G.I.Joe (Retaliation): Terrible, Awful, Horrible

In various reviews and editorials over the last couple years I have mentioned how much I am a G.I.Joe fan, going back like seventeen years or so now. I used to love playing with the action figures, and watching the cartoons, and they were a huge part of my childhood. When I first heard of an actual live-action G.I.Joe movie, I was pretty excited, because I really, really wanted to see all those characters come alive on the big screen. But after seeing the movie, I could not have been more disappointed. It was a terrible movie that was barely any good at all.

And then last year we had the sequel, which had already been delayed for several months. I was cautious about it, hoping against hope that it would turn out to be a better movie than its predecessor. The trailers certainly looked halfway decent. But once again, the reality went completely south of my expectations. If you ask me which was the worst movie of the year, it was definitely G.I.Joe: Retaliation.

Note: This review contains spoilers for both G.I.Joe movies.

G.I.Joe - Retaliation Poster 001When I saw Django Unchained back in January, I wondered if there was a movie that was any worse than this one. It lacked direction, any sense of pace, and was just a big mess of mockeries, whether directed at the African-Americans depicted in the movie, or their White “superiors”.

And then came along G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the sequel to the equally terrible G.I.Joe: The Rise of Cobra which had emptied its bowels all over some 30 years of the lore created for the G.I.Joe: A Real American Hero toyline and associated media (comics and animated series) tie-ins. I’ve been a huge fan of the line, having read the original 155 issues of the comics from Marvel, and having owned dozens of the action figures and vehicle playsets as a kid.

My recent return to comics has exposed me to the excellent work being done by IDW Publishing for the G.I.Joe franchise and I’ve rediscovered my love for these characters and their setting, which made rewatching G.I.Joe: The Rise of Cobra last year an absolutely terrible experience. My biggest problems with the original movie were that they had completely switched around the relationship dynamics and had injected way too much romance into the movie from the get go. Not to mention that having an end-of-the-world storyline for the first movie itself I saw as a really terrible way to bring in new audiences. The movie did not try to explore any new ground, and it victimised itself with some really crappy villain dialogue, needless addition of exoskeletal powersuits, and hamfisted romances. The creators of the movie stepped away from the humble roots of the franchise and they delved far too much into the unrealistic and the fantastical.

I had been hoping (against hope) that G.I. Joe: Retaliation would somehow prove me wrong in that the only way for the franchise to go would be down. The trailers for the film were certainly impressive, although I could not contain my surprise at some of the retcons they seemed to have made for this movie. One of the main ones here was that Storm Shadow had not died at the end of G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra, but was somehow alive and well and that he was under orders to break out Cobra Commander from wherever the Americans were holding him in custody (which turns out to be this ridiculous deep (like deep, deep) German mining facility in… Germany (I’m not the only one confused by that right?). I was also rather ticked off that General Hawk, Scarlett, Mainframe and Ripcord were not shown anywhere in the trailer, or the Baroness, or Destro even. Going in, I had a lot of misgivings about the movie, but I still tried to keep an open mind.

I was sorely disappointed on that account. Whether this was the sole fault of Hasbro, or the writers, or the director, or any combination of the decision-making entities involved, G.I. Joe: Retaliation turned out to be one of the biggest failures for me. As a long-time G.I.Joe fan, the movie does its best to make me supremely uncomfortable with all the random changes that were made to it, the pointless and often unexplained revelations, and the downright waste of characters like Zandar, Flint, General Joe Colton and the Blind Master. My concerns about the characters from the first film turned out to be well-founded since General Hawk, Scarlett, Mainframe, Ripcord, and Baroness are nowhere to be found in the movie. IIRC, they are not even mentioned in passing, though Destro gets a few seconds of screen-time, but he is in a padded white suit the whole time so it doesn’t even count.

Let me deconstruct the movie.

It all starts off innocently enough (after a fashion). G.I.Joe is called in to retrieve Pakistan’s nuclear missiles after the Pakistani President is assassinated and martial law is imposed in the country. The decision by the American President to authorize this mission made me cringe because of the unrealistic way in which it was handled, and the whole smugness of the scene itself. The action scenes at one of the nuclear silos were definitely good, and it kept me at the edge of my seat, which is a plus. But then came the big kicker: it was all a setup anyway to destroy the G.I.Joe team, which is betrayed by the President (Zartan has taken his place as of the ending of G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra), and the team’s base is bombed to hell and back, leaving just three survivors: Roadblock, Flint, and Lady Jaye. That’s right, despite the presence of Duke in the opening scenes, the character is killed off in the first act and the occasion isn’t even marked to any degree.

What follows after is one disappointment after another.

Don’t even get me started on the fact that Jinx is the only character in that poster who is showing off her ass, while every male character is front-on, and even Lady Jaye beside her is only half-turned away.

The character of the Blind Master, an honourary member of the Arashikage clan and thus a part of the Storm Shadow/Snake Eyes family, is introduced without fanfare and he comes across as the token all-powerful, all-knowing wizard in a fantasy novel who sets the heroes and heroines in their quest. Jinx, one of the more intriguing ninja characters from the comics, is given next to no backstory other than the fact that she is Storm Shadow’s cousin and the Blind Master’s pupil. We never get to explore either her, or the Blind Master. Zandar, the younger brother of Zartan and one of the most important of COBRA characters in the comics (depending on the storyline), is utterly wasted as the head of Zartan’s/President’s Secret Service.

A new orbital superweapon developed by COBRA gets it launch event memorialisation by destroying London and reducing it to a crater. Cobra Commander steps into the script as if he had planned to be captured by the American military all along and as if he had already put contingency plans in place to affect his release and the development of the superweapon.

