G.I. Joe: Retaliation is the the sequel to the 2009 G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra…. sort of. Before I get into this I wanted to mention two things. First, this review will contain spoilers. If you haven’t watched the movie yet and you don’t want to know the plot stop reading and come back when you’ve seen it. Second, I’m a HUGE G.I. Joe fan. Not only of the live action stuff, but more so of the comics, 80’s cartoons and certainly the action figures. Speaking of the live action stuff… I’m one of the few out there who didn’t completely hate the previous incarnation. I enjoyed it for what it was… a popcorn action movie. For a more detailed review of the original check it out here.
Still with me? OK… here we go.
This movie was originally slated to hit the theaters on June 29, 2012. However, the decision was made to delay the film until March 29, 2013. The official reason given was that the studio wanted the film done in 3D. The unofficial reasons range from the studio wanting to rework it so Channing Tatum (now a big star) was in the movie more to the producers not wanting to go up against Avengers, Dark Knight Rises and a slew of other summer 2012 blockbusters. I have a feeling that the truth probably lies somewhere in between. The toys had already been on shelves, there was a Super Bowl commercial for the flick, etc. so there MUST have a been a good reason… and it wasn’t the Channing Tatum thing.
We get a brief synopsis of what has happened between Rise of Cobra and the opening of this film. When we last left the Joe universe, Zartan had been inserted as the President of the United States and Cobra was preparing to take over. The Joes are framed for stealing nuclear warheads from Pakistan and all the Joes with the exception of Roadblock, Flint & Lady Jaye are killed. Storm Shadow (posing as Snake Eyes) and Firefly rescue Cobra Commander from the prison where he and Destro are being held. During the breakout, Storm Shadow is injured and he’s sent “into the mountains” to heal.
The remaining Joes return to the States and begin to rebuild and try to figure out what the hell is going on. They meet up with General Joe Colton (the original G.I. Joe and the reason they’re called “Joes”) and deduce that Zartan is acting as the President. In the meantime, we get sort of a random story line with Storm Shadow, Snake Eyes, Jinx and their master. This picks up on some flashbacks from the first film where Storm Shadow is thought to be the killer of their former master. Out of this we get a bad ass scene where ninjas are fighting and zip lining through the mountains and eventually it is determined that Zartan, not Storm Shadow, killed the Hard Master of the Arashikage Clan. From this point in the flick on, Storm Shadow begins to fight with the Joes, though he does point out that he’s not necessarily “with them”… just not “against them.”
Zartan as the President, invites all nuclear world powers to a summit where he launches all U.S. nukes and gives the world leaders 3 minutes to do the same. When they do, he detonates all U.S. warheads and all the world leaders do the same. With all nuclear weapons out of commission, this leaves Cobra with the ultimate power as they’ve got something called Project Zeus which is a weapon that essentially drops destruction onto Earth doing massive damage. To prove he’s willing to act, he destroys London using Zeus and threatens to destroy more cities if they don’t get on board and swear allegiance.
The Joes at this point launch an attack to rescue the President, take out Zeus and save the day. Storm Shadow (working for G.I. Joe) kills Zartan avenging his hard master and clearing his name. Snake Eyes, Jinx and Flint are off fighting random Cobra troopers, Roadblock rather convincingly kills Firefly, Lady Jaye and Colton rescue the President and Cobra Commander escapes in the excitement. Roadblock takes up the mantle as Joe leader and we’re off to the sequel.
This is a vastly superior movie to the original, though it’s still a flawed movie. The plot is just too convoluted for its own good. That said, I think they did an AMAZING job at not only distancing itself from Rise Of Cobra, but at the same time maintaining some semblance of continuity between the films. There is no mention at all of Baroness who was a central character in the first film. Destro who was also integral gets mere seconds of screen time before being (presumably) killed off camera. Duke’s death has been the subject of much debate. While I think it was pretty clear that he’s dead, we technically never saw HIS body so there’s wiggle room there if they want to bring him back. While Zartan got a sword to the chest, if they wanted to, they could pull some nano-mite magic and bring him back for a sequel. Speaking of nano-mites… While I’m glad that this one didn’t focus on those little buggers, I’m happy they didn’t write it out completely. As for being written out completely, we saw or heard nothing of Scarlett, Ripcord, Breaker, etc. from the first film and we’re lead to believe that “all” the Joes have been terminated. Honestly, I would have loved to have gotten definitive death scene for Duke, Ripcord and Scarlett but I can understand why we didn’t get it.
Based on the previews, I figured I’d love the ninja fight scene on the mountain and I absolutely did. This is by far the best action sequence in the film. That said, the other ninja stuff I could have done without. The Hard Master back story is pulled straight out of the comics, but it just didn’t fit here and the Blind Master (played by rapper RZA) was clearly the worst part of the film. Simply terrible. Ray Park is still a master as Snake Eyes and while Jinx (Elodie Yung) clearly is a gifted martial artist she was nothing more than a prop here. I’ve heard that there was quite a bit of this story cut and I’m guessing it would have made the ninja stuff much better.
Other notable performances included Jonathan Pryce as the President / Zartan, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Roadblock and, believe it or not, Channing Tatum as Duke. Pryce was amazing at playing two characters. You really got the impression that he was two different people in the same body and he had some of Arnold Vosloo’s mannerisms down pat. The Rock IS Roadblock. For an action star Dwayne Johnson proves once again that he really can act and he’s got a couple of one liners here that legitimately made me chuckle. Channing Tatum isn’t really in this movie for more than a couple of minutes, but the scenes that he does have he steals. He portrays Duke as a real person as opposed to “Army Man #3” like he was in the original. Seeing him not be able to play Call of Duty was hilarious and those couple of humanizing scenes made Duke’s “death” that much better.
I can’t write a review of Retaliation and not mention Bruce Willis. Honestly when I saw the first trailer and he was in it I was not happy. Luckily he’s playing a relatively minor character who doesn’t get a ton of screen time and I’m happy to say that Willis did a great job here. I’d heard terrible things about A Good Day To Die Hard so I was really worried. Thankfully it looks like Bruce was here for more than just a paycheck and gave a good performance.
I’m going way long so I’ll just add a couple more bullet points:
- Cobra Commander – BAD ASS. He looks great and is acting like a terrorist with a mission.
- Flint – no beret so he really didn’t feel like the Flint I know.
- No Lasers – gone are the M.A.R.S. toy weapons from the first flick replaced here by bullets, tanks and stuff that explodes. That’s a very good thing.
- 3D vs. 2D – Didn’t see it in 3D so I can’t say how the transfer was. I can say that I didn’t miss it. I’d suggest to skip the higher ticket price.
- Lady Jaye – Good GOD is this woman hot. Nuff said.
I would have been there opening night for this one, but Pip was coming into town and we wanted to check it out together. I’ll assume he’ll chime in here or write his own review as well. This was one of two flicks we saw together last weekend, Evil Dead being the other. After seeing it I have to say I’m very happy with the outcome. As a G.I. Joe fan there was plenty in there to keep me happy complete with a couple of Easter Eggs for those that were really looking for them. I can give the film’s plot a pass as they were really hamstrung based on where there were starting after Rise of Cobra. Jon M. Chu did an amazing job directing what probably should have been the first live action G.I. Joe film. If the early box office numbers are any indication it looks like G.I. Joe: Retaliation will be a huge success. If you’re a Joe fan you’ll definitely like this one and even if you’re not there’s enough raw action to keep you happy. Definitely recommend. Yo Joe!!!