Do You Have What It Takes?
Jon M. Chu
After the events of the first film, the Joes have been out in the field fighting hidden battles, winning unseen victories. Which, in the current political climate means two very obvious targets, one of which being North Korea (I’ve defined the other in my highlighted character section). I’ve gotta say, I found this a little odd. One of the aspects that I liked about this movie’s predecessor was the global aspect. Granted, it was a token gesture but the fact that the team was comprised of various nationalities working as a world military was interesting. This time it’s just an American team, American military, American targets. The main strike force is led by Duke [Channing Tatum] and his loyal buddy Roadblock [Johnson] but after securing a Pakistani nuclear weapon, the Joes are betrayed by the US President, leaving only Roadblock, Lady Jaye [Palicki] and Flint [Cotrona] alive. Meanwhile, the only other living Joe, Snake Eyes, is out recruiting his nemesis’ cousin Jinx [Yung].. it’s never explained why and there’s absolutely no conflict here, so it could be anyone. And finally the bad guys are re-introduced. Storm Shadow [Lee] breaks Cobra Commander out of prison and they all meet up with the infiltrator Zartan, who has been posing as the President to discuss global domination! Muaha ha ha ha, etc. In order to stop them, the Joes enlist the help of retired General Joe Colton [Willis] and a plan to expose Zartan forms.
What’s most surprising is that Retaliation does everything that was asked of a sequel after Rise Of Cobra was released; it takes the subject matter more seriously, tries to add more scope and scale, reigns in the gadgets and campy elements and gives the whole film a more militaristic flavour. Yet, somehow, this actually works in a detrimental fashion. One of the reasons I half enjoyed the first film was its stupidity. The idiotic submarines, planes and mech suits added to the light hearted nature but by making the Joes straight killers out for vengeance and retribution, Retaliation is a little cold. If I had to draw an analogy, I would say the two films are like two different drunks at a party. Both are equally stupid and annoying but the first is a little cheery and balancing something on his head. He’s a bit of a douche and a waste of time but completely harmless. Then there’s the second guy, the deadly serious drunk. Equally stupid, equally annoying but this one is firmly grasping your shoulders, staring you in the eye and chanting over and over that he’s one hundred per cent sober. You know he won’t actually get in a car and attempt to drive but his insistence is starting to wear thin. If, for some reason, there’s a third G.I. Joe release, we can expect to see that really horny, angry drunk who you know is going to break something sooner or later and really needs to leave.. right now.
The plot is reasonably engaging but still the same paint-by-numbers take over the world and get to x-location by y-hour to deal with z-threat to avert it. Without a simple driving force and a script that feels like it’s been penned by a large number of different individuals, Retaliation is just a long string of pointless (albeit well directed) action sequences. And to be honest, what else would you expect from the director of a few Step Up sequels and a Justin Bieber documentary? When the characters aren’t running around, shooting and blowing things up, they fulfil their campy acting quota. The villains are especially villainous but in that wonderfully kid friendly way: lots of threatening and muscle flexing without any actual maliciousness. And the good guys are so disgustingly cliché that they become almost entertaining. Roadblock expands on his upbringing in a rundown neighbourhood but the really amusing backstory is that of Lady Jaye. Lady Jaye explains that she’s fourth generation military with a father who never accepted her gender as solider material, so she set out to prove him wrong. Nothing wrong with that, perfectly acceptable. Problem is, every time a building needs to be infiltrated or information gathered, she’s used as the sexy lady distraction. “Oh, these bags are so heavy considering I’m only wearing hot pants and a bra! Won’t someone help me?” Swing and a miss.
But it’s not all negative. As stated, the action sequences don’t gel together with any neatness or precision but they’re extremely well executed. Same goes for the acting, largely ridiculous posturing but the chemistry between Johnson and Tatum is not only good it’s convincingly brilliant. Then there’s the CGI and costume design which are wholly acceptable, if a little stupid. And finally, Henry Jackman’s is perfectly fitting, neither challenging nor memorable but complimentary to the on-screen action. The biggest problem with this film is that it’s blatantly style over substance but taking away some of the style doesn’t automatically enhance the substance, you just end up with a weak release.
29th March 2013
The Scene To Look Out For:
Let’s go with the shoehorned Storm Shadow/Zartan backstory, which is one of the most hackneyed and badly delivered scenes I’ve seen in a long time. In Rise Of Cobra we learn that Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes were trained in the same dojo and developed a fierce rivalry. Out of jealousy, the young Storm Shadow kills their master and Snake Eyes takes a vow of silence.. or something. It’s addressed a few times but there’s no real payoff. So when Retaliation comes out, the feud continues. Only this time, Storm Shadow is taken before the dojo master to face judgement. Here Storm Shadow explains that it was not his sword that killed their master. Together they deduce that the real culprit was in fact Zartan.. with no evidence whatsoever! It’s almost as if the studio called in a group of writers and said, “How can we get the other ninja working with the good guys? ‘Cause then we can sell twice the toys.” And the best they could come up with is “Change his origin?” What amuses me most is that somebody must have spoken up and said, “The guy’s like 40 years old. Wouldn’t he have pieced this together sooner and without the aid of someone else simply saying ‘OMG Zartan killed your master and tricked you! Curse that pesky Zartan’?” At which point, that astute individual was no doubt fired for forgetting the primary function of this film is not to tell a story but to sell toys. Thank you, Lucas, your legacy is intact.
Jonathan Pryce as The President. I love that. They didn’t even give him a name, just a title of office. Pryce is sort of like Ben Kingsley in that he’s a terrific actor but sometimes he ends up in some of the worst films, making an utter fool of himself. While his character is painfully dumb, the script manages to target that second aforementioned contemporary target (in addition to North Korea) and that’s your own country’s politicians. People have no love or trust when it comes to their governments and poking fun at them is an easy win for script writers, especially when you have a good actor having fun in a silly role.
“How can you be so good at real combat and so terrible at this?”
In A Few Words:
“Fun, flawed, harmless nonsense but if we’re lucky, this will be the last G.I. Joe adaptation we’ll have to endure”