As a sequel to 2009's "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" could've really benefited from a "Previously, on G.I. Joe …" segment at the beginning of the film.
Having seen "The Rise of Cobra" once in 2009, I didn't remember much. Channing Tatum wasn't a very good actor, and there was that scene where they're bounding through the streets in their superpowered mech suits. That was the grand total of what I remembered about the prequel, but it was still enough to recognize that it's better than "Retaliation."
(To be thorough, I rewatched "The Rise of Cobra" to make sure that I wasn't merely imagining that it's better.
"Retaliation" picks up immediately after "The Rise of Cobra" ended. The Joes are in the middle of transporting nuclear warheads when they're ambushed. The U.S. President (Jonathan Pryce), who is being impersonated by Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), has publicly declared that the Joes have gone rogue. The survivors of the ambush must figure out a way to clear their names and prevent World War III.
What? Didn't you remember the part in the first film when Cobra had taken over the White House? Me either. It's not like it's an important part of the movie. Oh, it is? Hmm.
Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun) make a miraculous recovery from the end of "The Rise of Cobra," where he was stabbed in the chest with two blades and fell into the Arctic Ocean. The Blind Master (RZA, eliciting chuckles from the screening audience each time he appeared on-screen) wants to bring Storm Shadow to justice for murdering the Hard Master … 20 years ago.
What? Didn't you remember the part in the first film when Storm Shadow, as a young pupil, (allegedly) killed the Hard Master and ran away from the dojo? Me either. It's not like it's an important part of the movie. Oh, it is? Hmm.
"Retaliation" expects the viewer to either know the backstory or have recently viewed "The Rise of Cobra" because it doesn't make much of an effort to clue you in otherwise. Conversely, in the previous film, even though the story flashed back and forth in time to give some background on the characters, everything was crystal clear, and everyone's motivations were understood. In this film, even though the plot is completely linear, it was tough to figure out who's who, who's on which side, and generally what the heck just happened.
At the same time, "Retaliation" also relies on viewers not remembering the prior film. The screenwriters may try to cop out and say that most of the Joes were killed in the ambush, so their gear must've been toast as well, but even before they were attacked, they were using regular guns and vehicles. In the prior film, they had pulse guns, superpowered mech suits with futuristic attachments, nanomite warheads, vehicles equipped with missiles, and lots of cool gadgets. Even though this is a sequel, technology seems to have taken a giant leap backward.
Between the two of them, screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Werrick have one recognizable writing gig between them, "Zombieland." That was a fun and coherent film, so I'm not sure what went wrong with "Retaliation." Based on this script, I'm worried about how they'll do with the script for the upcoming "Deadpool" film.
Director Jon Chu seemed like an odd choice for this film because his repertoire includes "Step Up 3D" and "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never." I think that joke just wrote itself. Here's hoping he doesn't ruin our childhood memories with "Masters of the Universe," which is scheduled for 2015. The action sequences are good, and the highlight is the scene with ninjas fighting on a mountainside. As for the film editing, there are numerous instances of scenes that were juxtaposed to achieve a certain effect, but what's delivered is a jarring movie experience.
"Retaliation" was originally scheduled for a June 2012 release, but the studio announced that the film was being delayed to convert it to 3-D for increased sales. Post-production 3-D generally ranges from bad to terrible, but the 3-D in this film is really quite good. It sometimes "cheats" a bit by making everything blurry in the foreground, but this is easily the best post-production 3-D effort that I've seen.
The remaining Joes are led by Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), who is believable as a charismatic special ops soldier. We're introduced to Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), and Ray Park returns as Snake Eyes. They seek help from the original Joe after which the outfit was named, General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis). Cotrona and Palicki are decent, but their roles don't have much depth, and they're not given the chance to do much aside from shoot guns and look good. Park is amazingly acrobatic, and without saying a word, he's able to use body language to communicate volumes. Willis looks better – and more like John McClane – in this film than he did in "A Good Day to Die Hard," and although that isn't exactly a ringing endorsement, there's no one who looks more at home with a machine gun in his hands.
If you don't remember much about the previous film, "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" is a muddled mess, and if you do, it's still pretty scattered. The script will sometimes make you roll your eyes, and the film editing fails to achieve the desired effects. On the bright side, the 3-D is good, so if you're intent on watching this movie, it's actually worth it to plunk down a few more dollars for 3-D. Otherwise, it'd be best to wait for this to hit Netflix streaming.
"G.I. Joe: Retaliation" is rated "PG-13" and has a running time of 1 hour and 50 minutes. It's showing in 2-D and 3-D.
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