Friday, March 29, 2013

Review: G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)

G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was a guilty pleasure of mine a few years ago. I must've laughed harder during that film than I have when watching many genuine comedies. It was an awful movie that made absolutely no sense whatsoever, but it was the best kind of awful. It never once took itself seriously, instead feeling like it was based less on the '80s cartoon and more on the action figure play sessions that every man remembers from his boyhood. Everybody involved seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely, rather than the gritty feel of many action movies made in the last decade when we all somehow decided that 9/11 meant that our action now had to be supremely grimdark and "realistic" even when it was still about secret agents like Jason Bourne single-handedly stopping terrorism.

The fact that G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the sequel to The Rise of Cobra, kept some of that atmosphere managed to keep me going through even when the film was at its worst.

I did not go into this film with the best of expectations. Far from it, I was expecting a disaster. This movie was originally meant to be released last June, but just a month before it was set to release, in the middle of a full-swing ad campaign and with merchandise reaching shelves, it was delayed without warning. The studio claimed that they were doing this to convert it to 3D (side note: the 3D did nothing for me here, so watch it in 2D if you can), but many speculated that the real reason was a combination of bad test screenings necessitating rewrites, and a desire to expand Channing Tatum's role after 21 Jump Street and The Vow became surprise smash hits earlier in 2012. (And then, of course, Magic Mike, released on the same day that Retaliation would've been released, elevated him to a bonafide A-lister, making the studio's desire for more Tatum even more understandable.) In this age of movie geek websites reporting on every crack in every production, such a sudden delay left a permanent stain on what had been an otherwise trouble-free production.

Against that backdrop, to say that this film did not disappoint would be damning it with faint praise. Like its predecessor, this is a bad movie, but here, the moments of hilarity and over-the-top action were fewer in number, forcing me to judge the rest of the film on its own merits. The Rise of Cobragave us mech suits, high-tech gadgets and vehicles, cool underground bases for both the Joes and COBRA, "grey goo" nanoweapons, and ninjas on top of all that. It was the '80s cartoon brought to life. In Retaliation, though, the Joes are wiped out by COBRA in the opening scenes, forcing the few survivors (Dwayne Johnson, Adrianne Palicki, and D.J. Cotrona) to hide out in a boarded-up community center and seek the help of the original Joe, General Colton (a shamefully underused Bruce Willis). The fantasy of the first film largely vanishes fifteen minutes in, only seen thereafter in the parts with the ninjas Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow (Ray Park and Lee Byung-hun). Here, the film takes itself less seriously and allows itself to have fun homaging classic ninja/martial arts movies, complete with The RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan enjoying himself immensely playing the ninja master. Even with the poorly-shot action sequences, it was here where the film was saved for me. The only way to make a live-action G.I. Joe movie work is to go so over-the-top that you make James Bond -- Roger Moore era, not Daniel Craig -- look like Jason Bourne.

The plot, once again a generic "take over the world" plot, is harder to take seriously this time around because this film takes itself so much more seriously than the last one did. When Zartan, impersonating the President, plays a game of nuclear brinkmanship so insane that it makes Dr. Strangelove seem downright sober, I almost face-palmed. Scenes like the destruction of London with an orbital death satellite (not a spoiler; it's in every single trailer) and the elimination of nearly all of the world's nuclear arsenals are treated as throwaway moments whose consequences are barely given a brief line of reference at the end, if anything. In The Rise of Cobra, I could gloss over stuff like the Eiffel Tower getting blown up partly because the entire movie was so crazy, and partly because it actually addressed the consequences of it -- the Joes were kicked out of France forever because of the destruction they left in their wake. Yeah, the cartoonish fantasy had more logic than its "grittier" sequel. When the rest of your movie is far more grounded in reality than the last one... that shit sticks out.
Score: 2 out of 5

This isn't a good movie, nor is it even the so-bad-it's-good movie that the last one was. It's only barely redeemed by its better moments. Wait for Netflix.

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