‘G.I. Joe: Retaliation’ fails mission to revamp series

Photo via impawards.com
Photo via impawards.com

“G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” Hollywood’s latest big-budget action flick, is a creation far from the simplicity of Hasbro’s popular toy line. The new movie, released last Friday, brings the bombastic imaginings of a 7-year-old boy playing with action figures to the big screen in an overly elaborate production that’s far from a mission accomplished.

“Retaliation” is the part-reboot, part-sequel to 2009’s “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.” The film seems to have trouble deciding what it wants to be, as different parts scream reboot, with the same universe re-imagined, and others acting as sequel, with similar plot points and returning characters.

In the movie, the nefarious terrorist organization Cobra has taken over the White House, kidnapped the president and replaced him with the transforming operative Zartan (Arnold Vosloo). With Zartan acting as the president (Jonathan Pryce, hamming it up to great success as both the good and evil versions), a deadly assault is ordered on the G.I. Joe team.

However, the Joes are a formidable team, and three survive: the new de facto leader Roadblock (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), the sexy and sleek Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) and the cliché, boring foot soldier Flint (D.J. Cotrona). The three surviving heroes live under the radar in the hopes of taking down their archenemy Cobra Commander and his plan for world domination.

While all of this may sound like a straightforward action movie, the plot comes off as less than comprehensible. The movie gets caught up in the mythology of the original film, and a good portion of the beginning is spent killing off old characters and introducing new ones, all in an effort to make clear this is not a sequel.

In perhaps the film’s most confusing subplot, the audience finds masked ninja Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and his new sidekick Jinx (Elodie Yung) up in the mountains for no apparent reason. What was clear in all the ninja mythology was that the two heroes needed to capture villain Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee). Why there is so much attention thrown toward minor characters – and ninjas in a militaristic world at that – is as baffling as the plot itself.

One of the most notable changes from the original is that star Channing Tatum, one of the few returning characters from the first film, is killed off within the first 20 minutes and replaced with Dwayne Johnson. In recent years, Johnson has assumed the mantle of starring in reboots or remakes (“Fast Five,” “Race to Witch Mountain”), but casting him in “Retaliation” did nothing to improve the film’s quality.

The action scenes in “Retaliation” are ridiculously over the top and so heavily computer generated that it’s less action-packed than overstuffed and lackluster. Ninja stars being obliterated by machine gun fire without the bullets traveling anywhere near the thrower is a scene that exemplifies this futility, and it’s clear director Jon M. Chu prefers style over substance. 

A particular ninja battle on the side of a mountain is perhaps the pinnacle of the wacky action sequences. This martial arts battle features combatants scaling and fighting along a scraggly mountainside. While the battle is outlandish, the choreography is precise and smooth, courtesy of Chu’s experience with the second and third “Step Up” films.

But the action sequences are not the only part of the film that rely heavily on underperforming gimmicks. The screenplay, written by “Zombieland” writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, attempts to inject some comedic light into the film, with lines like, “They call it waterboarding, but I never get bored.” The actors take themselves too seriously with little to no tongue-in-cheek fun.

“G.I. Joe: Retaliation” was shot in August 2011, with an original release date of June 2012. The producers hoped that stalling the film for nearly a year would allow for a successful 3-D conversion and a high box office reward. Unfortunately, these toy-inspired characters failed to bring any of the fun or action that generations of kids have come to know, leaving this movie feeling more like a cadet than a five-star general.