Cinematic adaptations of beloved 1980s toy lines are not generally renowned for their artistic qualities.
Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise may have grossed more money than the GDP of most South American nations, but its eye-popping action was more migraine-inducing than Avatar-immersive. Last year’s Battleship, directed by Das Boot’s Peter Berg, sunk without a trace. Then there’s the issue of 3D. Too often a gimmick intended to compensate for a lack of plot/character development/any originality whatsoever.
GI Joe: Retaliation takes most of the same recognizable figures that appear in 2009’s installment, as well as a few new ones, and throws them into a series of hyper-kinetic action sequences. Channing Tatum returns as Duke, the scar-faced, surprisingly amiable protagonist of GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra; this time around, he’s joined by Dwayne Johnson’s formidable Roadblock. Without delving into spoiler territory, the Joes are ambushed, things blow up, people die, setting Roadblock et al on the path to revenge.
D.J. Cotrona and Adrianne Palicki pull support as two new Joes, neither given much by the way of backstory. If Palicki only appears to be there to provide the requisite eye candy then Cotrona is even worse served in terms of individual motivation. Bruce Willis appears as the eponymous Joe, retired General Joseph Colton, in which amounts to little more than an extended cameo. Ray Parks returns as mute, perpetually masked Snake Eyes with Lee Byung-hun appearing as his more-sinned-against-than-sinning nemesis Storm Shadow.
The action sequences, however, more than compensates for the by-the-numbers formulaic nature of the beast. Snake Eyes and his apprentice, Elodie Yung’s Jinx, swing from snowy mountaintops and battle against enemy ninjas with an unconscious prisoner in tow while Roadblock goes mano-e-mano between concrete pillars in a truncated smack-down against Ray Stevenson’s sadistic Firefly – his accent in the role is reminiscent of T-Bag in Prison Break. Oh yeah, and, in a move completely given away by the marketing campaign, the bad guys almost completely superlatively blow up central London.
Jonathan Pryce pulls primary villain duties as the President who isn’t, though his plan to blackmail an assembly of world leaders is bog-standard Bond villain fare (not to mention not making a world of sense once you think it through: wouldn’t detonating the planet’s arsenal of nuclear missiles in mid-flight cause colossal fallout?) Cobra Commander, with Luke Brady and Robert Baker subbing in body and voice for the previous film’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt, has the thankless task of, well, leading Cobra, but his break-out, at least, showcases another ebullient supporting turn from Walton Goggins.
With its hoary, macho banter and its cardboard cut out character motivation, GI Joe: Retaliation isn’t seeking to reinvent the wheel, and, without Jon M. Chu’s taut yet graceful direction, it could easily have been an utter shambles. If Zombieland writers’ Rhett Ree and Paul Wernick’s script is never more than competent and exists mostly as an excuse to provide an excuse for/tie together these sequence, then GI Joe: Retaliation is at least slick, if mostly vapid, fun.