By Corey Corcoran | March 28, 2013
Director: Jon M. Chu
Writers: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Starring: Lee Byung-hun, D.J. Cotrona, Dwayne Johnson, Adrianne Palicki, Ray Park, Jonathan Pryce, RZA, Ray Stevenson, Channing Tatum, Arnold Vosloo, Bruce Willis, Elodie Yung
Some films challenge us to ponder important social issues, question various belief systems, and/or motivate us into looking deeper at the fundamental concepts of understanding human nature…and some films are based on Hasbro toys from the 1980s. I’m not a person that believes in “guilty pleasures” when it comes to movies. Call me crazy, but I like to be entertained by entertainment, and that’s why I loved 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra…and that’s why I was super stoked to watch Retaliation.
I’m not sure if rehashing the plot really matters for a G.I. Joe movie review but I’ll give it to you real quick anyway:
Please skip the next paragraph if you don’t want any spoilers.
Cobra Commander plans to take over the world by holding every country hostage with a bunch of giant tungsten rods he’s gonna’ drop from space if the world leaders don’t pledge allegiance to Cobra. With the help of Zartan masquerading as the president of the United States, the Commander takes control of the white house, wipes out most of the Joe team, and dismantles every country’s nuclear arsenal. The surviving Joes try their damnedest to stop Cobra’s evil plans of world domination with the help of the one and only, original G.I. Joe. Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, and The Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA (seriously) do a bunch of cool ninja stuff on their own before hooking back up to the main storyline to aid the Joes in defeating Cobra, but not before London is decimated by one of those tungsten rods. Oh, and Cobra Commander escapes and everyone gets a medal.
I went into Retaliation pumped for some awesomeness but my enthusiasm started to dwindle once the film got underway and I realized I was about to be short changed on this mission. Writers Reese and Wernick had to have known that once you take away the Joe’s Village People-inspired, expertise specific costumes that they’re reduced to a long line of interchangeable grunts in Kevlar riot gear. Maybe that’s why they killed off every single Joe except for a handful of new characters (and Snake Eyes) in the first 20 minutes of Retaliation? You’d think with a manageable number of good guys that I’d actually care about the Joes that survived? Sure, everyone knows and loves Park’s Snake Eyes (especially since they didn’t change the recipe) and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is more than a hoorah-jarhead thanks to his charisma; but charisma alone is not enough to elevate Roadblock into a character anyone cares about. The same could be said about Flint and Lady Jaye except for the part about Cotrona and Palicki possessing any charisma to bring a glimmer of excitement to their characters.
And then there’s Bruce Willis…who, I’m assuming, was supposed to be director Chu’s casting ace in the hole. What can be said about Bruno’s appearance other than he practically sleepwalks his way thorough the film’s weakest moments (I’m looking at you, “team getting ready montage” that’s set to one of the worst songs ever used in a movie…ever*) and takes away valuable screen time from the one cameo appearance no one will be talking about: The RZA. That’s right folks, the de facto leader of The Wu-Tang is the Arashikage clan’s Blind Master; and while RZA’s acting chops are not as sharp as his beats, he at least puts in 100% with a goofy Japanese(?) accent and a performance on par with any ninja master from any Godfrey Ho movie from the 1980s.
So what about the villains? Zartan is back, but all he really does is strut around as the president, so Arnold Vosloo is left on the sidelines letting Jonathan Pryce have all the fun. Also back for more are Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun) and The Commander (albeit completely recast), and we get Ray Stevenson as the psychotic saboteur, Firefly. But where was The Baroness? Where was Destro and his beryllium steel mask? I know I wasn’t the only movie-goer missing two of the greatest villains in the Joe Universe. Yet another dropped ball from the team behind the Joe’s latest outing.
At least Reese, Wernick and Chu tried to make up for this misstep by throwing in some ninjas; and let me tell you, the whole Arashikage ninja clan storyline is the best part of Retaliation. The incredible Himalayan mountainside ninja fight is the kind of breathtaking awesomeness I expected from a sequel that promised to raise the bar the original film set (no matter how low that was). I’m sure every Joe fan out there will praise the 15 to 20 minutes of ninja-tastic insanity and lament that the bulk of Retaliation wasn’t more like the “Silent Interlude” issue of the G.I. Joe comic book from 1984 — I know those were my feelings once the movie was over. Oh well, maybe next time Hollywood will hire Larry Hama to write the inevitable third installment of the Joe franchise with Hal Needham directing…and if that doesn’t happen, I’m sure Godfrey Ho isn’t busy.
*In case you were wondering, the song is “Back In Business Again” by The Four Horsemen.