G.I. Joe: Retaliation Review
WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!
Back in 2009, I was no fan of "G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra."
I felt for the most part, the wrong actors were chosen for these characters. I thought the story was hokey, the effects poor, and it had an incorrigible script of massive proportions. I liked director Stephen Sommers' earlier films, but the first G.I. Joe film was dud to me. When I heard the sequel would have a new director, only three actors from the original returning and Bruce Willis joining the fray, I thought things might turn out for the better. That's what I had hoped all along. I loved playing with the toys growing up and dreamed of a great G.I. Joe movie. The cartoon is fun for nostalgic reasons, but doesn't hold up the same as other classic cartoons do. I wanted this movie to really set the standard for G.I. Joe in other media.
Stephen Sommers was replaced by John Chu for some unexplained reason. It seems like Chu forgot he was continuing an ongoing franchise. If you remember from the first film, this series takes in the "not too distant future." Well nobody told Chu, because this film is clearly in present day. Sure, Cobra has some futuristic tech, but Cobra always has futuristic tech. What I was wondering the whole film was where were the accelerator suits, invisible suits and other G.I. Joe tech from the first film? It also seems that the Joe organization got radically Americanized. In the first film, the G.I. Joe's were an international organization, in the sequel they are clearly an American organization. Why the switch? Plot convenience. The President (Jonathon Price) who is being impersonated by the Cobra Zartan (Arnold Vasloo), had the Joe's killed and framed for murdering the Pakistani President. That action by any world leader would be much more slippery and risky if it were an international organization that was attacked, but if it were a rogue organization from one nation? That's a little more plausible.
That leads to another glaring problem with this sequel. Chu decided to set everything in terms of realism that it kills the series as a whole. Tying everything around a global nuclear breakdown as well as tensions with nuclear superpowers doesn't ring true to the G.I. Joe style or story-line. The G.I. Joe toys were never meant to be militaristic propaganda, nor was the comic series, the cartoon or even the first film. G.I. Joe is a science/fiction fantasy adventure. It features cool tech and other elements not linked to reality. Grounding this sequel in reality not only ruins the franchise's continuity, but it makes comments on real world issues that are completely backwards. Real world parallels really have no place in a G.I. Joe movie, this stuff should not be taking itself so seriously. But hey, it worked for Christopher Nolan and Batman, so Hollywood is compelled to copy it.
I'll give Chu a couple points. He can shoot well-staged action sequences and he can get some good work from his actors. The big showdown in the last thirty minutes are pretty exciting, so was the mountain ninja fight about halfway through the film. When Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes fight side-by-side, it felt like geek bliss, one of the highlights of the film. The Rock proves once again this year that he is a charismatic machine. He brings keen power to his role as Roadblock. Channing Tatum proves that he is perfecting the art of dying in his movies within the first 15 minutes. Bruce Willis does classic hammy Willis work, but it felt right with the character. I really got to give to both Luke Bracey and Robert Baker for creating the walking and talking Cobra Commander. This guy seems like he was pulled right from the cartoon and it worked almost too well for this movie. Byung-hun Lee, Jonathon Price, Ray Stevenson, RZA, Adrianne Palicki and D.J. Cotrona all do very good work as well.
In the end, I am both sad and surprised that this franchise isn't coming together in the way I think it should. I had high hopes for this, but the right combination of artists are not getting together to make this what it could be. Paramount needs to find a director and writer who is very passionate about the characters, like Peter Jackson is for "Lord of the Rings," or Joss Whedon for "The Avengers." I say, especially for the sequel, the actors are in the right place for the first time in this franchise, now we just need a crew to support them. We need a script that won't bury itself in realism but won't crank up the corny so much that it looses focus of the story. The stuff that works in this film REALLY works, so much so that it makes me swoon. However, we need a script that won't take itself seriously but also won't become a big joke. It's a lot less trickier than it sounds, my only question is who is up to the task?
FINAL GRADE: C