After a turbulent year in which it was pulled from the schedule a mere five weeks prior to its original release date, G.I. Joe: Retaliation finally gets the chance to redeem itself in theatres. Expectations were riding high for this latest installment of the Hasbro franchise, especially considering how underwhelming G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was in comparison to the Transformers franchise. Many saw G.I. Joe: Retaliation as a make or break point for the G.I. Joe film franchise. Fortunately for the Joes, they will live to fight another day as the film, despite its problematic story, manages to entertain far more than its predecessor did.
Picking up where the original left off, life is going well for the G.I. Joe squad now that the head of the evil terrorist organization Cobra, Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey), is locked away in a secret prison. Unbeknownst to the Joes, Cobra is still going strong as one of their agents, Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), has been impersonating the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce) for several months. Zartan sets in motion a plan that will not only frame the Joes for stealing nuclear warheads, but also eradicate the team once and for all. After a surprise military ambush decimates the bulk of the G.I. Joe forces, three members, Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) and Flint (D.J. Cotrona), are left to pick up the pieces. With the help of fellow Joe soldier Snakes Eyes (Ray Park), who was away at the time of the attacks, and his apprentice Jinx (Elodie Yung) the group sets out to uncover why their government has turned on them and how it connects to Cobra’s latest plans for world domination.
While an improvement over G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, the script is still an issue that this franchise has not been able to fully rectify. Granted the plots of the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero cartoons were nonsensical at the best of times, but expectations are greater with Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick penning the script. The pair who brought energy to the Zombieland script stumbles when it comes to fleshing out the characters and overall plot in Retaliation. Certain character’s behaviors are highlighted at the beginning, but then have no bearing on the rest of the film. For example, two action sequences early on establish that Flint is a reckless hotshot who routinely disobeys orders to get the job done. The fact that the script hits on this point repeatedly hints that this may play a major role later on but again the payoff never comes. After Duke (Channing Tatum) saves his life, Flint becomes nothing more than a third wheel who is upstaged by pretty much every character in the film.
The same can be said for the character of Jinx who is not only poorly introduced, but given very little dialogue compared to her counterparts. It also does not help that Jinx is a fixture in the most ludicrous and uneven aspects of the entire film. While it makes sense for Jinx to be paired with Snake Eyes, their subplot involving Storm Shadow’s (Lee Byung-Hun) past and a Blind Master (RZA) is poorly written and consistently interrupts the flow of the film. Aside from being a roundabout way to get to a key plot trope, the arc feels like it was included so that the film can justify having its big action moment on a mountain. In fact much of the film’s plot seems to be designed around its action sequences. The most interesting aspects of the story come in the last act when Cobra finally reveals its plans to several world leaders.
Luckily, unlike The Rise of Cobra, G.I. Joe: Retaliation does a great job in making up for the plot issues with its action sequences; the centerpiece of which being the highly marketed ninja fight on the mountainside. The mountain scene feels like the closest the franchise has come to capturing the over-the-top action of the cartoons on film. The same can be said, though to a lesser extent, for the battle scenes in the final act. Seeing Roadblock busting through the bushes in one of the classic G.I. Joe vehicles will bring a smile to the faces of even the most casual of G.I. Joe fans.
Although director Jon M. Chu does a solid job filming the action sequences, the real key to G.I. Joe Retaliation’s enjoyment is in the casting. Dwayne Johnson brings instant charisma to the character of Roadblock and is a perfect choice to shepherd the franchise into a new era. He brings energy to the film that seems to be infectious. Even Jonathan Pryce seems to have more vigor in his step as he takes great pleasure in playing both the good and bad versions of the President. The other notable acting contributions include Bruce Willis’ amusing cameo as the original G.I. Joe, and Ray Stevenson as the bomb obsessed villain Firefly. Both actors have fun with their roles even if, especially in Willis’ case, there is not much required from them. However, the real surprise of the film is Adrianne Palicki’s work as Lady Jaye. Not only does Palicki have good chemistry with both Willis and Johnson, but she sells both the charming and butt kicking sides of Lady Jaye quite well. She is the most well-rounded female character in the franchise to date.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a solid improvement over its predecessor, but still has a long way to go if this franchise wants to be a true success. The script needs to start living up to the spectacle that the action sequences provide. Fortunately, the action and the energetic casting makes G.I. Joe Retaliation far more entertaining than it probably should be.