Let’s flashback to the summer of 2012, where — with about a month left till its release — Jon M. Chu’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation was suddenly and surreptitiously put on the shelf. So, has a year in the vault helped G.I. Joe? No, of course not. It’s still a big, dumb action movie based on a bunch of plastic toys, and made by people who don’t understand that this sort of thing should be fun and absurd. Instead of that, they give us an awkwardly corny action movie with little in the way of charm. In my review for this film’s predecessor G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra (2009), I had the same problems. But comparing the two movies now, I’m shocked to think that I possibly sold the first one short — and it even had a Wayans Brother in it. Rise of the Cobra — with a scenery-chewing, mustache-twirling (well, figuratively) Joseph Gordon-Levitt as its villain (who’s not around for the sequel) along with its playset-like secret bases and gizmos at least had a sense of its origins despite its summer tent-pole dunderheadedness. Retaliation is just as stupid — and stripped of even accidental entertainment value. The new picture is fitted with lower production values, a less impressive cast and even a severe lack of G.I. Joe characters with silly names (Heavy Duty, Hard Master etc.) that can be mistaken for sexual positions (I guess “Roadblock” could work on that score, but it sounds mighty uncomfortable to me).
The idea that a sequel to Rise of the Cobra could get things even more wrong is plainly astonishing. Last year, the rumors surrounding Retaliation’s delay had to do with speculation that the film required more Channing Tatum. This turns out to be false. (It looks like the holdup was just to coat the film in 3-D and squeeze those surcharges out of a crappy movie.) In fact, Tatum — an actor whose appeal has grown for me since 21 Jump Street (2012) and his work with Steven Soderbergh — gets knocked off in the first 20 minutes (presumably to wipe away any memories of the first movie, though I doubt anyone remembers it). The trade-off for getting rid of Tatum — a genuinely affable star — is that he’s replaced with a very sweaty Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and some guy named D.J. Cotrona, a performer so devoid of charisma that I had to actively force myself to pay attention when he was on screen. Here’s a guy with all the charm and good looks of a low-rent soap star, and (somehow) here he is moping around in a real-life Hollywood movie. But maybe I’m being too hard on Mr. Cotrona and The Rock since even Bruce Willis — who occasionally makes a living by being the best thing in a lot of lousy flicks — looks bored to be here, too.
After all, Retaliation itself is a tangled mess of flat, jumbled action sequences and fits of machismo. The plot — revolving around the evil Cobra commander who attempts to take over the world — exists strictly so that the largest possible amount of “stuff” either gets shot or blown up. That Chu — the man who directed numerous dance sequences in two Step Up movies — can’t film a single coherent fight scene here, is frankly amazing. He’s got zero sense of playfulness. The whole ninja clan kung-fu subplot between Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Kim, who starred in I Saw the Devil, and who, frankly, deserves better than this) should be fun, but it comes across as warmed over Tarantino at best. At worst, it’s chintzy (like RZA’s old man makeup being bad enough that even Guy Pearce and Ridley Scott would find it unbelievable) and extraneous. And there you have it: chintzy and extraneous — the best three-word summation I can give you for G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of combat violence and martial arts action throughout, and for brief sensuality and language.
Playing at Carmike 10, Carolina Cinemas, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande