Review: ‘G.I. Joe: Retaliation’ (semi-mindless terrorist-killing fun)

Guess there’s some life left in G.I. Joe after all.

After yet another betrayal (sensing a pattern here), the covert operations team codenamed G.I. Joe is all but wiped out. Their enemy, COBRA, has launched a new plan to subvert freedom (check) and conquer the world (check). Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) manage to survive the attack, regrouping on US soil to piece together who could have given the order to wipe them out. Meanwhile, the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce) is being terrorized by an imposter (also mostly played by Jonathan Pryce) in an effort to put COBRA’s evil plan into action. And on the other side of the globe, Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and new-recruit Jinx (Elodie Yung) are looking for Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) to answer for his crimes against their order and possibly be coerced into reveal COBRA’s plans. Only one thing is certain: a whole bunch of things are about to get blown up.

The first big-screen outing of G.I. Joe, The Rise of Cobra, was kind of a spectacular mess, but it was a somewhat entertaining spectacular mess. Between the writer’s strike and too many cooks stirring the pot, there were problems, but overall it was better than any previous Transformers films or the recent Battleship debacle. It was obvious that filmmakers were trying to reinvent (because sometimes you can’t get the rights to all the story you’d like to use). This new film, however, manages to build on the original and fix the missteps before merrily blowing up everything they can get away with. Folks, we’d all love to see a hard-line G.I. Joe film where everything is realistic, but when was the show ever realistic?

Jonathan Pryce is hands-down the best reason to see the movie. As the fake POTUS, he steals every scene (especially from his dual-role self) and just generally appears to be having a blast; heck, he kind of makes a bad-ass president! While Controna’s Flint has little to do but occupy a billet, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Roadblock is spot-on as acting Joe team leader. Adrianne Palicki’s Lady Jaye manages to shine through some whiny dialogue and eventually sounds charming doing it (and she’s a lot more useful than Scarlet was last outting). Ray Park delivers his usual punch as the silent Snake Eyes (no fake mask mouth this time) while Byung-hun Lee takes Storm Shadow from turned-up-collar poser to a formidable adversary. Even Cobra Commander steps up the cool, getting one of the best lines in the film to go with his menacing new look and voice. Bruce Willis is in full-on cameo mode but doesn’t detract from the film.

The combat setups are as simple as the character bits, getting to action sequences as quick as they can. The nine months that filmmakers had to tweak the film seemed to include abbreviating pointless background material and pumping up the look of the finished product. Fans of the show will finally see familiar COBRA equipment in action, but this brings up an interesting point. The bad guys appear genuinely happy working for COBRA, like a bunch of blue-collar union guys who moonlight as weekend warriors. Firefly (Ray Stevenson) is actually menacing as a thorn in Roadblock’s side. Story wise, there’s a diabolical balls-out “nuclear chicken” scene that’s so clever it’s a wonder no one has actually tried this before… on-screen, that is.

Still, there are problems. You can feel how small the sets and budgets were for this film, but the CGI department manages to make it feel bigger than it is. Fortunately, the current cut is lean, wasting little time on setup and more on getting things done. There are gaps, but the story doesn’t feel hollow skipping to the good parts. Let’s not even get into the fact that things in these movies tend to explode whenever you push the “abort” button. G.I Joe could easily carry on a few more films like this, especially how quickly they’re killing off the cast list (which never happened in the cartoon). When do you suppose Cobra Commander will realize all he has to do is wait out a couple of movies until there are no Joe’s left? COBRA!

(a three skull recommendation out of four)

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