout sequence.
Other than that scene, there’s nothing here to excite or really engage. The film isn’t terrible or boring either; it’s just there, steadily moving towards its inevitable conclusion.
The cast generally do what they can with what they’re given. It’s a pity that Tatum is killed off so soon as the chemistry he shared with Johnson in the early scenes would’ve made for a far more enjoyable experience. If these guys don’t team up again, especially for an action comedy, it’d be a tragedy. Once Tatum is out the picture, Johnson’s considerably screen presence is largely wasted, especially next to Palicki and Cotrona who are given such bland characters, it’s hard not to feel for them.
Overall, G.I Joe: Retaliation is big, dumb, misogynistic, military chest-beating action fluff that is too bland to cause any offence or excitement either way. But it is a marked improvement on the first movie and probably has enough cartoon violence and cheesy one-liners to appeal to its target audience, whoever that may be.