CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: G. I. JOE: RETALIATION (2013)
By Michael Arruda
(THE SCENE: A toy store. MICHAEL ARRUDA is in the Action Figure aisle checking out some vintage G. I. Joe action figures.)
MICHAEL ARRUDA: These toys bring back memories. (Holds up an action figure with fuzzy hair.) Here’s one of my favorites: G. I. Joe with life-like hair and Kung Fu grip. I don’t know why these toys were so cool—there’s not much to distinguish them from other action figures—but when I was a kid, they were the best. I think it was all the accessories that came with them.
Anyway, welcome to CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT. Today I’m reviewing G.I JOE: RETALIATION (2013), so there’s a reason I’m visiting this vintage toy store today. See, this film was produced in association with Hasbro toys, and it plays that way. Like other toy tie-ins (such as last year’s BATTLESHIP) G. I. JOE just doesn’t cut it as a movie. It has about as much depth and conflict as one of these toys.
G. I. JOE TOY: Hey, I have depth and conflict!
MA: Wow! It talks! I don’t remember the G. I. JOE toys talking when I was a kid, but anyway, glad to have you here with me. I could use the company, since L.L. SOARES is off on another assignment.
And you’re right. You toys can have depth and conflict, when a kid is playing with you, using his or her imagination, and today’s movie could have had depth and conflict too, if it cared at all about telling a genuine story, which it obviously doesn’t.
G.I. JOE: So, you didn’t like the latest movie about me?
MA: Well, it’s not really about you, per se.
G.I. JOE RETALIATION is a sequel to G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF THE COBRA (2009) which clearly was one of the worst movies I saw that year, yet supposedly it made a ton of money, and the events in RETALIATION follow the events in COBRA. Unfortunately, while there are fleeting references to characters and events from the previous movie, the assumption seems to be that the audience is so familiar with these characters and events that we know them well and, as such, we care for these folks already. Sorry to say, that’s the wrong assumption.
G. I. JOE RETALIATION opens with the “Joes” defending the freedom of America by travelling to Pakistan to secure a nuclear bomb that’s about to fall into enemy hands. The unit is led by young hot shot, Duke (Channing Tatum), who when he’s not saving the world, trades humorous barbs with his best buddy, veteran soldier Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson).
This all changes when the Joes are ambushed, and only Roadblock and two young soldiers Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) survive. It turns out that the ambush was ordered by the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce) who doesn’t seem to be himself lately. That’s because the real president has been kidnapped, and in his place is the Joes’ arch enemy Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), who conveniently and inexplicably has the power to shapeshift, so he looks exactly like the president.
Zartan’s dastardly plan involves ridding the world of nuclear weapons so he can have complete control over it.
(The door to the toy store opens and in pops Adam West as Batman)
BATMAN: That EVIL CRIMINAL!
MA: Holy Hasbro, Batman! What are you doing here?
BATMAN: What any good citizen should be doing on a Saturday. Shopping for toys for Gotham’s underprivileged children. I see you are busy reviewing a movie. I’ll come back another time.
MA: Don’t leave on my account. I can review a movie while you’re here shopping.
BATMAN: Thank you, citizen. (BATMAN exits into another room of the store.)
MA: Back to G.I. JOE. Roadblock decides his little unit needs help, and so he turns to the retired General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis) for assistance. Together, they come up with a plan to take down the evil Zartan and rescue the president, before Zartan can succeed with his plan to take over the world.
BATMAN (from other room): Has he no shame?
MA: Meanwhile, there’s also a subplot involving Asian rivals Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) who battle it out under the watchful supervision of the wise Blind Master (RZA).
And thrown in for good measure, there’s also the crazy and evil Firefly (Ray Stevenson) who gets to cause all kinds of mayhem in support of his boss Zartan.
Since this is a G.I. JOE movie, there’s no surprise which side wins here.
G.I. JOE: RETALIATION is a sad excuse for a movie that unfortunately is part of the growing trend of movies that look good but have no story. Visually, these movies are striking, slick and polished, but they’re ruined by poor writing, done in by weak dialogue, tired overused plot elements, and a clear lack of clarity when it comes to storytelling. In short, the writing sucks.
See, we’ve reached the point where movies can be so impressive based on visuals alone that, for some filmmakers, the art of storytelling is secondary and oftentimes nonexistent. G.I JOE: RETALIATION is one such movie.
