[Movie Review] ‘G.I. Joe: Retaliation’ Is A Blast Of ’80s Fueled Action
If you’re a male in your mid-30s (like me), you likely spent a good amount of your childhood somewhat fascinated if not all out obsessed with the Real American Heroes presented in Hasbro’s G.I. Joe action figures, comic book, and animated television series, and there’s an undeniable thrill about seeing those characters brought to life in the new live action movie version.
If you liked Stephen Sommers’ 2009 G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, you will love its bigger, more pumped up sequel G.I. Joe: Retaliation, now playing in theaters.
Channing Tatum briefly reprises his role of Joe leader Conrad “Duke” Houser in an extended cameo, but this adventure belongs to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who brings the bald tank top wearing Roadblock to life with a generous dose of modern “hoo-rah” military pride. Johnson is a perfect fit for the movie, and in many ways he’s been preparing for this role his entire career.
In Roadblock, the former professional wrestler is basically playing a slightly toned down version of his cocky old wrestling persona, and it works well, until the inevitable turning point when the self-centered warrior becomes the compassionate leader and his story arc gets too predictable.
But then this isn’t the kind of film nearly as concerned with character arcs as it is with eye popping explosions of carnage, cool futuristic terrorist weapons, and inventively choreographed fight scenes, thanks to stunt coordinator/star Ray Park, returning as the fan favorite Snake Eyes. After playing Darth Maul in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and the equally villainous Toad in X-Men, Snake Eyes never speaks a word, forcing Park to act without the use of his voice or even any part of his face, and yet you can’t take your eyes off him whenever he’s on screen.
Snake Eyes was always my favorite character from the old G.I. Joe animated series, and it’s great to see Retaliation really put him in the spotlight, especially after being somewhat overshadowed by Tatum’s star presence in the first film. He also gets a hot new sidekick in the female ninja Jinx, played by Elodie Young, who is the cousin of Snake Eyes’ arch enemy, Storm Shadow, played by Lee Byung-hun.
Also getting some well deserved added screen time in Retaliation, Storm Shadow proves a major player after Cobra Commander and Destro were left incarcerated at the end of the ironically titled The Rise of Cobra.
Of all the cast members not to return from the first film, it’s Sienna Miller’s badass Baroness that is most missed, though Adrianne Palicki does her best to pick up the slack in this boys dominated world.
As Lady Jaye, Palicki wields clever sexuality backed with expert marksmanship to embody a tough chick who can hang with big boys even while making them drool, just like the Lady Jaye we remember circa 1985.
Retaliation feels bigger than The Rise of Cobra, falling at least a little closer this time to a war film than a comic book movie, but the biggest improvement is that the CGI looks much less like a cartoon. After all, we’ve all seen the cartoon version already.
Another improvement over the first film is in Cobra Commander’s mask, which is now a near perfect replication of the terrorist group leader’s iconic look from 1980s comic book and animated series. I especially liked the POV shot from inside the mask when its fanged cobra shape is fully realized, the commander now truly “swallowed”.
And in a movie about action figures, who better to play the original “G.I. Joe” himself than America’s ultimate everyman action hero, Bruce Willis (Die Hard, A Good Day to Die Hard).
Willis is key to the funniest scene in the movie, and later one that is probably the most emotional. Not bad for all of about eight minutes of total screen time in the film.
Maybe the “best” version of a G.I. Joe live action movie would be a Saving Private Ryan style epic so real you can taste the blood and feel every shot in your chest, but it probably wouldn’t be any more fun than Retaliation or send a better, more clear message of patriotism than a group of Real American Heroes giving the smackdown to a terrorist named after a snake. It also definitely wouldn’t have three ninjas cooler than Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, and Jinx.
The most exciting scene in the movie is a highflying sword fight with Snake Eyes and Jinx fending off numerous Cobra ninja attackers while repelling down the side of a mountain face. The choreography, editing, and music make it all a thrilling spectacle that evokes the unabashed outlandishness of the old G.I. Joe cartoons.
What makes it all work is that it’s not realistic, but just really cool good-guys-versus-bad-guys adventures, where the good guys fight the same good fight your parents and grandparents did for freedom and justice, and we all know that somehow the G.I. Joes will find a way to save the world. And knowing is half the battle.
Official Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Reviewed by: Matt Artz
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