Sequels often change things up to bring fresh ideas, accommodate cast alterations, or renew interest in a franchise. But GI Joe: Retaliation is so different from its predecessor The Rise of Cobra that the two might as well be unrelated. It’s also a mess.
Most of the original cast is gone. Channing Tatum returns as Duke – now the field leader of America’s daring, highly-trained special mission force – but not for long. Evil master of disguise, Zartan (Arnold Vosloo, on screen for mere seconds), has replaced the US President (Jonathan Pryce) and orders an ambush on the GI Joe squad. Duke and most of the others are killed in the attack, leaving only Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), Flint (DJ Cotrona) and Snake Eyes (Ray Park) to defend human freedom against Cobra, the ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world.
Look, as a pop culture nerd, I dearly love the 80s-era toys, comics, and cartoon series these movies are based on. Even so, I’ll still be the first to admit that The Rise of Cobra wasn’t great. But it did serve as a good setup to a franchise, pitting two armies against each other with an abundance of high-tech gadgetry and colourful characters. Then Retaliation comes along and blows up anything that was even remotely interesting or novel about it.
The major problem is that writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick can’t seem to decide what kind of movie this should be. It’s a Frankenstein of genres: military actioner, revenge drama, spy caper, ninja mystery, and more, all directed incoherently by Jon M. Chu. A couple of set pieces liven things up – a mountainside battle on ropes, an escape from a bizarre underground prison – but the action is mostly loud, chaotic, and dumb, and not in the good ways.
Johnson is reasonably charismatic, and Pryce clearly has fun playing both good and evil, but the other actors are left to flounder. Palicki’s Lady Jaye spouts off about wanting respect while being treated like eye candy or bait, squeezed into one revealing outfit after another. Cotrona’s Flint isn’t even given a back story – he’s just a loose cannon. Park’s mute Snake Eyes, the franchise’s favourite character, is wasted in favour of a subplot focusing on his arch-nemesis Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee). And when a cameo by Bruce Willis can’t even quicken the pulse, there’s something wrong.
Retaliation doesn’t even work as a marketing vehicle for the Hasbro toy line. All of the Joe soldiers are lost in the ambush, half of the Cobra crazies are absent, and the only gadgets worth mentioning are the nuclear briefcases carried by the various world leaders Cobra holds hostage. One of which has missile launch buttons marked with a label maker.
GI Joe: Retaliation might be mildly diverting if you know nothing about the Joe/Cobra plot line going in, but for its fans it’s a disappointing waste of potential.
Tags: movie review