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GI Joe: Retaliation

GI Joe: Retaliation

What He said:


GI Joe has been around since 1964, but there can be little doubt its peak came during the 80s. The 80s are what define the franchise even to this day. A few things happened to GI Joe in the 80s that made that possible.

First, the action figures got smaller. It was an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the Star Wars action figures from a few years before. They actually improved upon the Star Wars model too; giving the action figures more movement and flexibility. It made them more realistic. A science fiction element was strongly embedded into the series as well. Instead of just soldiers, we got soldiers, robots, ninjas, monsters, mad scientists, and all kinds of advanced – granted sometimes goofy, but advanced nonetheless – technology and vehicles too. The change worked. The franchise was a huge success during this period, creating over 500 action figures, 250 vehicles, and a whole hell of a lot of money for Hasbro.

The new toys were accompanied by comics that were the published by Marvel and the brainchild of Larry Hama. It’s not that there wasn’t any GI Joe comics prior to this time period, but like the toys, this era of comics came to define the brand name. There was an increase in quality and frequency. This era has served as the foundation for any new comics and cartoons ever since its creation.

Speaking of cartoons, the 80s gave us the first GI Joe cartoon: GI Joe: A Real American Hero. A case could be made that it was nothing more than a shiny new toy not so subtly disguised as propaganda for kids, but boy did I and many other kids eat it up.  

When a movie comes out that is based on something that you liked as a kid, there’s always a part of you that is giddy at the thought of it. You can’t help it. Even if you know it’s a bad idea, or realize the thing you liked as a kid really wasn’t very good, the child in you takes over and you are interested even if you don’t want to admit it.

GI Joe: Retaliation

When GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra came out, the kid in my wanted to love it. GI Joe was my favorite TV show after all. But the movie was downright awful. The acting was dreadful, the effects were even worse, the action was the definition of boring, anti-climactic, and ridiculously dumb. And in the name of all that is sacred in GI Joe lore, Cobra Commander isn’t even in the movie!!! You don’t make a GI Joe movie without the biggest villain in GI Joe history! He was replaced by some guy named Rex/The Doctor who may or may not have been an early version of the legendary villain. Either way, people want the best GI Joe villain of all time when they go to see a GI Joe movie. Come on! The movie was so bad, that when the producers and studio decided to make a sequel, they did what’s referred to as a “soft reboot”. What does that mean? Well if this helps, they removed practically the entire cast from the previous movie and the lead from the previous movie (Channing Tatum) is killed off. Sorry for the spoiler, but this was common knowledge – amongst fans at least – before the movie even came out, and those of you who aren’t fans likely aren’t even reading this review. It also ignores some of the events from the previous movie.

When the trailer for this movie came out, I thought it looked kind of fun. A lot better than the first one, that’s for sure. I also heard it was better than the first movie. So, when it popped up on Amazon for free, I figured it couldn’t hurt to give it a try.

GI Joe: Retaliation

Unbeknownst to just about everyone, the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce) is no longer in power. He has been kidnapped and is being held hostage by an agent of Cobra (an evil terrorist organization) named Zartan (Arnold Voslo). Zartan – a master of disguise – is also posing as the President. He’s using nanotechnology to create a digital mask of the President’s face.

Cobra is GI Joe’s lifelong enemy and the exact opposite of the special military unit. Cobra is your classic 80s cartoon villain; meaning they just want to rule. You don’t always know why, their plans might not always make sense, but they want to be the ones calling the shots and that’s that!

Even though they control the White House, they’re still not at full capacity. Their leader – Cobra Commander – is being held hostage in a secret military base. They have to break him out if they are to implement the next steps in their plan.
So if you don’t see where this is going already, let me fill you in. They plan to frame the Joes for some bad stuff, as well as break their boss out of this secret base. Without giving too much away, they succeed in achieving both goals. There wouldn’t be much of a movie if they didn’t.

The only Joes who survive the onslaught are Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), and Flint (D.J. Cortana). Ok, well that’s not completely true, Snake Eyes (Ray Park) is still alive, but that’s only because he wasn’t at the base when it was attacked. He was off conducting ninja business. Something about trying to restore the honor of his clan I believe. He’s working with a new member named Jinx (Elodie Yung), who is the cousin of his sworn enemy, Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee). Snake Eyes doesn’t trust her because of her relation to Storm Shadow. There’s also a retired Joe floating out there played by Bruce Willis. Long story short, they all eventually meet up, and have to wage some guerrilla warfare on Cobra to clear their names and free the U.S. government from Cobra’s clutches.

GI Joe: Retaliation

If that sounds simplistic, that’s because it is. This franchise has never been particularly deep. It’s about good vs evil. Period. Ok, throw in some ninjas, crazy technology, and a few “Yeah America!” moments and that’s what GI Joe is about. There’s no politics or grey areas. It’s very idealistic and simple, but dressed up with a lot of widgets, gadgets, and colorful characters. It’s meant to entertain.

For the most part, it did. I had a smile on my face throughout most of the movie. The costumes, characters, technology that isn’t even remotely realistic – I enjoyed it all. It was really fun to see the comics and cartoons I ate up as a kid come to life. The first movie was stupid. This one was stupid fun.

Aside from a couple of scenes that went a little too big, the action was fun. The Rock (sorry Dwayne Johnson) had an awesome fight with Ray Stevenson (who played one of the Cobra baddies). They went back and forth between slugging it out (they’re both big guys too) and trying to pump each other full of lead. No wait, they actually had two fight scenes now that I think about it.  They were both fun and had a nice mix of running, chasing, smashing things – as well as each other – and shooting at one another with a wonderfully wide array of weaponry (say that three times fast). Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow continued their eternal rivalry. These characters are like Batman and Joker. As long as the franchise is around, they will always be at each other’s throats, and fans will always want to see the latest version of it.

GI Joe: Retaliation

Dwayne Johnson has been hit or miss with his roles since leaving wrestling for acting. He’s got the goods, but hasn’t always picked the best projects. I thought the movie itself was fun and his performance in it was one of the reasons for that. He was a good lead. He also had really good chemistry with Channing Tatum (even though his character was in the movie for 10 minutes). I wouldn’t mind seeing him brought back and since his character was killed off-screen they can work around it. Ray Stevenson was awesome as Firefly. He was great nemesis to Johnson’s heroic lead. Adrianne Palicki was a bad-ass in this movie. The female leads in the first one (Rachel Nichols and Sienne Miller) weren terrible, so it was nice to see the ladies well represented. She was tough, sexy, and funny. A couple of her scenes with Bruce Willis were rally amusing. Speaking of funny, Jonathan Pryce was hilarious. He got to play two versions of the same character. First was the President, who was being held hostage. Second was the guy impersonating the president, who acted normal while on the job, but was completely ridiculous behind closed doors. I couldn’t help but laugh at how nuts he was when acting like his true self. It was also fantastic to see the Cobra Commander! Finally! And they hinted at his and Destro’s hatred for one another (despite them being on the same side). I hope that’s expanded on in another movie.

This movie is a guilty pleasure. It’s big, dumb, ridiculous fun. It’s what the Transformers movies are trying to be (the sequels at least, I thought the first one was decent). If you can go into this movie with that mindset, are the kind of person who enjoys all the absurd technology and vehicles in the GI Joe universe, like ninjas, enjoy a good fist fight, like good guys and bad guys shooting at one another with oversized guns, then this movie is for you.

Rating: Thumbs half up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on May 2, 2014.