I like it when bad ideas get turned into movies, if for nothing else there’s at least an effort being put forth to try and make the bad idea good, and board games and action figure lines becoming movies are probably some of the best bad ideas that we’ve seen in the past ten years. G.I. Joe: Retaliation is nothing more than a two-hour commercial for toys, which should be taken into account for anyone that is thinking of going into the film hoping for it to be a smart and cohesive action movie. The film’s predecessor (2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) is an all around terrible movie, so there is nowhere to go but up for this 3D sequel and it does at least try.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation goes in a different direction from the first film by toning down the corniness of the premise (to a certain degree) and amping up the action. The film opens with a sequence that doesn’t even matter to the rest of the movie, but is there just to show the audience how resourceful and cool the G.I. Joes are and how goofy and clueless their enemies can be. From there, the movie tries to balance several different genres for the rest of its duration and seldom succeeds. Some elements of the film’s action are quite stellar with many sequences (the dialogue-free ones) being the real highlight of the movie. This movie has an identity problem. It can’t decide if it wants to be a military action movie, a silent ninja movie, or a political thriller. Sure, it could have been all of these things in one, but the transitions between these aspects of its story are so disjointed that it doesn’t feel like a complete picture.
With the characters having been established decades ago, one would think it would be easy to pick them up and bring them to life. For the most part, none of these characters are interesting on a personal level and none of them really get an outstanding arc except maybe Dwayne Johnson’s Roadblock. Many of the characters on screen are just caricatures of a certain type of person/soldier/convenience-for-the-plot that they begin to get boring and difficult to tell apart in extended firefights. Even Bruce Willis shows little to no charm on the screen and serves almost no purpose except to have a big name action star show up in the movie. The best thing I can say about the characters in the movie are that the cameos by Justified‘s Walton Goggins and “The Blind Master” (which is an out-of-left-field surprise I will not ruin for you) are so out of place and interesting that it forces you to pay attention to the movie. Also, Cobra Commander is far more exciting than Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s portrayal in the first movie if only because he’s such a caricature of “evil” that its laughable.
Visually, the movie has its moments. The extended fight scene in the Himalayas is quite breathtaking and utilizes the film’s 3D conversion to the fullest extent of any one scene. Other fight scenes in the film, however, all run together with choppy quick cuts that don’t give you enough time to process who is hitting who and who got shot, even if it’s just a two man fight. Many films these days are criticized for “over using” slow motion, but I wish that G.I. Joe: Retaliation had done more because the sequences where it slowed down for you to see what happened were actually really good.
GI Joe: Retaliation is a nice step above the first movie even if it does maintain the same level of juvenile humor. It has some cool action scenes but a weak and stupid plot with two dimensional characters which do nothing but drag it down further. Unlike some modern action movies, it never gets boring but it never quite hits a peek of entertainment that one expects. Then again, this is a movie made to sell toys, which I’m sure it will accomplish.
Rating: 5 / 10