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My review of GI Joe:Retaliation

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Please be aware there will be some slight spoilers involved in this review. I will start by saying I was not expecting anything good from this film. I had read the reviews that were popping up all over the Internet and having seen the mediocre offering that was “G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra”, my outlook for this outing was understandably grim. So the previews end, the house lights dim and the Paramount logo flashes on screen followed by the logos of the production companies involved including the Hasbro logo which makes me chuckle every time I see it. The film starts off with a small team of Joe’s on a mission in a North Korea, I chuckled again due to all the saber rattling coming from that country in the past few days. And just like the 80’s cartoon, the team of Great American Heroes does what they do best, shoot things, beat people up and get away. So far so good. The director, Jon M. Chu, actually handled the action scenes fairly well, the camera moving when it needed to but never being a huge distraction. Of course this being a modern action film the scenes of combat have the familiar kinetic flavor made popular by the Bourne series. From here on out the film has some real high points as well as some extremely low. But as I have always said, if you go to see an action film expecting Shakespeare, then yes you are going to be disappointed, but if you are going to see stuff blow up and bodies flying then you will be entertained.

OK, let’s start with a few high points. First up, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. I really like him as an actor, and from everything I have seen and heard the man seems like a really good guy. In this film he is pure Rock, he plays the character of Roadblock. Now Roadblock in the original toy and cartoon series of the 1980’s was an African-America mass of muscle with a heart of gold who was also a gourmet chef. In this film he is Africa-Canadian/Samoan born in California mass of muscle with a heart of gold who is mentioned in passing as being a chef. Fortunately for the audience the writes did not include the formers per chant for rhyming everything he said. Now of course Johnson has the physique and demeanor to pull this off, of course, we have seen him do it before, but who cares, this is an action film, the whole big guy beating people up rule is in full effect. Second is the portrayal of Roadblocks friendship with Channing Tatum’s Conrad “Duke” Hauser. You really do believe these two men are like brothers.

Now on to Channing Tatum. He is really good in this film, unlike the wooden acting that was seen from his first outing as Duke in The Rise of Cobra. Here is where I spoil things a bit so please be aware. The afore mentioned friendship is one of the films high points but unfortunately it is short lived. After a quick snatch and grab of a nuclear warhead from insurgents in Pakistan, the Joes are ambushed by Cobra in the first strike in their plan for world domination. In this attack Duke and all the other Joes, aside from Flint, Lady Jaye, Roadblock and Snake Eyes are killed. The attack having been authorized by the President of the United States to eliminate the Joes. Of course those who saw the first film know that this is not the President, but Zartan, who has been impersonating POTUS.

This brings me to the third high point in my opinion. Jonathan Pryce as both the President and Zartan in Disguise. I have read other reviews that have said he was bland. I didn’t see it that way. Pryce chews the scenery with such glee in his eye as the maniacal Zartan. He seemed to really enjoy being the villain in this film. We do get to see Arnold Vosloo as Zartan but only briefly, it was more of a cameo than anything.

OK so some low points. Flint, Lady Jaye and General Joe Colton. While I can say as a kid in 1984, Flint was my favorite G.I. Joe, in this film he is just sort of there for name recognition. The character is given no real development aside from being a brash officer who likes to rush headlong into things. D.J. Cotrona does an OK job with the script he was given but he is fairly forgettable. Lady Jaye. Adrianne Palicki is easy on the eyes and does a good job with the role, but again we are treated to little development of her character. The way she is written, Lady Jaye is one of the scripts low points. She is portrayed as a woman in a man’s world constantly fighting for her place at the table. She complains that she isn’t taken seriously as a soldier but has no problem flaunting her body in tight shorts or a low cut dress at the drop of a hat. I feel it weakened the character in that as soon as she was back in uniform she was fighting for her place again. Gen. Joe Colton, Joe as in G.I. Joe. Yes I am going to say bad things about Bruce Willis in an action film. Well I don’t think it was all his fault, but Bruno seemed to be, well, bored. Again no character development whatsoever, and Bruce just seems like he is there because, you know, he’s Bruce Willis.

Low point number two, what the heck is this ninja crap? It is an established part of G.I. Joe lore that Snake Eyes and Stormshadow were trained by the same master and it was Stormshadows betrayal and murder of that master that split them and started a blood feud between them. This was shown in the first film and is revisited here. But it gets bad quickly, very bad. While I think Ray Park’s Snake Eyes and Byung-hun Lee’s Stormshadow are both awesome on screen, we saw Stormshadow stabbed in the chest and fall into an abyss in the first film. But he just appears here, with no explanation as to how or why he survived. And then there is the convoluted story of who killed who and why that revolves around these two as narrated to us by the worst part of this film, RZA as Blind Master. RZA does his best to look and sound like a 1970’s Kung Fu master, bad dubbing included. I have seen children read off of cue cards and be more believable. Sadly this story arc has a MAJOR part in the third act of this film, but I am not going to spoil that. Following a close second for worst part of this film is Elodie Yung as Jinx. I cannot say if it was the script, the editing or the actress, but nothing good ever comes out of this character. Sure she is a ninja but sweet sword skills and jumping around only goes so far if every time she opens her mouth, you want to hand Bill Paxton an Oscar for best actor. I will say the action scenes involving martial arts are well done and exciting, including the ridiculous swinging through the Himalayas sword fights, but hey, you need a bit of over the top action in films like this, in my opinion.

The look of this film is leaps and bound better than it’s predecessor, the production designer stayed much closer to the source material, giving us H.I.S.S. tanks, The Water Moccasin swamp boat, Cobra Commander in all of his chrome faced glory as well as a few little bits here and there that fans of the original cartoon will recognize and smile when they see it. Unfortunately for us the late Chris Latta’s voice is sorely missed, as Cobra Commander is more Darth Vader than screeching mad man here. Another sorely missed part of the Cobra cadre (Spoiler) is the lack Chris Eccleston’s Destro. I am not sure if Mr. Eccleston didn’t want to reprise his role or the writers felt they had enough characters but for me it just didn’t seem right that Destro was not at Cobra Commanders side while the world burned. The script has some large flaws through out the film, going from tightly written dialogue to mundane and cliched. We are treated to at times extremely realistic action and dialogue followed almost instantly with implausible scenarios that take a large effort to suspend disbelief to get through. Thankfully there are no superhuman exo-suits or physics defying underwater battles to be found, and the action and violence is much more grounded and realistic. Not that there are not a few cartoony and tongue in cheek moments, but on the whole, this just felt more real.

As you can tell by now I am of two minds when it comes to this movie as a whole. I really enjoyed parts of it while I was disappointed by others. I guess it comes down to would I recommend the film, and yes I would. If you are willing to go in grab a popcorn, some Raisinettes and a Coke, sit down and just have fun watching toys you played with as a kid come to life doing things that can’t really happen. If you are looking for a film that will broaden your mind or make you think about the human condition, I am sure there is something on IFC or Sundance you would find more your speed. So on a scale of 1-5, I would rate this film a solid 3.5, a good popcorn movie that you can escape with for 110 minutes.

      

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