Wednesday, April 3, 2013

G.I. Joe: Retaliation


For  F*** Magazine, Singapore

Movie Review                                                                                                                  26/3/13

G.I. JOE: RETALIATION
2013

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, DJ Cotrona, Adrianne Palicki, Jonathan Pryce, Bruce Willis
Directed by: Jon M. Chu

Don’t call them dolls. They may be made in China and primarily out of ABS plastic, but that won’t change the fact that G.I. Joes are real American heroes. For many, these action figures are articulated nostalgia incarnate, the cartoons and comics adding to the fond childhood memories. When that nostalgia was made flesh in 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, however, most fans weren’t pleased and there were the Razzie nominations to show for it. But that didn’t stop a sequel from being made.

                        At the end of the first film, it was revealed that the President of the United States (Pryce) had been replaced by the villainous impostor Zartan (Arnold Vosloo as his “default appearance”). In this one, the “President” orders that the G.I. Joes be wiped out. Roadblock (Johnson), Flint (Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Palicki) manage to evade the attack, and must go about stopping the villainous machinations of Zartan’s superior, Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey, voiced by Robert Baker). Joining the three are silent ninja Snake Eyes (Ray Park), his apprentice Jinx (Elodie Yung) and the original G.I. Joe, General Joe Colton (Willis). Cobra forces, including saboteur Firefly (Ray Stevenson) and Snake Eyes’ archnemesis Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun) stand in their way.




            This movie was meant to be released in June 2012, but was delayed owing to a 3D post-conversion job and reshoots to increase Channing Tatum’s screen time. Toys had already hit the shelves and the film earned the distinction of being the only movie to have been advertised during two consecutive Super Bowls. The decision drew much flak and probably killed a fair amount of interest for the sequel.

            It’s a good thing then that this isn’t all that bad – in fact, it’s probably better than the first one. The film is not a straight-up sequel to the first, and while there are continuity nods and several returning characters, the style has shifted noticeably from plasticky, cartoony bombast to slightly more straight-faced action. Case in point: instead of a vast subterranean base beneath the Sahara desert, the Joes in this film operate from a derelict gym. That’s not to say Retaliation is less fun. And while this one is still silly, it’s not as aggressively so.

           
           Replacing Stephen Sommers in the director’s chair is Jon M. Chu, who is probably best known as “that guy who did the Justin Bieber movie”. Chu proves he can film action sequences as competently as he films dance numbers; the movie’s signature set piece in which Snake Eyes and Jinx infiltrate a Cobra stronghold high on a mountaintop and take on scores of redshirts on a cliff face is something to behold and is almost balletic. The film’s scripting duties are handled by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, best-known for penning the horror-comedy Zombieland. The duo lends the film a self-aware edge without it ever plunging into self-parody, which is a laudable balancing act.

            Let’s address the two reasons the movie was pushed back. First, the 3D. It’s a surprisingly decent conversion and though this reviewer experienced a little eyestrain, there’s a good feeling of depth and it does enliven the action sequences, the afore-mentioned cliff face skirmish in particular. Second, the Channing Tatum – he was a dull protagonist in the first film and rest assured, even with his additional scenes, he doesn’t play a huge role in this one and shares better chemistry with Dwayne Johnson than he did with Marlon Wayans (we’re glad Ripcord isn’t back for this one).

            Speaking of Dwayne Johnson, the guy fits into the G.I. Joe universe perfectly. He’s quite possibly the closest thing this generation has to the larger-than-life action hero likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean-Claude Van Damme and with his bulging biceps and towering frame, looks right at home in a movie based on a line of toys. DJ Cotrona and Adrianne Palicki aren’t particularly interesting as Flint and Lady Jaye respectively (coincidentally, Cotrona was set to play Superman in the Justice League film that never happened and Adrianne Palicki played Wonder Woman in the TV pilot that wasn’t picked up) – but they put in serviceable supporting performances. If there's anyone who sticks out like a sore thumb, it's rapper RZA, who puts in an utterly cringe-worthy turn as the Blind Master. 


            Bruce Willis’ appearance as the retired general whose main “GI” of concern is likely to be his glycaemic index is pretty fun if not very consequential; it might be an even better nod to his iconic action hero status than his role in the Expendables films was. In the villain’s corner, former Bond adversary Jonathan Pryce is clearly enjoying himself in dual roles as Zartan-as-the-president and the actual president held captive by Cobra troops. A scene that sets up the film’s climax, in which the impostor President gathers the leaders of the world and threatens them with Cobra’s orbital weapons system Zeus, is decidedly Dr Strangelove-esque. Cobra Commander is not given a large role in the film, and while he doesn’t have Chris Latta’s shrill, raspy voice, his design is a nice homage to the cartoon. In addition, the ladies dragged along to see this can enjoy more Lee Byung-hun with his shirt off.

            Even though it’s less cartoony than its predecessor, Retaliation’s plot isn’t believable for a second – but the movie knows it’s a fun piece of escapist entertainment, and it can get away with the jingoism and a degree of ridiculousness by dint of being a G.I. Joe movie. As far as sequels based on Hasbro films go, you can rest assured that this isn’t the G.I. Joe equivalent of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. And that’s worth a hearty “hooah!” 

SUMMARY: Despite getting its release date pushed back, this sequel’s thrills and sheer escapist entertainment value, plus the fact that it’s not as dumb as the first go-round, make it worth getting excited about.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 STARS

Jedd Jong 

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