For those who grew up with G.I. Joe action figures, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) seemed like a perfect vehicle for revitalizing the brand and bringing the story to the big screen for a new generation.
Such hopes were quickly dashed when one watched that forgettable action film. Despite that movie’s obvious storytelling flaws, though, it became a hit and has now spawned the inevitable sequel, G.I Joe: Retaliation.
Even when details about the production were released, Retaliation seemed like a clean break from its predecessor. Many of the stars from the original have been replaced and some of the new talent in this picture–particularly Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis–have a proven track record of financially successful action films. Plus, John Chu (Justin Bieber: Never Say Never) has taken over the directorial reins from Stephen Summers.
As the new film begins, the G.I. Joes are successfully fighting terrorist forces across the world. Led by returning star Duke (Channing Tatum), the team emerges from many of their battles with nary a scratch on them. Soon enough, though, the elite team is betrayed by the government, and Snake Eyes is framed for the death of the Pakistani president. After an intense attack on the G.I. Joes, the surviving soldiers must “retaliate” for the murder of their comrades and find out who has betrayed them.
The plot seems simple for good reason. It’s mainly a set-up for some of the elaborate action sequences set to come. One of which involves a group of ninjas battling it out with swords while swinging from ropes on the mountainside. The sequence, which is well-edited and well-filmed, lacks excitement because there’s no danger to the heroes here and the scene simply seems to exist to show viewers “something cool.” It’s an interesting idea but the over-the-top unbelievable sequence lacks credibility or any real sense of purpose.
In terms of the characters, Johnson does a solid job here as Roadblock, and his early fraternizing scenes with Duke are fun to watch. One only wishes that more such scenes existed. When Roadblock teams up with other G.I. Joe survivors Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), the chemistry seems non-existent because neither of the latter two characters are given much to do.
Halfway through the film, Willis joins the proceedings as General Joe Colton and his character is given a few funny lines but then disappears for a while.
All of the action sequences, however, inevitably lead to a disappointing climax that lacks depth or intrigue. An international nuclear summit is the location but the events that occur there seem oddly underwhelming. Even a massive attack is bizarrely underplayed, as if it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.
It’s moments like this–and the brutal deaths that transpired at the earlier attack on the G.I. Joes–that should carry emotional weight with them but never do because Chu simply moves the plot forward without showing the consequences of these big events.
Ultimately, a new director and a new cast wasn’t enough to make this sequel any less forgettable or underwhelming as its predecessor. This is a movie that should be embracing its brand and the fun that it brought to so many youngsters–me included –but ultimately can’t because its focus on superficial action sequences will only leave viewers reminiscing about how the original G.I. Joe television show and animated movie (a must-see for its opening sequence alone) were so superior to this.