Storm Shadow returns to life without any explanation, and his redemption, that he had escaped the scene of the Hard Master’s death to hunt down the man who had killed him, rather than being the killer himself, was utterly ham-fisted in its execution. This is one of the most important bits of Storm Shadow’s lore, his entire reason for joining COBRA in the first place, and the execution is flawed in the extreme.

General Joe Colton, the man who created the G.I.Joe team back in the day, might as well have been a showpiece rather than a character in his own right for the movie. Remember Bruce Willis’ character from The Fifth Element and the scene where some punk arrives at his apartment and pulls a gun on him, but Willis’ character turns the tables and brings out his weapons rack stuffed to the max with weapons? That is essentially all that Joe Colton does in the movie. He is nothing more than a way for Roadblock, Flint and Lady Jaye to rearm and resupply when they get back to the States. Another pointless addition to the movie since there’s absolutely no depth to the character as he is portrayed.

Flint and Lady Jaye, two of my favourite G.I.Joe characters ever, right after the power couple of Snake Eyes and Scarlett (yes, I know that the first movie had a romance going between Scarlett and Ripcord, which was completely WTF for me). The two of them are also a couple, IIRC, in the middle of Marvel’s 155-issue run. The way the movie goes about their romance is infatuation on Flint’s part for Lady Jaye. It doesn’t help that Lady Jaye’s character is used for her “feminine wiles” at least twice in the movie, one of which could have been a scene straight out of a James Bond movie, or even from Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. I cringed both times. Lady Jaye is one of the strongest G.I.Joe characters and to see her portrayed like this was offensive for me. Or the fact that Flint here is more of a rookie than a rugged, rough-and-tough warrant officer who is also a bit of a hard case.

And so on and on and on and on right until the end. Disappointment after disappointment after disappointment. And the ending? The worst ending they could have gone for, and they did. They killed off Firefly (Roadblock remote-detonates one of Firefly’s toy fireflies while the latter is holding it in his hands) and Zartan is killed by Storm Shadow in a really pointless duel. Cobra Commander escapes, as is his want and nature. Again, no mention of the Baroness or Destro (the latter presumably dead when the prison holding him and Cobra Commander is destroyed by Storm Shadow and Firefly earlier on in the movie).

The movie leaves no major headliners for the third movie (which has reportedly been given the go ahead in light of the fact that the movie has grossed nearly $250 million worldwide off a budget of approximately $130 million). After two terrible movies, I have no interest to watch a third movie. Far as I can tell at the moment, there is no way that Paramount can make up for the abject disappointment of either movie and correct its mistakes. Major characters are either killed off or pointedly ignored in the script, so what’s the point really? The third movie would be just another mega-million-dollar budget promotion for Hasbro’s latest toys.

Now, were there any good bits in the movie? There were a handful. The first act shows a deep and heartfelt camaraderie between Duke and Roadblock which I found really touching, although I’m at a loss to understand why Ripcord is missing in the picture since he was Duke best buddy in the previous film and was meant to be the best man at his wedding. Anyway, the camaraderie. It provided some nice, touching effects to the movie, enhanced by Duke’s death later on. Dwayne Johnson and Tatum Channing did great in those scenes, although their more professional camaraderie, such as when they are about hit the Pakistani nuclear silo, felt a bit forced.

Also, I loved Cobra Commander’s costume! It’s a good compromise between his G.I.Joe: A Real America look and something new. These are the kind of changes that should have been made to the movie series by Paramount and the people involved.

Adrienne Palicki as Lady Jaye was excellent and is someone who should definitely return for the not-yet-confirmed third movie, if there is one. She had the character down pretty well I thought and was definitely a highlight. Now, if only that Wonder Woman TV series with her in the titular role would finally be given the go ahead!

Ray Stevenson as Firefly was another standout performance, although given the extent of the character’s inclusion in the movie; it really came across as understated. I will say however that the action scenes between him and Dwayne Johnson’s Roadblock were some of the best in the movie, and something that I really enjoyed watching.

Ninja fights in a movie are always my weak point, and it was the same here. Ray Park (Darth Maul!) excels as Snake Eyes yet again while Byung-hun Lee as Storm Shadow delivered another solid performance. The choreography of the action scenes between them and with them was handled well, and an exercise in diversity since they didn’t always trade sword-blows against each other or their opponents. The entire spectacle of the on-the-side-of-the-mountain-ninja-fight with Snake Eyes and Jinx against the Red Ninja Clan was breathtaking and enjoyable despite the fact that it too came across as a tad unrealistic because of the inherent nature in fighting like that while held up by mountaineering cables. Still, all in all, a good show.

G.I.Joe - Retaliation Stills 001

As a product placement, the COBRA HISS tanks were awesome. The design harks back to the G.I.Joe: A Real American Hero era and since that was a great era, I loved the tanks in the movie. Not to mention that watching Roadblock drive a Joe tank against the HISS tanks provided excellent amusement and greater spectacle.

The 3D, which was the reason the movie got delayed from its late June 2012 release to late March 2013, was passable at best. Some really good scenes on occasional, but nothing spectacular. Certainly not worth the 9-month wait.

However, none of these plus points are enough (even collectively) to make the movie good in any sense of the word. All the negatives I’ve mentioned outweigh them by a hefty margin. It’d be like The Undertaker (weighing in at a hefty 300 pounds or so) wrestling against someone a fifth of his size.

Ultimately, what it comes down to is the fact that the entirety of the people involved in the creative decision-making process of this movie wanted nothing more than to provide a dumb action flick covered in the G.I.Joe cloak and other trappings. They went, once again, with an end-of-the-world scenario and reduced most of their characters to little more caricatures. This is not a movie I’d recommend seeing, even if it is free on cable television of whatever. It is just not worth the time.

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Posted on March 3, 2014, in Movie Reviews, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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