A Real American Redux: “G.I. Joe: Retaliation”

April 6, 2013

posterOkay, so GI Joe: Retaliation. Yeah, here’s my experience with that movie. I went with a buddy of mine—a fellow Gunmonkey—and he basically boiled his expectations down as thus:

“Dude, don’t sit next to me. People will think we’re gay. I didn’t go through a shit-ton of work marrying a beautiful woman who’s also a totally cool chick just so people could think I’m gay. You picking up what I’m putting down?”


“What the hell was up with the last movie? Like, laser guns and shit? I don’t sign on to a GI Joe movie to see laser guns. I want a dude with an M203 spraying a curtain of lead when he’s not lobbing grenades. That’s GI Joe. Why can’t I have an M203? Where’s my M203?”

This man served in the Iraq War, so, hey, what am I gonna do? Deny him his non-gay buffer seat and wait for him to go all PTSD on me? But beyond that, he and I were on the same wavelength. The last GI Joe movie sucked, and that’s pretty much the reason GI Joe: Retaliation was green-lit. It’s a rare instance where Hollywood says to American public, “Whoa! Yeah, that sucked. Even by our standards, that sucked. So, um, do-over?” So, that’s GI Joe: Retaliation: a big do-over. And, know what? That’s not a bad thing.

Okay, so I don’t want you to re-watch GI Joe: The Rise of CobraI’m not a monster—but you do have to remember that as the movie ended, shapeshifter Zartan was impersonating the President. Okay, cool. That’s all you need to know about to remember about the first movie, because this installment does its level best to erase that flick from our memory.

The first thing it does is eliminate the Joes from that movie. Now, for the most part that’s okay, because that movie saddled us with both Marlon Wayans—who, let’s be clear here, may, in fact, be mentally retarded, because there’s nothing onscreen to suggest otherwise—and Dennis Quaid, who in cinematic terms is the harbinger of the apocalypse. We do, however, have a bit of a sticky wicket with Channing Tatum, who, between 2009 and now, has matured into a genuinely good actor. However, Retaliation  makes good use of his limited screen time.

And there's this, which certainly helps...

And there’s this, which certainly helps…

Then, it constricts the scope of the film to a couple of old-school, Joes—Roadblock, Lady Jaye, and Flint—who were members back when the toy line relaunched and anchored the comic book in some semblance of reality. See, the evil doppelPresident launches an attack that wiped out damn near all the Joes except these three and sets them up to carry the story.

Finally, the movie strikes a vein of ore by casting Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Roadblock, their commanding officer. I’ve mentioned before that Johnson is a genuinely fun actor—whether he’s playing an existential goof in Southland Tales or a grittily-realistic DSS Agent in Fast Five. The guy can hold the screen, and is  a throwback to Schwarzenegger in his heyday—an amazing physical specimen, who nonetheless is always in on the joke of the movie.


“What? I don’t see what the size of my penis has to do with anything…”

Now, the temptation is to go through everything thi film does better than its predecessor, but that would simply be a litany of the past movie’s missteps, which is ground well-trod. Instead, let’s go through what works with this movie:

* It takes its cue from the comic books and not the cartoon: Yeah, I’m a purist. I came to GI Joe as a kid, not through the wildly-overpraised cartoon, but through the comic book (and toys), which strove to tell modern-day (for the early ‘80s) military stories. The Joes were soldiers with real specialties, weapons, and training. It seemed very grown-up to a kid of ten years-old, with references to the Vietnam War, branches of service, and NATO. Sure, the movie can’t replicate all that, but at the end of the day, these people are soldiers with real weapons and not weird-ass suits and laser guns.

Bruce Willis scoffs at your pitiable lasers...

Bruce Willis scoffs at your pitiable lasers…

* It has a lower budget: Weird, right? This should be a liability, and yet without the means to, say, computer-animate a fleet of submarines that attack an underwater base, it constrains its action to realistic shootouts and fistfights that are a ton more fun.

* It hews closer to the source material: Yee-ha! We get Hiss Tanks! And Cobra Commander in a shiny mask and not that weird-ass cow-udder thing he wore in the last movie. Seriously, what the hell was that?

* Snake-eyes: Yeah, he’s still a ninja. But he’s also a commando who faces Storm Shadow’s shurinken with his submachine gun. Also, he has a proper mask (to cover his disfigured face), and not that…um…look, there’s no easy way to say this, but in the last movie he was basically in black-face. I don’t why they did that.

You know, there's a time for ninja-swords, and a time for submachine guns. This is the latter.

You know, there’s a time for ninja-swords, and a time for submachine guns. This is the latter.

* The ninja fight: Yeah! Atop a mountain. It’s a great, show-stopping scene that harkens back to one of the best comic books Silent Interlude. It was a comic book that stopped me dead in my tracks, thinking, Holy crap! These things are capable of amazing stories!


* Bruce Willis: As General Joe Colton (ret), founder of GI Joe, he livens up every scene and brings a bit of adult-supervision to the proceedings. And, here’s the thing about Bruce Willis as an actor, 1) he will appear in anything, no matter the quality, and 2) somehow you will only remember him in Die Hard. The guy is less an actor than a sentient dose of A1 sauce that makes everything better.

* Jonathan Pryce: As the President and his Presidopelgangager, he’s clearly having a blast overacting, chewing scenery and hamming it up. Here’s a dude who has established himself as a great thespian, and yet he shows up in Retaliation so he can deliver lines like, “I don’t know why they call it water boarding. I never get bored with it!”

"I won a Tony, so I can joke about torture."

“I won a Tony, so I can joke about torture.”

* Action, not violence: This is a hobby horse many a time, but Retaliation is as good an example of it as any. Coming a week after Olympus Has Fallen, in which Gerard Butler brutally tortures bad guys to the roar of the audience, GI Joe: Retaliation gives us some exhilarating action sequences devoid of blood or misery. Of course, they’re not realistic—it’s a movie. We go to movies for fun, not sadism. Somewhere along the line, movies forgot this.

* Genuine chemistry: The actors all seem to be having fun, and it comes out in their relationships. Tatums’s Duke and Roadblock evince an easy friendship that sells their esprit de corps. It sets the emotional stakes better than any CGI setpiece.

Sure, there are problems with the movie—Adrienne Paliki’s Lady Jaye is offered up as cheesecake more often than she should, and I don’t for a moment believe Ray Stevenson’s Firefly could best Roadblock in  a fistfight—but they’re not the kind of problems that scuttle a movie. At the end of the day, GI Joe: Retaliation is dumb, disposable fun. Which, let’s face it, is the best some movies can hope to aspire to.

Anyway, my buddy liked it. Even without an M203.

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