(by Dustin Putman
2009's "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" was overblown and dumb, a summer actioner as colorful as it was dramatically plastic. Did anyone walking out of that film care one iota about what they'd just seen? Apparently, the makers of the weirdly loose yet faithful sequel "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" didn't, as director Jon M. Chu (2010's "Step Up 3D") and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (2009's "Zombieland") kill off nearly all of the former characters in a throwaway opening line of narration, then proceed to blow up another returning cast member in the first fifteen minutes. Also gone: the futuristic angle of the earlier story and some of the more high-tech weaponry, replacing eye candy for dirt and grime. Returning: the fact that the country—and possibly world—is unknowingly under grave duress now that the identity of the U.S. President (Jonathan Pryce) has been stolen by nefarious shapeshifting terrorist Zartan (Arnold Vosloo). Were the changes made for the project's benefit, or just an excuse to distance itself from the critically lambasted original? All signs point to the latter, but really, they needn't have bothered. "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" may have a grittiness to it that its predecessor lacked, but it has corrected absolutely none of its problems. It's very likely viewers won't care about this one once it's over, either. Article continues below
Carrying forth his latest devious plan, the faux President sends the G.I. Joe military group, including Commander Duke (Channing Tatum), right-hand man Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), and tough, striking Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), into Pakistan to secure an arsenal of nukes. Though they succeed at this task, it all proves to be a setup that ends with the G.I. Joes getting supposedly wiped out in a deadly ambush. There are three key survivors, however, and as they attempt to slip back into action under the radar, the Joes' biggest, baddest opponent, Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey), escapes from prison. As the takeover of the White House gets underway, warheads are deployed across the globe. Will Roadblock & Co. find a way to save the world and rescue the President before the point of no return?
"G.I. Joe: Retaliation" was originally scheduled to be released in the summer of 2012 before receiving a nine-month delay to allegedly strengthen its 3D theatrical conversion. What they should have done instead was found a better script and started over from scratch. Decidedly smaller in scope but just as lacking in silly things like character development and plot, this second filmic adaptation of the Hasbro toy line gets more and more tedious by the minute because there is so little to latch onto and carry one's rooting interest through nearly two hours of running time. The exception: a perilous, high-flying ninja fight over the cliffs of the Himalayas that arrives around the one-hour mark. Cohesively shot and astoundingly choreographed, this set-piece holds a spark of excitement to it that the rest of this creatively deficient movie simply cannot live up to. Interestingly enough, it was this very sequence that was shown in full to audiences who went to see the recent "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters," rendering a visit to the theater here all the more worthless.
With Channing Tatum (2012's "10 Years") now having better things to do with his time, he's in and out quickly, replaced by Dwayne Johnson (2013's "Snitch") in the lead role. Johnson has the physicality and attitude of an action star, but he is stranded with nothing to work with as Roadblock. Aside from having two precocious single-digit daughters who apparently take care of themselves while he's away for weeks at a time, the viewer learns next to nothing about him. As Lady Jaye, the immensely talented Adrianne Palicki (2012's "Red Dawn") needs to find a better agent—and fast; so far, she has been typecast in a bunch of thankless action roles when she proved on TV's "Friday Night Lights" that she was capable of so much more than that. Jonathan Pryce (2008's "Bedtime Stories") hams it up as the evil not-really President, while Bruce Willis (2013's "A Good Day to Die Hard") pops up for the hell of it as Bruce Wil—er, General Joe Colton. Suffice it to say, this is not exactly a sterling showcase for one's thespian skills.
"G.I. Joe: Retaliation" takes itself too seriously for comfort, but there is one very funny moment that warrants mentioning. Hoping to get close to the President, Lady Jaye poses as a Fox News correspondent in order to get into an exclusive banquet. When the President finds out who she works for, his response is close to priceless: "Oh, of course! That must be why you look so fair and balanced." A little more of this ripe and knowing humor might have gone a long way in breaking the monotony of an inert action film that barely ever kicks into high gear. With millions of lives lost and just about the entirety of London practically wiped off the map by the conclusion, is it any surprise that such enormous inferences are tidily swept under the rug immediately thereafter? Unable to take responsibility for itself, its story, its paper-thin characters, or anything else, "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" practically evaporates in the breeze like the seed head of a dandelion. It's simply no more consequential than that.