Except for a few entertainingly funny (when the movie acknowledges its campy roots) moments, John M Chu’s “GI Joe: Retaliation” is a relatively underwhelming CGI action ordeal. After completing a mission in Pakistan the Special Forces group known as the GI Joe’s are suddenly ambushed and all but three are wiped out. The attack was ordered by the president of the United States. However, the president is actually Zartan—a super evil guy who’s part of the evil, Cobra organization—in disguise and he wants to get the Joe’s out of the way so he and his Cobra pals can use nuclear weapons to take over the world. But before doing that they have to break their leader, Cobra Commander, out of prison (how many action movies start with the bad guy being broken out of prison?).
And, it’s up to the remaining Joe’s to stop Cobra and…you know, whatever.
For how much CGI action and explosions there are, the movie on a whole feels rather slight and like it was only made to set up the next movie (which, based on how this one ends, there will be one). There’s not a lot of excitement and surprise. “GI Joe: Retaliation” is itself a sequel to 2009’s “GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra.” I haven’t seen that film but luckily at the beginning of “Retaliation” it tells me what I’ve missed: who the good guys are, who the baddies are, where they are at what time and so forth.
The only real surprise in the movie comes when a certain someone is killed off early on. I won’t say anymore on it but while this surprise is good because you don’t expect it, Chu also gets rid of the movie’s only real interesting good guy and we’re left with a dull group of heroes. Dwayne Johnson plays Roadblock and while he can do the action scenes effortlessly he’s not really an “actor,” and has never given much of a performance in any of his movies. He’s also the only person in the movie who takes the material seriously, which is the wrong approach to a modern “GI Joe” movie.
The other good guys aren’t any better; there’s the sexy Jaye (Adrianne Paliki) and Flint (D.J Cotrona) who are both so bland and add absolutely nothing to the movie. Then you’ve got the two ninjas: Snake Eyes (Ray Park), who wears a full suit of armor and a mask concealing his face. He also doesn’t talk, so no personality whatsoever. And there’s sexy woman warrior number 2 Jinx (Elodie Yung) who may as well be masked and in a full suit of armor. And finally, Bruce Willis shows up as a veteran Joe who just happens to have a massive arsenal of guns for the group to use. Willis seems to be here for two reasons: the paycheck and just the fact that he’s “Bruce Willis,” the aging action star.
The Cobras are more fun to watch, but that’s because they’re cartoon villains. The president is played by Jonathan Pryce but he also plays Zartan in disguise. Watching him you can tell he’s having so much fun, cracking jokes and being all evil. He can be extremely hammy at times but at least he’s embracing the silliness of the material, something that the Joe’s don’t do enough of. That’s the only way a movie like this can work. Considering that the main bad guy is named Cobra Commander (yep, that’s it, no real name) the characters have to be silly and self-aware.
The climax (which involves a nuclear arms meeting at Fort Sumter of all places, between the world leaders and the “president”) is, like the rest of the movie, underwhelming and relies on the overdone ticking-time-bomb-in-a-brief-case cliché. The city of London is also completely annihilated but the movie quickly moves on without addressing it again, even at the end amidst the medal giving ceremony. “GI Joe: Retaliation” isn’t terrible, only because it sometimes acknowledges its campiness but it’s also not all that good. As I said before it’s simply…underwhelming. Nothing else to say.