G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)

aka G.I. Joe: Retaliation – Extended Action Edition

2014 #1
Jon M. Chu | 123 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 12*

G.I. Joe: RetaliationThe follow-up to 2009’s Team America-esque toy adaptation G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra seemed to be better received than the first. Presumably that’s just by comparison, because this is not a good movie.

I do agree that, on the whole, it’s not as stupid… just about. I mean, it’s not unremittingly laughably bad, at least. Well, mostly — it’s full of dumb-ass plotting. Like, what are North Korea doing at a nuclear arms conference in the US? How do you use a weapon that relies on gravity in space? Would the entire world really set off all their nukes just because the US President did? And so on. At least there are a handful of good action bits, especially some physics-defying ludicrousness in the Himalayas that I truly wish was in a better film so I could see it again sometime.

Retaliation wants to have its cake and eat it by being both a sequel (character and plot points launch out of the first one) and a fresh movie for newcomers (some characters have disappeared, some are dispatched in-movie, those that survive may as well be new for all their depth). Unfortunately it doesn’t work: it feels disjointed from the first film (a stated desire to make it less sci-fi and more real-world sees to that), but there’s too much carried over for it to feel standalone.

That desire to be real-world works at times — at one point, in spite of their silly name, the Joes do seem like a real military. But the SF/F is never far away; Outré ninjasindeed, a band of outré ninjas are introduced almost as soon as our heroes, and they set off on an OTT plotline simultaneously. As the film wears on, it disappears further and further into fantasy; and not “version of our world” fantasy, but “kids’ Saturday morning cartoon” fantasy. The plot suggests the violence etc should be slightly toned down and the whole affair should have a PG, or even a U. Much like the first film, then.

The intercutting of several storylines doesn’t work. There’s nothing wrong with the idea of a multi-pronged narrative, but Retaliation skips between them almost at random, sometimes mid-sequence, as if it’s restless or doesn’t know how to balance the sequences correctly. Inexperienced director? Writers? Editor(s)? It means things get thumb-twiddlingly boring as it plods through the middle act(s).

Talking of the direction, watching the Blu-ray’s making-of suggests it was executives from toy company Hasbro who were really in charge of the film. Director Jon Chu came from the Justin Bieber movie, of all things, and was a suggestion of Paramount. There’s some guff about how he showed promise or something, but I suspect the real answer is, “he was eager and would do whatever he was told”.

The Rock and Not The RockElsewhere in that making-of, the guys from Hasbro talk about how they wanted to ensure the characters were distinct, not just Generic Soldiers. Failed that, then. It’s fortunate that most of the Joes are massacred because the only stand-outs are The Rock (because he’s The Rock), Channing Tatum (because he was in the first one), and Adrianne Palicki (because she’s the only girl). Even once D.J. Cotrona’s Flint (and I had to IMDb both of those names) is one of just three Joes left, his only distinguishing features are that he’s Not The Rock and Not The Girl. He is, to use a phrase borrowed from the Hasbro guys, a Generic Soldier. “Oops.”

Retaliation isn’t as bad as The Rise of Cobra. If that sounds like damning with faint praise then, yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing. It sails as close to the 1-star breeze as a 2-star film can.

2 out of 5

G.I. Joe: Retaliation featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2014, which can be read in full here.

* The extended cut is unrated in the US. The theatrical cut was PG-13, and I rather imagine this would be too. ^