FILM REVIEW: GI Joe: Retaliation

Picking up after the events of GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra, Retaliation finds the Joes under attack, their forces obliterated and on the wrong side of the President (who isn't the President, but an imposter, Zartan, in disguise as him). Forced on the run, the Joes fight to save the country and the rest of the world from the vicious Cobra Commander and his forces. 

Finally arriving in cinemas after a delayed release date, GI Joe: Retaliation is, not surprisingly, a little underwhelming despite the many explosions, baffling accents and odd one-liners that are thrown out. The much-discussed 3D retrofit, the reason behind the film's delay, barely registers beyond a few annoying exploding bugs flying out at you and serves to make the action scenes that bit more confusing, instead of injecting a sense of spectacle. The other reason behind the delay was supposedly to add more scenes with Channing Tatum, one of the few remaining Joes from the first film, though there isn't that much extra, but what is there shows he should have been in it more. With Tatum's Duke and Ray Park's Snake Eyes providing the biggest links to the first film, Retaliation serves more as a reboot than a sequel, getting rid of the other characters without even a little explanation. 

Performances for the Joes are by the book, no one excelling beyond their two dimensions apart from a calm turn by Byung-hun Lee who stands out amongst the cardboard. Most guilty of this though is the much publicised role for Bruce Willis. The man could not be more monotone if he tried, delivering lines with so little enthusiasm, he may as well not have shown up. In fact, it might have been better if he hadn't. Despite not saying a word, nor being able to provide visual facial expressions, Ray Park manages to give Snake Eyes a quiet dignity and even a sense of humour. His battles with Storm Shadow are a masterclass in stunt performing but their fight needed to be a little longer; with the lengthy build-up it was given, their confrontation was all too brief, not allowing us the chance to see a battle between two seasoned pros. 

The villains don't fare much better though it is good to see Ray Stevenson continuing Christopher Eccleston's legacy of terrible accents and over-exagerration. Luke Bracey is given a thankless role as the Cobra Commander, taking over from Joseph Gordon-Levitt but lacking a role beyond portraying a throaty-voiced Dr Evil without the laughs in a couple of scenes. However, it is Jonathan Pryce is Zartan-Mr President who has all the fun. Dialling it up to 11 and running with it, he's given all sorts of daft lines to say but does so with gusto and is probably the most entertaining aspect of the film, a relic from the knowingly silly Rise of the Cobra.

Clearly meant to inject the same lease of life as he did with the Fast Five franchise, Dwayne Johnson takes over as the square-jawed lead Roadblock. Sadly lightening has not struck twice; Johnson's broad shoulders are more than enough to shoulder the film but he's an actor who always works better when there is someone to bounce off. Early in the film, Channing Tatum's Duke sparks off Roadblock and the chemistry between the two actors make their scenes together entertaining with a spark that could have livened up the rest of the film. Sadly, Tatum exits stage left too soon and the rest of the film is spent mourning his absence. If you had told me I'd write that sentence a few years back, I'd have laughed in your face. But times have changed and Tatum is a much better actor who would have made GI Joe: Retaliation just that little bit better.

There is one thing though that Retaliation has in its favour; ninjas. Lots of them. I often thought that the most compelling part of Rise of the Cobra was the rivalry between Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes and so it proves to be in the sequel. One of the big hooks used in the trailer was the mountain-side ninja battle and it doesn't disappoint. It's the one action sequence that makes complete sense from Snake Eyes' entrance, subsequent battle with Storm Shadow and the rope fight across the mountain. It's impressively staged and as a result, the highlight of the film. Had Chu managed to inject the same energy and excitement into the other sequences, we may have had a thrill ride on our hands. 

If I had to describe this film in one simple yet slightly reductive term, it would be 'bland'. It's not terrible and in some ways, it's better than Rise of the Cobra, but it just lacks a lot of the fun that made the first film so laughably awful yet entertaining. Chu clearly knows his way around the choreography, but the action sequences are frenetic and confusing to the point where I resolved myself to just sit back and wait to see who survived. 

Expecting high art from a film based on a Hasbro toy is a tad silly, but it's not unreasonable to want a film that takes its concept, an inherently fun yet silly one, and just runs with it. The first film was awful yes, but it wore its ludicrous concept on its sleeve and created a live action cartoon that, despite its flaws, was really entertaining. In its attempt to create something of a better quality, Retaliation loses that, becoming oddly po-faced and miserable with only just a few bright spots in between.


- Becky

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