Judge Mike Rubino's Joe codename is "Step Stool."
"Destro…you're out of the band."—Cobra Commander
G.I. Joe: Retaliation is both a reboot and a sequel to the much maligned first installment The Rise of Cobra. It turns out the secret to a decent toy-to-film franchise is just bigger stunts, goofier dialogue, and ninjas…lots of ninjas.
Facts of the Case
In G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the Joes are double-crossed during a covert operation, resulting in the death of some of their key players (like Duke, played briefly by Channing Tatum, Magic Mike). Now, Road Block (Dwayne Johnson, Fast and Furious 6), Snake Eyes (Ray Park, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki, Red Dawn) and some others are on the run from a country run by Cobra!
In order for the G.I. Joes to stop Cobra Commander's plan of destroying the world with nukes and lasers, they enlist the help the original Joe, General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis, Die Hard).
After the explosive success of the Transformers franchise, Hasbro was quick to cash in on its other big '80s toy/cartoon property. Much to the chagrin of fans (present company included), The Rise of Cobra was a bland, overly serious flop; heck, Team America: World Police was a better Joe movie. But sometimes you have to make a lame franchise film before you learn how to do it right; Retaliation is a fresh start that gets the job done in a colorful and fun way.
The film takes a cue from the recent Joe cartoon, G.I. Joe: Renegades—which, itself, is basically an homage to The A-Team. Our heroes are on the run from a government filled with Cobra operatives, stuck in an America that's no longer their own. This, of course, means that there's plenty of time for globetrotting adventure and rebellious operations.
Screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, along with director Jon Chu (Step Up 3), clearly have a love for the franchise as well as an understanding of how these stories work. G.I. Joe: Retaliation toes a fine line between self-aware goofiness and macho throwback action film. Chu's direction is solid; he handles the choreographed stunts and fights with the confidence of a man who's filmed his share of dance movies.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation was delayed from hitting theaters for months due to post-3D conversion (and possibly re-shoots for a larger dose of Channing Tatum's face), but the final result is a movie chocked full of awesome set pieces and special effects. The 3D stuff, even though my review copy wasn't in the third dimension, is kind of obvious but generally not obnoxious; at least, not as obnoxious as RZA playing a blind sensei. There are bullets whizzing around, ninja stars flying at the screen, and a handful of great brawls. The scene where Snake Eyes and Jinx are fighting ninjas whilst swinging along a Himalayan mountaintop is easily the highlight of the film.
The Joes' tale isn't without problems, however. For every glorious action scene there are tedious stretches of exposition and generic character development. Let's be real: Cobra's plan doesn't make any sense. It doesn't even need to make sense! But Cobra, Zartan, and Firefly are more than happy to keep expounding. The same goes for the Joes, who are forced to hang out at Roadblock's rec center in the inner city and then have awkward conversations with General Joe. They might as well have included a scene where Bruce Willis drives to the bank and deposits his oversized novelty check for his extended cameo.
Worse than weird pacing and awkward acting, G.I. Joe: Retaliation continues the trend of blockbusters leveling entire cities without any repercussions. Not to give anything away, but there is plenty of destruction in this film—where I assume millions of people die, unless everyone's on vacation. I understand the need for high stakes in a movie like this, but it makes the "happily ever after" ending a little weird when you stop and think about the state the world is left in.
Despite these issues, the film is really enjoyable on the basest of levels. My nostalgic inner-child was just happy to see these characters bouncing around on the screen in big vehicles. The Blu-ray transfer helps, too. The picture looks bright and colorful in 1080p, and the CGI doesn't stand out as being too obvious. I noticed some artifacting during a few of the action scenes, but generally the digital transfer delivers. The Dolby Digital surround track is excellent. Bullets whiz around the room, explosions echo in the distance, and the soundtrack kicks into gear at just the right level.
The two-disc G.I. Joe: Retaliation (Blu-ray) combo pack comes with the film on DVD and digital download, as well as a handful of extra features. When you pop in the disc, you can choose Joe or Cobra—which is a nice touch, even if it's just a different skin for the menu. The Blu-ray has an extensive hour-long behind-the-scenes featurette, a handful of deleted scenes, and a feature commentary track with Jon Chu and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura. Oh yeah, and you can send away for a set of personalized dog tags!
G.I. Joe: Retaliation isn't a great film by any means, but it's at least a fun one. When the Cobra flags unfurl over the White House or Snake Eyes swings around a mountain fighting ninjas, the film takes you back to those mornings before school when you'd watch the cartoon and eat cereal. That's all I can ask for.
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