Although it’s not much, “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” really deserves credit where credit’s due. Its 2009 predecessor was one of the dumbest action movies of the past 10 years. In this sequel, director Jon M. Chu of those “Step Up” movies makes an attempt to incorporate some humor, creative action sequences, and impressive visuals. That doesn’t mean “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is a good movie, but at least it’s an improvement. The film could have gone down the route of the “Transformers” series, which only got worse with every entry.
While “Retaliation” is in the same continuity of “Rise of Cobra,” screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick wisely decide to wipe the slate clean for the most part. Fans were not pleased with Sienna Miller’s Razzie-winning performance as The Baroness, making no attempt to do that sexy European accent. People will be pleased to know that she’s gone, as is Marlon Wayans as the “comedic relief.” Channing Tatum is back as Duke, but he’s fortunately demoted to a minor supporting role. Our new leading man is Dwayne Johnson as Roadblock, who is one of three Joes that survive a terrorist attack instigated by Cobra. Along with D.J. Cotrona’s Flint and Adrianne Palicki’s Jaye, Roadblock sets out to stop Cobra Commander from taking over the world with nuclear weapons.
“G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra” fell flat because the content was so laughable, and yet the filmmakers took matters all too seriously. “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is a much more self-aware outing. The film knows that it’s a loud, silly action picture and never acts like anything more. At the same time, the audience still gets the sense that director Chu has real admiration for this franchise that has spawned countless toys and cartoon series. That’s more than can be said about Michael Bay, who obviously has no affection whatsoever for “Transformers.”
The downside is that you never come to care about anyone or anything in this endless string of relentless action. “G.I.: Joe” has always been lacking in compelling characters and this film is no exception. Not a single hero sticks out as an individual here, not even Bruce Willis as the retired Gen. Joe Colton who gave the Joes their name. The actors all have decent chemistry unlike in the last film where everybody came off as unnatural and embarrassed. The only performer that gives a genuinely bad performance this time around is RZA as the unintentionally hilarious Blind Master. Despite the best efforts of everyone else, though, nobody can breathe life into any of these wooden characters, or perhaps plastic characters would be more accurate.
There is one standout actor with Jonathan Pryce in a dual performance as the President and a Cobra terrorist who has stolen his identity. Come to think of it, does the President even have a name in this movie? Apparently not, according to IMDb and Wikipedia. In any case, Pryce does have a ton of fun as the nameless commander-in-chief. It’s just too bad none of the Joes are nearly as charismatic or lively.
So yeah, this really isn’t a plot-driven or character-driven movie. But it’s “G.I. Joe,” what do you expect? If you collected all the Hasbro toys, watched all the shows, enjoyed the previous live-action movie, and have an urge to see automobiles blow up, “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” will deliver. As someone who isn’t especially nostalgic for this series and is fed up with nonstop action, it did little for me. The film’s real victory is that it’s not nearly as bad as it could have been. Maybe that means “G.I.: Joe 3” might actually have potential to be mildly entertaining.