It looks great, it has above average action sequences, it boasts a talented cast, but if you’ve seen the RESIDENT EVIL movies, the TWILIGHT series, or films like BATTLESHIP, you know what to expect from G.I. JOE. All fluff and no substance, shallow cardboard characters, deplorable dialogue, and boredom the likes of which moviegoers should never be subjected to. It’s cruel and unusual punishment.
There’s no reason in the world why this couldn’t be an excellent movie. Look at its cast, for instance. Now, I’m not a big fan of Dwayne Johnson, but the guy does have an agreeable screen persona. He should be a likeable lead. But he’s lost here, directionless, reduced to being nothing more than a walking talking toy.
G.I. JOE: I think I’ve just been insulted.
MA: Bruce Willis is stuck in a thankless supporting role, and he’s done this thing so many times before (heck, in this year alone he’s done it a bunch of times!) he might as well be asleep. He offers nothing new or refreshing to his role here.
I love Jonathan Pryce, and he once again makes for a decent villain, this time as the President of the United States, but he’s mired saying such clichéd lines he sounds like he belongs in an AUSTIN POWERS movie. And if you can believe Jonathan Pryce as President of the United States, you’re a better man than me.
Current hunk and heartthrob Channing Tatum is barely in this one at all, meeting his demise early on in the film. Even so, you still have Byung-hun Lee from I SAW THE DEVIL (2010), Ray Stevenson—who, in spite of the dreadful script, still manages to entertain as Firefly—and RZA.
D.J. Cotrona is fine and believable as Flint, and Adrianne Palicki is very good as Jaye. It also doesn’t hurt that she’s an absolute knockout.
But the script here by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick is horrible. Before we even get to the story, we have to get by the names of the characters—Roadblock, Storm Shadow, Firefly, Duke, Snake Eyes, Blind Master. They sound like X-Men rejects.
The actual story is ludicrous. Zartan’s plot for world domination is about as believable as Caesar Romero as the Joker. It also suffers from a lack of details. For example, Zartan shapeshifts to look exactly like the President of the United States. How? That would be a pertinent piece of information to relay to the audience, don’t you think? To be fair, it is mentioned in one brief scene, but blink and you miss it. I guess the thinking is, who cares about such details when the movie looks so good. Well, I care because I want to enjoy the movie. It’s like saying Superman got his powers from another planet, and then leaving it at that. What planet? How did he get these powers? What’s his story?
I found myself asking that question throughout this movie. What’s his story? What’s her story? What’s this movie about? The answers weren’t provided.
Now, Reese and Wernick wrote the screenplay for ZOMBIELAND (2009). There’s no comparison between these two movies. ZOMBIELAND was creative and edgy, while G.I. JOE: RETALIATION is mind-numbing and childish.
It’s rated PG-13, yet clearly plays like a PG movie. When I saw it, the theater was filled with young kids, many of them under 10. That’s about the right age level for this movie.
Director Jon M. Chu has made a very good-looking movie, but a movie without a story just isn’t good enough. Sure, there are some neat action sequences, especially a really cool mountaintop chase scene. But if I don’t care about these characters, if I don’t know why the hell they’re doing what they’re doing, the end result is it’s like I’m watching a really cool video game. It’s not a movie.
And just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, G.I. JOE is in 3D. I chose not to see it in 3D, and I doubt 3D effects would have made this movie any better. It stunk quite nicely in 2D, thank you very much.
G.I. JOE: RETALIATION was a complete waste of my time. Admittedly, it’s a slick looking production, and it’s teeming with talented actors, but the story is so horribly boring I was ready to leave the theater midway through the film.
I give it one and a half knives.
You’d be better off purchasing one of these vintage G. I. Joe toys and setting it up on a shelf in your den. In fact, looking at one of these toys for two hours might provide more mental stimulation than watching G.I. JOE: RETALIATION. At least your imagination would be free to engage.
G.I. JOE: Thank you. I’ll take that as a compliment.
MA: You’re welcome.
G.I. JOE: Hey, do you think I can get a part in the next G.I. JOE movie?
MA: The next G.I. JOE movie? Don’t make me ill.
Okay, folks, that’s it for now. L.L. Soares will be back next week, and he and I will be here with a review of another new movie.
© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda
Michael Arruda gives G.I. JOE: RETALIATION ~one and a half knives!