The Homeless Nerd Reviews:
G.I. Joe: Retaliation
At a glance- standard action fare loosely based on the toys, and a surprisingly good bad movie
What is it? In G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra we got the beginning of the Joes and their evil foe. I was a big fan of the toys as a kid, along with the Transformers; but while the Transformers movie reboot mostly worked, the Joes have not fared as well in translating to the big screen. The first Joe movie was, well, bad. Now, it was a pretty bad kids cartoon to start with, so I don't think anyone was expecting high art. But the funny thing was that for being a bad movie, it was actually kinda good. Well . . . watchable, let's say watchable. A trend that the sequel continues.
Rebooting or translating any existing series to the big screen is a hard task. Audiences change, and what once looked like a cool idea for kids raised on Go-bots and He-Man look much different to kids raised on Power Rangers and Yu-Gi-Oh – not to mention The Venture Bros or Archer. So who do you target, the kids now grown up or the current generation? If you want to appeal to both, how do you juggle being true to the original and yet fresh and new? Often, given that most reboots stink, I don't think we appreciate how hard of a job it is in the first place.
The trick is to identify the things that made the original most appealing. Something I think the Joe movies have really missed. At its heart, GI Joe was an ensemble story. There were literally dozens of different Joes, and each one had a backstory and unique costume as well as different abilities. Each Joe was supposed to be the best of the best in his/her field. And, of course, they had all the coolest toys and guns and vehicles. One good thing from this massive cast was that you could almost guarantee that you could find a Joe who you thought was neat and liked to watch. Sadly the movies have given us a smaller cast, made everybody wear about the same uniforms (which reduces their uniqueness), and shown a cool vehicle in just one scene, maybe two. For an action movie/concept/series there is a consistently depressing lack of action. For a gathering of different personalities everybody feels the same.
Still, as I said at the beginning, it's not all bad.
The acting- We do have several characters, if not quite the whole Joe roster, to watch. Dwayne Johnson plays Roadblock and is an old hand at playing the action hero, of which he does a passable job. D.J. Cotrona plays Flint - not sure why Flint is in the movie since he only has a few lines (and is not the Flint I remember from the cartoons). Adrianne Palicki plays Lady Jaye – she does a good job playing a sadly stereotyped character. Would have been nice to have seen a tough, confident woman soldier who didn't wear skimpy clothing (granted, for only one scene); but that's asking for a lot from Hollywood. Ray Park is Snake Eyes, and the former Darth Maul does a good job playing the character who doesn't talk except with his fists. Lastly we have Bruce Willis as General Joe Colton. I kind of liked him, his acting was fine, but the role itself I wondered at – he didn't seem to fill in any missing gaps in the story, and his character had only a small part in the original comic books.
Oddly enough, for a GI Joe movie, it is the villains who really steal the show. Arnold Vosloo is Zartan, and he is awesome. This is not the whiny Zartan of the cartoon, it is the more sinister yet smart-alec Zartan of the comic books. He was the best performance. Byung-hun Lee is Storm Shadow and does a great job looking, and most importantly moving, the part. Ray Stevenson is Firefly and for having a background role really manages to make his character stand out.
Playing both good and bad roles is Jonathan Pryce as the President/Zartan-in-disguise. This is actually a very hard role to play, and he does it well. Playing both roles meant altering his mannerisms and speech to fit two characters, and I liked how he pulled it off. He actually gets very little time as the President, mostly playing his evil twin.
Despite being on the posters, Channing Tatum reprises his role as Duke for just a few minutes on screen. The characters of Jinx (Elodie Yung) and the Blind Master (RZA) have minor roles, and like Bruce Willis' character could have easily been dropped.
The story- When we left our heroes the shape-shifting Zartan was pretending to be President of the US while Cobra Commander and his cronies had been captured. We have a short scene of Duke ineptly playing Call of Duty (which is a funny scene) with Roadblock's family before our heroes go off to recover some nukes and of course shoot bad guys. This is where the movie does something that I really, really hate to see. Zartan, as pretend President, orders the destruction of the GI Joes and our heroes get ambushed. Now granted, we don't see any bodies – just a pile of dog tags later – but you never, never kill off any heroes at the beginning of a sequel. It is a poor way to repay your audience who invested themselves in the characters in one movie to then kill said characters at the beginning of the next (Aliens 3 still sticks in my craw, I loved Hicks). Plus, the first movie made Duke and Ripcord seem like closest buddies – Roadblock wasn't in the first movie at all. So what happened to Ripcord? He elope with Scarlett? (who was, in the comics, close to Snake Eyes – don't want to upset the guy with the samurai sword)
So with our huge cast of Joes cut down to just 3 (Roadblock, Flint and Jaye) our heroes have to escape the desert and track down the person who betrayed them. Who would be Zartan, disguised as the President. First we detour to seeing the super-secret prison holding Cobra Commander and Destro. Snake Eyes is brought in, and then revealed to be Storm Shadow. Now, why doesn't this raise any alarms? You think you have captured a renegade Joe, yet instead have a Cobra? In a prison of Cobra leadership? A ninja? Any yet nobody thinks, hmm.... this might be an escape attempt? So of course they all escape, with some help from Firefly – who has explosive mini-robot bombs shaped like his namesake.
The real Snake Eyes is training fellow ninja Jinx and working to capture Storm Shadow, who killed their former ninja master. Injured from the prison breakout SS is in a Himalayan secret ninja hideout. Why does the Cobra health care plan involve going to the middle of nowhere when you are critically injured? Our ninja fight scene is somewhat underwhelming, but SS and SE's faceoff is okay. Storm Shadow is captured, and reveals that he is not a bad guy, someone framed him for the death of the Hard Master and he fled to find the true killer. This is actually true to the comics, in a pleasant change of pace.
So former enemy-turned-friend in tow we meet up with our other heroes, who have discovered that the President isn't really the President. They decide to storm the nuclear disarmament talk the fake President is hosting. Apparently the Cobras managed to send a giant death ray (well, death rock) satellite into orbit and nobody noticed. This is actually a very odd scene. Zartan tricks every country present into launching, then detonating all their nuclear missiles. Then threatens them with destruction by death rock, and blows up London to prove the point. So Paris last movie, London this one – it sucks to be outside the US in this series. It is supposed to be very serious and evil-is-about-to-win, yet is also very funny and Zartan kind of does the world a favor by getting rid of a whole lot of nukes. It has a lot of layers.
Of course the shooting then starts, and we are treated to our one scene of Roadblock driving a super-tank against the Cobra super-tanks; none of which reminded me of the comics. The death rock satellite can be stopped by just pushing a button on the briefcase that controls it (an astounding lack of safeguards) which our heroes fight over and of course ultimately win the day.
Set up for a third movie, we have the closing ceremony and the vow to stop our evil villains.
My recommendation- wait for it on Redbox/Netflix/cable, if you're really a fan or bored it is worth catching the cheap show