“You love my panties”
I have to give Paramount Pictures credit as they saw what did and didn’t work in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and sought a way to rectify their mistakes. Were they going to end up with a good film? No. Did they at least want to find a way to give audiences something to have fun with? Surprisingly, yes. G.I. Joe: Retaliation would make big bucks at the box office anyway—it would have probably made more before a nine-month 3D retrofitting delay. The question was whether we’d enjoy it enough to care when Part 3 or the rumored-but-will-never-happen crossover with Transformers debuts. Hiring Zombieland scribes Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick showed the studio cared; giving the reins to untested Step Up 2 and 3D director Jon M. Chu admitted they were ready to try something different.
Well, different is relative when you’re dealing with another science fiction war between a military division and their adversarial diabolical mad genius’s homicidal minions. We’re not reinventing the wheel here, just tweaking an already entertaining concept to stop taking itself more serious than it has any right to. Add in some more humor—comedy is Joe leader Channing Tatum‘s (Duke) biggest asset after all; excise the no-one-cares romantic history where love defeats brainwashing; and let the bad guys be over-the-top evil. Turn this franchise into the action-packed, cheesy enterprise it is by not forgetting its roots in Saturday morning cartoon. Seriously, this thing ain’t out to attract rocket scientists looking for intellectual stimulation when the commander of a power-hungry group of villains named Cobra is simply called Cobra Commander.
Picking up not too long after the first installment—complete with a relevant enough recap to come in blind besides not sufficiently explaining the presidential situation with Jonathan Pryce—it’s all about blowing stuff up, samurai sword fights while repelling off mountains, and hamming it up for the camera. New recruits are cutting their teeth, old stalwarts are having a blast, and their time bided has just about run out. The moment has come to rescue Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey) from his prison, rekindle bad blood between Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) and Snake Eyes (Ray Park), and destroy any hope for the world’s salvation in the hands of America’s elite team. With an ambush leaving their numbers decimated, Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) must take control of the Joes and save humanity from complete annihilation.
It’s a simple enough conceit made harder by the crosscutting of multiple storylines. Roadblock looks to regroup with the help of the “original”—yeah, they went there—Joe (Bruce Willis); Snake Eyes searches for Storm Shadow rehabilitating high in the mountains; and the imposter placed in the White House at the end of The Rise of Cobra puts his plans in motion. We go back and forth meeting important new characters like Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), wasted ones like Jinx (Elodie Yung), and cardboard cutouts like Flint (D.J. Cotrona) all the while wondering how explosive their inevitable convergence will end up. Cobra has the means for starting a nuclear holocaust and only a handful of elite soldiers possess the means to stop him. The suspense is almost too much to endure.
Like I said, no one expects some grand dramatic masterpiece, just a few cool twists and turns with inventive gadgets to help blow up any buildings in their way. Park and Yung acrobatically entertain in the film’s most complex action sequence, Lee has discovered the power of his sarcastic smile and utilizes it well when slyly wreaking havoc, and Willis somehow finds the perfect balance to turn his blatantly clichéd role into a source of comic relief and gun-toting assistance. Pair up Johnson and Tatum for some brilliant chemistry with their mockingly good-natured back and forth and you have exactly what one would like from a PG-13 film based on a Hasbro toy. Sadly, though, while Reese and Wernick did a great job avoiding schmaltz and contrivance in Zombieland, they aren’t as lucky here.
By no means infused with exposition on the scale of its predecessor, Retaliation does handle the flashback and history lessons in a much worse way. Rise of Cobra kept its myriad glimpses concise and to the point whereas here they drag incessantly. We return to the stomping grounds of Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes through the marble-mouthed wisdom of RZA‘s Blind Master and listen to Palicki’s Jaye drone on about a third generation military father and how hard he was on her for being a girl for what seems like forever. The previous film worked because we were able to watch the past unfold, this one fails because it thinks narration will get the job done quicker. While it may disseminate information easier, such a trope also bogs us down with dialogue-heavy lectures instead of kinetic representation.
I guess in the end Retaliation is simply more of the same packaged inside a shinier box. The computer effects are less glaring in their fabrication, the laughs come more often and harder, and guys like Ray Stevenson and Walton Goggins are allowed a long leash where the concept of subtlety is involved. The harrowingly big cataclysmic event to bring the world to Cobra’s knees is handled quite well through Pryce’s willingness to have fun with his dual characters and the situation’s plausibility as the heavy artillery fights carry enough destruction to prevent redundancy. None of it’s enough to make it a must-see film, but Johnson’s inclusion definitely makes it a worthwhile endeavor on a rainy night in need of a smile. The Rock is finally living up to his potential.
 Photo credit: Jaimie Trueblood. Left to right: Channing Tatum plays Duke and Dwayne Johnson plays Roadblock in G.I. JOE: RETALIATION, from Paramount Pictures, MGM, and Skydance Productions.
 Photo credit: Jaimie Trueblood. Adrianne Palicki plays Lady Jaye in G.I. JOE: RETALIATION, from Paramount Pictures, MGM, and Skydance Productions.
 Photo credit: Jaimie Trueblood. Center left to right: Luke Bracey plays Cobra Commander and Byung-Hun Lee plays Storm Shadow in G.I. JOE: RETALIATION, from Paramount Pictures, MGM, and Skydance Productions.
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