After the criminal acts committed to my childhood by the first attempt at a live-action G.I. Joe movie, “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” I questioned why Paramount Pictures thought there was still a future in the Joe-moviemaking business and green lit a sequel.
Turns out it was a good thing they decided to take another stab at doing it right this time as “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is like a Joe movie made by actual fans of the property. While it’s not perfect, “Retaliation” fully captures the fun spirit and excitement of the source material.
There’s a slight learning curve for those smart enough to avoid “ROC,” but a brief narrative catches newcomers up to all the relevant information.
Duke (Channing Tatum, “The Vow”) is now in charge of the Joes — an elite special mission force — and his operatives include Flint (D.J. Cotrona), Lady Jaye (Adrienne Palicki, “Red Dawn”) and his close friend, Roadblock (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, “Snitch”).
Unknown to the Joes, their archenemy Cobra has replaced the president (Jonathan Pryce) with their operative Zartan, who is now running the country and torturing the president until he reveals the whereabouts of the imprisoned Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey).
Cobra operatives Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) and Firefly (Ray Stevenson, “Thor”) free the Commander in a daring rescue operation while Zartan has Cobra agents ambush the Joes.
Of the squad, only Roadblock, Flint and Lady Jaye survive and are forced to discover why their government betrayed them with the help of former squad leader Joe (Bruce Willis, “A Good Day to Die Hard”).
In another subplot, the Joe’s ninja Snake-Eyes (Ray Park) teams with Jinx (Elodie Yung) to go after Storm Shadow on a personal quest to resolve a longstanding grudge. Park and Byung-Hun Lee were responsible for most of the best scenes in “ROC” and were the only essential members to return for the sequel and they get to showcase their talents in a much better movie in this outing.
Director Jon M. Chu, whose most intricately elaborate action work before this was the “Step Up” film series, is easily the film’s MVP. For all the fuss about the nine-month release date delay whether from the conversion to 3D or giving Tatum a larger role, all that matters is if the film was any good — and it’s a massive success in that regard. It doesn’t do “Retaliation” justice to say it was better than “ROC,” but it blows the first installment away with the version we should have gotten in the first place.
From hi-tech gear, explosive vehicle battles to a spectacular ninja duel in the mountains, Chu faithfully delivers everything fans would expect from a G.I. Joe movie. For an action debut, Chu handles himself well, but in his next outing, he should ease up some on the quick-cut edits as they’re particularly disorienting in 3D.
Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who wrote the fantastic “Zombieland,” have a clear understanding of what G.I. Joe is all about and write an adventure that feels like a cartoon episode brought to life, which I mean as compliment in the highest regard.
Reese and Wernick write the Joes a little broad, but the property is one that doesn’t need some deep character study so it’s not a big deal.
You’ve seen Johnson as the determined hero before. Ditto for the crotchety vet forced back into action from Willis and while Palicki and Cotrona are fine, they don’t have a lot to work with as this isn’t exactly an actor’s showcase.
The RZA doesn’t quite work as The Blind Master — a member of the same ninja clan as Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow — and his scenes are the one stumbling block for Chu as this seemed a case of getting too cute with the stunt casting and losing the audience with it.
Stevenson and Pryce have an opportunity to do a bit more with their characters — a wise move from the writers as Cobra specialists were always a lot of fun — while Bracey gets to make Cobra Commander the serious threat befitting a terrorist organization.
While costume designer Louise Mingenbach masterfully translates the toy/comic book looks to the film for Cobra — specifically Cobra Commander, Storm Shadow and Firefly — the Joes are just in boring camouflage and body armor. It’s the one gripe I can carry over from “ROC” as the Joes don’t require any elaborate outfits — Flint’s signature outfit is a black collar shirt, camo pants and a beret — so it would have been nice to let the Joes be more individualized.
My one major gripe was the deaths of a few characters, largely because it wasn’t essential to the story and it prevents them from returning for a sequel … unless Reese and Wernick can get really creative.
After I left “ROC,” I was wondering how the filmmakers got away with making such a travesty, but upon exiting “Retaliation,” I was already coming up with ideas on who should be in the next one. Not a bad way to save a franchise. “Retaliation” earns a very enthusiastic “Yo Joe!” and is highly recommended for fans.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10