The “G.I. Joe” franchise gets a makeover in “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” a step up from the first installment that still remains lacking in a lot of areas.
The movie picks up a while after 2009’s “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” with Duke (Channing Tatum, “The Vow”) now leading the team. Only one other good guy from the first installment remains: silent ninja Snake Eyes (Ray Park, “X-Men”). Joining them for this go-round are Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki, “Friday Night Lights”) and Flint (D.J. Cotrona, “Dear John”).
I suppose the vast number of G.I. Joe characters and accompanying action figures makes the franchise ripe for cast-swapping. But it just seems odd that there’s no mention of many characters from the previous film, especially since the villains of Cobra return mostly intact.
Master of disguise Zartan is still posing as the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce, “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy). Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been replaced by Luke Bracey (“Dance Academy”) as Cobra Commander, whose face is hidden behind a featureless mask anyway. Byung-hun Lee (“Red 2”) is back as Snakes Eyes’ opposite number, Storm Shadow.
Decimated by an ambush set up by the impostor-in-chief, the surviving team members go underground to clear their names and thwart Cobra’s plans with a little help from the retired general who inspired the name “Joes” (Bruce Willis, “A Good Day to Die Hard”).
The movie seems to aim for a more realistic (relatively anyway) environment than the first one. The strength- and reflex-boosting exoskeletons are gone, replaced with more believable military gear, although there are a few Bond-esque gadgets.
There’s some nice chemistry between Tatum and Johnson, and Palicki makes a solid addition to the cast. To the surprise of no one even a little familiar with “G.I. Joe” (a geek obsession I did not develop as a child), Snake Eyes remains the coolest. Flint makes little impact or impression.
While I mainly remember “Rise of Cobra” for being long and somewhat unmemorable, “Retaliation” had a couple moments that caught me off guard and left me impressed. On, I can’t speak of due to spoiler issues. The other, you’ve probably seen a hint of in previews: the breathtaking battle between Snake Eyes, apprentice Jinx (Elodie Young, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) and a bunch of Cobra ninjas on ziplines and towering mountain peaks.
Unfortunately, this scene also brings back one of the things I disliked most about the first “G.I. Joe”: the nameless, faceless body count.
If memory serves, only one character whose name we knew actually died in that film, and if you saw it and have read this review so far, you know he didn’t really. I have a problem with movies with lots of characters they can’t even bother to name, whose only purpose is to die spectacularly. “Retaliation” doesn’t fall totally into that category, but for the most part, it regards human lives as little more than potential “kills” in a video game.
Last year’s “Expendables 2” had a similar issue, but at least the violence was bloody and brutal. I don’t enjoy that, but it does somewhat reinforce that gunshots, stab wounds and the like have consequences.
I assume the primary motivation for “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” not having said gunshots, stab wounds, etc. actually draw blood (though they’re still fatal) is to keep the PG-13 rating. That means some people will still (incorrectly) consider it appropriate for the young viewers that are the target for the movie’s merchandisers.
If you want to make a movie for adults, fine. Kill, kill, kill, if that’s what floats your boat. But if you’re hoping to appeal to kids, either get a little more creative and take down some bad guys with less permanent measures or at the very least, show death as something more than a cool action sequence.