2 April 2013


Arriving some time after the brains-off silliness of G.I. Joe: The Rise of COBRA, this revamped sequel feels somewhat out of place in March. It's properly silly summer blockbuster stuff, but back in June 2012, around three weeks before the film was due to be released, Paramount decided to delay it by a whole nine months. This was ostensibly to convert it into 3D and shoot more scenes with newly-minted A-lister Channing Tatum, but it has been suggested that brand confidence was low after the much deserved flop of Battleship.

They needn't have worried, because director Jon M. Chu already had a sweet opportunity lined up for him, thanks to the quite tantalising sequel hook that The Rise of COBRA left on the table. The President of the United States has been replaced by Zartan, a master of disguise who works for the global criminal network, COBRA. As G.I. Joe: Retaliation begins, our Joes, led by Dwayne Johnson's Roadblock, are unaware of this. However, a violent abolition of their organisation puts them on the warpath, alone but determined to unstick their enemies' most audacious conspiracy to date.

Aside from that, the cheeky ending hook was the best part of the first film, by far, and just by fulfilling that promise, and creating a film in which the Big Damn Heroes are actively having to campaign against their own military, gone bad, they would have had a film worth watching. Chu takes to it with more gusto than that- with Zombieland writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick providing the script, this one has a better script than its predecessor, while still indulging in being really, really dumb.

It actually allows the film to be quite flexible. While hanging on the same plot structure as the most recent Mission: Impossible sequel, (G.I. Joe-st Protocol, anyone?) and romps through the obligatory thumping action sequences, it takes a an entirely unexpected turn into Dr. Strangelove territory late in the film, elevated to utterly retarded genius by Jonathan Pryce's performance as the phoney President. In contrast to the howling awfulness of his Bond villain turn, Pryce lets the character's truly ridiculous plan and villainy speak louder than his performance. Then again, a Nicolas Cage performance would seem subdued in comparison to the batshit craziness that is enacted here.

Sadly, after almost a year on the shelf, most of the big surprises have already been given away. For instance, the fact that they reshot to include more of Channing Tatum should immediately suggest that his role is not as prominent this time around. At the same time, it was really progressive to cast Johnson and Tatum as gay dads, or at least, that's what I think they were doing, it's never really clear. Anyway, although there can't be many viewers who come to see a G.I. Joe film in the hope of being surprised, but it would've been nice if we hadn't already seen a particularly bonkers bit of large scale destruction in one of the most recent trailers- it knocks the Team America-esque destruction of the Eiffel Tower from The Rise of COBRA into a cocked hat.

Still, the film really benefits for losing the convoluted backstories that cluttered up the first film, for barely ever resorting to flashbacks, and for really ramping up the cartoonish feel of it all. The characters are all known by names like Roadblock, Lady Jaye, Cobra Commander, etc. They're not people, they're action figures- literally, given the film's source material. This only leaves a sour taste in the mouth when they attempt and immediately undermine a subplot about misogyny in the miltary, based around Adrianne Palicki's Lady Jaye.

The new approach is best demonstrated by the Bruce Willis cameo. Willis plays Joe, a general who's basically the founding member of our heroes' organisation, now retired (a la RED) and living in a house that basically serves as the location for a particularly enjoyable tooling-up sequence. You never need to know any more about him than that, and even if he's still not funny, Willis still seems more engaged here than he did in A Good Day To Die Hard. The sequel is that much better for acknowledging that the ridiculous action sequences provided the main appeal in the first film, instead of subjecting actors like Joseph Gordon-Levitt to the indignity of playing out an origin story for a cartoon character.

Speaking of Levitt, he doesn't need to return to the role of Cobra Commander in this one, as his face is now obscured by the character's iconic mask. Though the character is still present, he's one of a number of characters who are sidelined for the most part, seemingly saving them up for the sequel. The same tactic gave us this instalment, but if there's any major failure here, it's that we're not given anything as good as the fake President plot to look forward to, if and when G.I. Joe 3 comes to pass.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation isn't a great film, or even a good one, but it's much more enjoyable than other Hasbro merchandising movies, like Transformers or Battleship. It's not just Dwayne Johnson doing another of his franchise-spotter gigs, either. The new crew sheds the pretensions that made The Rise of COBRA less enjoyable, and simply delivers a chaotic and downright stupid action movie that is, at the very least, a guilty pleasure. This may make it sound less appealing, but while the first film was a runaway train of convoluted exposition and over-the-top action, this one feels simultaneously more controlled, and more crazy.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation is now showing, in 2D and 3D, at cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen G.I. Joe: Retaliation, why not share your comments below? Also, check out this review song- you know what you're in for, and knowing's half the battle.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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