I’m always wary when they hold up movies for any reason. Lately, that reason has been to add 3D effects or position a release away from other major films’ release dates. In the case of G.I. Joe: Retaliation, they both added the unnecessary 3D treatment and highlighted Channing Tatum to take advantage of his popularity after Magic Mike. The action flick was originally scheduled to come out last summer, but they held it until they could dump it early in the year. I think it would have been better as a forgotten film from 2012 because, other than one memorable sequence, it’s a mediocre action movie that doesn’t even live up to predecessor G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.
I had mixed feelings going into G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Director John M. Chu directed Step Up 2: The Streets — Tatum has a small role following his starring role in Step Up — and Step Up 3D, and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick crafted the wonderful screenplay for Zombieland — the best modern zombie material until The Walking Dead. I really don’t think the director or the writers brought their best work into this film. The plot is all over the place, and the action scenes are perhaps too busy and hard to follow. The best sequence in the film does benefit from Chu’s work in choreographing those intense dance sequences, so perhaps it’s not all lost.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation picks up after the previous film with bad guy Zartan (Arnold Vosloo, who always reminds me of Billy Zane) using nanomites to impersonate the President (Jonathan Pryce). He frames the Joes for stealing nuclear warheads from Pakistan and sends a military strike against them, including Duke (Tatum), Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) and Flint (D.J. Cotrona). Cobra helpers Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) and Firefly (Ray Stevenson) go to a German prison to break out Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey). Afterwards, the Blind Master (RZA) sends Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Jinx (Elodie Yung) to track down Storm Shadow in the Himalayas to answer for past crimes. The Joes all join up to take on Zartan and prevent his plan to destroy the world’s major cities with satellite weapons. Storm Shadow joins their cause for reasons I can’t really remember, and Bruce Willis appears as General Joe Colton to lend some real action cred and wisecracks to the proceedings. Joseph Mazzello and Walton Goggins have small cameos, and there are lots of stunt people in ninja costumes who have more screen time than either of them. Go figure!
There’s action galore in this movie, but that’s all at the expense of plot. I don’t require much for an action flick, but when bad guys switch sides for tenuous reasons like Storm Shadow does, I just give up trying to follow and go along for the ride. This is more of an old, creaky wooden coaster than a sleek, fast steel coaster — to continue the ride analogy. I enjoyed many of the scenes, but there’s so much going on up on the screen like in the Transformers films that I sometimes shut down from the busy graphics and special effects. As you’ve seen in the trailer, London gets destroyed as a sign of force. The special effects are cool, but the motivation is sketchy. Johnson, Lee, Tatum and Willis provide the standout performances. I like Pryce as the impersonator because he’s a great villain as he was in Tomorrow Never Dies. An early exit of a character really deflates the movie, so the only things left after that event are the stunts and action sequences.
My favorite part of the movie is the lengthy sequence that takes place in the Himalayas when Snake Eyes and Jinx retrieve Storm Shadow and fight a number of ninjas. There’s a lot of wire work, literally, as the characters swing through the air on wires and fight as they swing, sometimes cutting opponents’ wires to kill them and other times escaping on zip lines across chasms. It’s sad that I highlight one part of the movie, but the excellence of the choreography and incorporation of the location and scenery outweighs a lot of other scenes. Also, the 3D enhances the perspectives in the Himalayas scenes whereas it otherwise doesn’t offer much of a reason for the film to be held up. G.I. Joe: Retaliation kicks it up a notch when Willis arrives and the final third of the movie gets under way. That’s perhaps too little too late for my tastes, and ultimately, this all seems like a waste of talent. Will there be another movie in the series? I don’t know. If there is, I expect there to be a story at least as good as the ones in the cartoons or the ones kids created in their backyards with their G.I. Joe action figures.