Movie Review: G.I. Joe Retaliation

Hasbro and Paramount pictures released G.I. Joe Retaliation this past Friday (March 29th, 2013) amid a very interesting course of events. The movie was supposed to have come out this past summer, but was changed a few months before. Fans every which way had their theories as to why this was happening, but Paramount was only able to say that they wanted to convert the movie for a 3D experience and that was the reason for the new delay.

With all this anticipation, I knew I would have to see the movie. And that is exactly what I did. Now let me be clear on a few things, I am not what you would call a hardcore G.I. Joe fan. I grew up watching the show and maybe I owned a Zarana or two (how could I resist that hot pink?) But I have always been more of a She-Ra or Jem kind of gal.

The G.I. Joe films have been based off of the old cartoon from the 80’s in which the good guys (the Joes) are involved in the never ending battle with the bad guys (Cobra.) One of the hallmarks of the first film was that G.I. Joe fan favorites came to life on screen in a world that seemed like our present but was also filled with high tech future fun like the cartoon. I really enjoyed the first film and thought it was a nice starting off point for a G.I. Joe film franchise.

After seeing G.I. Joe Retaliation, I am now a little more concerned about where the franchise may be headed. There are some things that worked and some stuff that simply did not. This sequel starts off a short time after the first one. Zartan is still pretending to be the U.S. President. Cobra Commander and Destro are imprisoned underneath the ground in a high tech penitentiary in Germany. The G.I. Joes are continuing to make the world a better place, until something terrible happens and a handful of Joes must rally together to stop the latest threat by Cobra.

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Ok that is the short of it, now I’m going to discuss something that will contain spoiler heavy plot points, so do not continue to read if you are really wanting to see it all first hand.

The flow of Retaliation was completely different from the first film. Certain characters return while a whole slew of characters do not even register a mention in this sequel. I do not know why characters were not mentioned, but it was strange to sit through Retaliation and not hear about characters like Scarlett or Ripcord to name just a few. I would have liked some sort of explanation; it could have been accomplished in just a sentence. And that was just the Joes, there were missing Cobra folks too. A glaring omission was the Baroness. (After the whole back-story between Duke and the Baroness from the first film, it really would have been nice to have some sort of a mention.)

Where certain characters were completely ignored, there was a whole new set of characters for G.I. Joe fans to fawn over. Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) is the newcomer and lead of the show. Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) and Flint (D.J. Cotrona) round out the Joes involved in the main story with Roadblock while another new Joe, Jinx (Elodie Yung) is involved in a madcap plot with returning Snake Eyes (Ray Park.) Channing Tatum also returned as Duke, but he was not heavily featured in this film much. The actors all looked like G.I. Joe characters and did the best they could with the story (more on that in a second.) As a group they do play well off each other once they all come together towards the end of the film. With a PG-13 rating there were moments of silly humor that worked at times, and then there were other times where the humor induced me to a few eye rolls.

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There is much redemption though by way of Cobra. One of the problems that fans had with the first film involved the portrayal of Cobra Commander, many fans were unimpressed with the way he looked. Thankfully Cobra Commander looked very menacing and cool; Robert Baker also provided a nice chilling voice for the menacing villain. Firefly and all his crazy was also rolled out for the sequel and Ray Stevenson managed to give off that dash of danger to the character. Storm Shadow returned, played by Byung-hun Lee, and though there may not be much character development in this film, Storm Shadow fans should be pleased with his story in the sequel.

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So what worked in this movie? There were some moments that this movie was on point and highly entertaining. I greatly enjoyed the fighting scene in Japan with Snake Eyes, Jinx, Storm Shadow, and a handful of ninjas. The fast paced action across the side of a mountain was breathtaking and really gave me that feel of seeing something new in a movie.

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Like I mentioned before, I thought that Cobra Commander was spot on. He looked menacing and was full of convoluted attempts to take over the world. G.I. Joe wouldn’t be G.I. Joe without some crazy plot by Cobra to rule the world. So there was a touch of camp to this movie that was not bad. A little camp never hurt anybody.

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What did hurt though was the overall flow to this movie. I found myself frustrated that certain characters were not mentioned as if the first movie never happened, and then there would be a revisit of the rivalry between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow with clips from the first. So it was strange, like parts of the movie felt like a sequel, while other parts seemed like a different franchise. Also there were moments where I wished the movie had contained the feel of the first with being sort-of in the present but with a great deal of fantasy action. It had glimpses of that, but it was not the same.

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Other moments I felt were wasted in the film involved a sub plot between Lady Jaye and the original G.I. Joe, General Joseph Colton (played by the quintessential action man, Bruce Willis.) Lady Jaye was unnerved by Joe Colton because she kept interpreting his tone and attitude as that of a chauvinist male who didn’t think she was worthy of being a Joe. So as it turns out, Lady Jaye has daddy issues and reminisces to Flint how her father never thought a woman could fight. It was clearly something that haunted her, especially when she mentions that her father was dead. There was all this unresolved stuff in the air. So this whole sub plot unfolds and it seems like the audience is going to find out that Joe and Lady Jaye are actually an estranged father/daughter duo.

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Instead Joe let’s Lady Jaye know that he had served with her father and that he would have indeed been very proud of her. I would have really liked for the movie to have added a nice twist like having them actually be estranged and finding a way to mutually respect each other. I know that a movie like G.I. Joe is just meant to be an action popcorn flick, but I would have liked that sort of character dynamic in the story.

There was one final piece of the movie that I found myself feeling put off by. There was a heavy emphasis on the use of guns. Now I know what you are thinking, “Miss M, this is G.I. Joe, it is all about guns.” But with everything that has been going on in the world, I just felt slightly off during a scene involving the Joes raiding Joe Colton’s kitchen drawers and drooling at an enormous and excessive stockpile of weapons hidden in a domesticated sort of way. It just felt weird to me, because for me, G.I. Joe was not heavily about the gun aspect. The original show was more about a group of heroes fighting for the fate of the free world, and not about going gaga over whose gun was going to be bigger. Spoiler alert: Roadblock ends up with the biggest guns both in terms of weaponry and those biceps.

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Instead of a scene like that, I would have rather the show filmed a scene about repercussions. One of the things I really liked about G.I. Joe was the message about helping other people in times of hardships or any sort of moral at the end of the show. (In other words, it wasn’t all about the fighting.) Towards the end of the sequel, Cobra basically wipes central London off the map. And after Cobra is “stopped” the scene shifts to the Joes all smiles and receiving medals for a job well done. I would have liked to have watched the Joes helping those who were dealing with the repercussions of having a major city obliterated. It would have given the story some heart and tied it to why G.I. Joe was so special in the first place. That is the one thing that was really missing from this movie: some heart. I firmly believe that a big blow ‘em up popcorn flick can also have some heart. Hopefully if a third film is made, there can be more of a balance between all the action and a nice focus on the characters and their place in the mythos.

Grade- C The movie wasn’t terrible, but it also wasn’t as entertaining as the first. However, a big A+ goes towards the toy line, where our imaginations can continue the story in any way we see fit.

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