Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jon M Chu
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis, Jonathan Pryce, Adrianne Palicki, D J Cotrona, Ray Park, Ray Stevenson, Byung-hun Lee, Walton Goggin.
Hasbro makes action figures for 12-year old boys. And lately they have also found success by making live action films featuring those very same action figures, like Transformers and G.I. Joe, films that are also aimed at 12-year old boys. G.I. Joe: Retaliation is the sequel to 2009’s successful G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra, and this is another of those deliberately dumb action movies that feature more brawn than brains. You can easily check your brain at the cinema door for this one.
This rather lame sequel remains faithful to the cartoon and comic book origins of the material, and comes across as a live action cartoon for of its duration. Since it’s based on a 50-year old toy franchise, the film is clearly not meant to be taken too seriously. Retaliation continues the story from the first G.I. Joe film, as the elite combat unit continues their battle against the evil forces of the Cobra network. This is formulaic, by the numbers stuff, full of generic action set pieces, and the dialogue is tone deaf. But at least this is a lot more fun than the original.
The President (Jonathan Pryce) is still being held captive by Cobra operatives, while his double plans to take over the world. As with Fast & Furious 5, Dwayne Johnson has been brought into the franchise to add some much needed muscle and star power, and he more than delivers as a warrior known as Roadblock. He is the best friend of Duke (Canning Tatum), who has been promoted to team leader since the first film. But Duke is only in this sequel for about twenty minutes before he and the Joes are wiped out in a devastating attack ordered by the President.
Only three G I Joes survive – Roadblock, the sexy and deadly Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki, from the recent remake of Red Dawn, etc) and Flint (D J Cotrona, from Dear John, etc). They turn to the only man they can trust to help try and resolve the situation, rescue the president and restore order and their tarnished reputation – retired General Colton (Bruce Willis), the founder of the GI Joes. Colton’s home is crammed with all kinds of heavy weaponry hidden in drawers and secret panels, which he liberally hands out.
The action moves from the desert of Pakistan to the streets of Washington, to an underground prison in Germany, to a climactic showdown at historic Fort Sumter in North Carolina, where the false President is holding a summit on world peace. The meeting is an opportunity for the President and the Cobra organisation to disarm the other major nuclear powers, and then demonstrate the capabilities of their new super weapon, known as Zeus, which is capable of destroying entire cities at the push of a button.
Most of the characters here are dull, one-dimensional creations, with only a handful of the characters from the original film returning, including Ray Park’s masked, enigmatic Snake Eyes; Ray Stevenson’s Firefly; and Byung-hun Lee’s Storm Shadow. Pryce actually seems to be enjoying himself in a dual role, particularly as the President’s evil doppelganger intent on destroying the world, and he does everything but twirl his moustache. And Johnson and Tatum establish a great chemistry in their few scenes together. But despite his star billing, Willis is only in a handful of scenes, and he basically phones in his performance here.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation has been written by the team of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who previously gave us Zombieland, which was a much more enjoyable and tightly written mix of horror and comedy. Reese and Wernick take their cues from any number of action films, from The Dirty Dozen and The Wild Bunch through to the more recent The A-Team and The Expendables. But the plotting here is a little too convoluted for its own good, and the humour seems forced.
The director is Jon M Chu, who is better known for his teen-oriented Step Up dance movies and the Justin Bieber documentary Never Say Never. He lacks the credentials to handle a testosterone-fuelled, special effects heavy big budget action film like this, full of pyrotechnics, chases and shootouts. His handling of the key action sequences is uninspired and clumsy, and he brings an MTV style to the cinematography and rapid editing of the film that detracts. A lot of the action sequences come across with all the style and kinetic energy of a video game, which will no doubt appeal to the target demographic. However, a superbly choreographed and filmed ninja-like fight on the side of the Himalayan mountains is one of the few highlights of this rather average action yarn.
The film’s release date was delayed to enable the 3D conversion, which admittedly adds little to the overall production. Also, apparently there were some script rewrites to add more screen time for Tatum’s character. There’s no subtlety, so sophistication, no intelligence in this slam-bang, formulaic action vehicle that sets the scene for yet another film in the series. It teases us with the prospect of Willis and Johnson, the former wrestler known as The Rock, teaming up to kick some Cobra butt big time. But can the producers please find someone with the cinematic muscle and action chops to direct it?
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