G.I. Joe: Retaliation is an odd sequel. With only 1 1/2 returning cast members and an entirely new look and behind-the-scenes team, it feels more like a reboot than a sequel. However, it IS a sequel–the plot directly references the first one in several key places, and entirely ignores the first one in other aspects, some of them quite large as well. It’s a muddled concept from the start.
It’s not a total failure, though. The disconnect from the first movie probably won’t bother most, since the general reaction to it was rather poor. That first movie really aimed to be a giant summer blockbuster. This one feels scaled down, which is too bad. On the other hand, that lower budget and expectations really seemed to give them freedom to embrace some of the goofier aspects of G.I. Joe as a toy/cartoon franchise.
At several points in this movie, I thought to myself “Hey, didn’t I have the toy of that vehicle when I was a kid?” It’s kind of fun to see a real version of the high-tech Cobra weaponry that accompanied the action figures. Ditto for the costumes. The movie certainly doesn’t hew too close to realism, consider the large contingent of ninjas dressed in red, and one Joe dressed in bright yellow–they practically look like outfits from Mortal Kombat.
The acting is a mixed bag. Considering there is virtually nobody left from the first movie, we’re starting over. The Rock is fun to watch, but he always is, and I don’t think he did anything special here. DJ Cotrona has almost no personality. Adrianne Palicki is the main/only female character, so she stands out in that aspect. Her performance was fine. Bruce Willis actually does look like he’s having some fun, but he also doesn’t really belong in the movie. It’s like he had a free week, so the producers decided to shoehorn him in because, hey, who doesn’t like Bruce Willis? His role is pretty superfluous though. Same for Ray Stevenson, as the main Cobra henchman. The best actor by far is Jonathan Pryce. He is great in his role, and it’s nice to see a “respected” actor not afraid to wallow in a silly blockbuster.
The plot–as in, Cobra’s plan to rule the world, is good, culminating in a fantastic scene with Zartan and the 7 other biggest world leaders at a supposed conference. I won’t ruin it, but it’s a great evil scheme and genuinely suspenseful. Side note to that–somehow, North Korea is included in this summit of the 8 most powerful nations–which is really just an excuse to AGAIN poke fun at North Korea, the last remaining ethnic group that Hollywood doesn’t care about offending (see my review of Olympus Has Fallen).
The plot may be fine, but I have to fault the director for big holes and just plain dumbness. The movie kind of jumps around without flowing very well. There is no real introduction to the characters, despite all being new. Why is The Rock code-named Roadblock? Why does Bruce Willis call Lady Jaye “Brenda” twice, after she says that’s not her name? Does he know her? After leaving an ambush in a hurry, how does Roadblock suddenly have a massive arsenal scavenged from the ambush site? Why does the villain flee to the dock and choose the smaller, slower boat, leaving the hero to jump in a faster boat to pursue him? The movie is full of this stuff. Maybe I should blame the writers, but this movie is DUMB.
It’s sure fun at times though, seeing toys and cartoons come to life. The movie works best when it embraces the ridiculous and over-the-top. Anytime it tries to be “gritty” are the weakest points. Overall, if you can’t tolerate illogical movies, or like serious action movies, skip this one. If you’re just looking for an entertaining ride one evening, this fits the bill.