G.I. Joe: Retaliation
Release Date: March 28, 2013
Director: Jon M. Chu
Writers: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Adrianne Palicki, Bruce Willis, D.J. Cotrona, Channing Tatum
MPAA Rating: PG-13
If I was a betting man, I would have wagered heavily that G.I. Joe: Retaliation would be an unwatchable mess.
For one thing, it’s a follow up to the incredibly disappointing 2009 film G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, which seemed to have been made by people who Googled the name of some G.I. Joe characters without doing any research into who the characters were or what fans of the franchise would want to see.
On top of that, Retaliation is a movie that was delayed for nine months to film additional scenes and convert it to 3D (something that never comes out well when it’s done after the fact). It went from being a heavily advertised potential summer blockbuster to being dumped at the end of March, which is typically a wasteland for films.
So even with an exciting new cast (that includes Dwayne Johnson, Bruce Willis, Adrianne Palicki and Ray Stevenson) and a great trailer that features a fantastic remix of “Seven Nation Army,” there wasn’t much reason for optimism going in.
Which is why I was so pleasantly surprised to discover that G.I. Joe: Retaliation is not bad. It’s by no means great, but it was made by people who understand what fans of the series are looking for. The look of the characters and the way they are written is much more in line with the beloved 80s cartoon. And the plot of the film feels very much like an episode of G.I. Joe.
With Destro and Cobra Commander still locked up following the outcome of The Rise of Cobra, the plot of Retaliation centers around master of disguise Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) posing as the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce). As President, Zartan frames the G.I. Joes, then has the majority of them murdered. He then coaxes all of the countries with nuclear capabilities into having disarmament talks as part of a long con aimed at giving Cobra what it has always wanted – world domination.
Retaliation has to make due without most of the actors who appeared as villains in The Rise of Cobra. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is replaced as Cobra Commander by Luke Bracey, a fairly seamless transition since Cobra Commander appears almost entirely behind a mask in this film. (He also gets a redesigned costume that is much more in line with his look in the 80s film.) Christopher Eccleston doesn’t reprise his role as Destro, so that character is relegated to a brief cameo inside a maximum security prison. Arnold Vosloo is barely in the film as Zartan, a problem it solves by having the character appear mostly in disguise as the president. (Which means that the character is played primarily by Jonathan Pryce, a great decision since Pryce really seems to relish the role, giving one of the film’s best performances.)
The only actor who played a villain in the first film who gets a significant amount of screen time in this one is Byung-hun Lee, who reprises his role as Storm Shadow. The film also adds a new villain Firefly, a demolition expert played by the always-entertaining Ray Stevenson.
The G.I. Joe side also features a variety of new faces. Dwayne Johnson plays Roadblock, Adrianne Palicki plays Lady Jaye, D.J. Cotrona plays Flint, Elodie Yung plays Jinx and Bruce Willis plays General Joe Colton (who is the team’s namesake). Ray Park reprises his role as Snake Eyes and Channing Tatum reprises his role of Duke, though he has significantly less screen time this time around.
The film has a few entertaining cameos as well. Walton Goggins has a great role as the warden of the superprison holding Cobra Commander and Destro. James Carvell pops up briefly in a scene with the president. And RZA plays Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow’s martial arts master.
Retaliation has a lot of fun moments and it manages to capture the ridiculousness of the old cartoon while adapting the material into a live action setting. There are quite a few moments that made my inner 10-year-old quite happy, like when the Cobra flags are raised at the White House or when the president gathered the world leaders around to unveil his diabolical plan.
The action scenes are decent, but unremarkable. There is still too much of reliance on shaky camera, quick cutting action scenes that are difficult to track with. As a result, the battles never work as well as they should.
The dialogue also falls flat in a number of spots. It attempts to throw out a number of zingers that just don’t work – like Roadblock and Duke bantering back and forth with each other or General Colton complaining about his high blood pressure.
Still, like the ragtag group of blacklisted G.I. Joes tasked with taking down a doppleganger president, Retaliation seems like a film destined to fail. It’s certainly no cinematic classic, but by staying truer to the 80s cartoon and giving the audience a solid cast, Retaliation is way more entertaining than it has any right to be.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.