G.I. Joe: Retaliation

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

**

Reviewed by: David Graham

Despite the unavoidable cynicism evident in Hasbro’s raiding of its own toy-cupboard for cinematic profit, they have given licence to a few genuine guilty pleasures recently, from Michael Bay’s Eighties throwback Transformers (the 2007 effort, not the god-awful sequels) to Peter Berg’s sea-bound Independence Day romp Battleship. If you could handle the whiff of fromage, B-movie veteran Stephen Sommers ensured the first GI Joe flick was another throwaway blast, being almost as much big dumb fun as his 1999 incarnation of The Mummy with a knowing cast playing it like a live-action Team America: World Police (minus the profanity of course).

For this entirely unnecessary though potentially not unwelcome follow-up, the reins have been passed to the director of the similarly no-brainer Step Up sequels, but Jon M Chu fails to muster Sommers’ unabashed goofball energy and affection for absurdity. He’s let down by a cringe-worthy cast too, the near-ubiquitous-of-late Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and a paycheque-cashing Bruce Willis pretty much playing themselves while interchangeable nobodies struggle to keep up. There are a couple of spectacularly ludicrous set-pieces to savour – as well as some unintentionally hilarious politics – but it’s all likely to bore even the teenage boy target audience who’ll have outgrown the eponymous toys by the time they might stand a chance of being diverted by this tripe.

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Having foiled the evil COBRA organisation’s plans for world domination, Duke has graduated from a rookie Joe to become one of the GI program’s most honoured soldiers. When the operation is framed for going rogue, Duke’s right-hand man Roadblock must step in to put things right, with the help of loyal gun-man Flint and femme fatale Lady Jaye. They soon uncover COBRA’s plot to infiltrate the White House and take charge of the nation’s security, leading to a quest to reunite the team with Snake Eyes and former opponent Storm Shadow in order to prevent unprecedented nuclear devastation.

The convoluted narrative here echoes the bewildering plotting of the first film, with a Bond-gone-haywire approach to events and far too many characters both new and conspicuous by their absence. It’s an incoherent jumble made even more difficult to follow by the limitations placed on the onscreen action by the necessitated family-friendly certificate: after an initial catalystic character cull, there’s too little sense of peril as it’s often impossible to tell who’s where in the monotonous melees, which still manage to be hideously violent despite the lack of consequence and actual harm to the participants.

The stand-out sequence involves an abseiling mountainside battle that’s like a Spiderman chase where it’s never clear how the protagonists are staying suspended, but it’s no less fun for being so preposterous and at least it’s not as poorly executed as Sommers’ Van Helsing abyss-swinging fiasco. It’s almost worth the price of admission just for this breathless show-stopper alone, while a later disaster-movie set-piece impressively sets London rippling in a stunning wave of gratuitous CGI destruction. Other than that though it’s par for the course shaky-cam fisticuffs, sub-Matrix martial arts and endless explosions, with some reasonable stunt-work offset by dreary direction and overly frenetic editing.

A brief interjection of sleaze is provided by the brilliantly louche Walton Goggins, playing a similarly scene-stealing bit-part to Kevin J O’Connor in the previous offering, but Arnold Vosloo – such a memorable villain in The Mummy - is again wasted and even Jonathan Pryce struggles to make the most of his Face/Off dual role as the imprisoned president and his evil doppelganger replacement. When your chief villain’s most menacing moment involves him nonchalantly playing Angry Birds on his I-Phone, you’re either gamely winking at the audience or desperately trying to look cool for the kids. Here, it’s more likely the latter, but the film could do with more of the former.

At least the last entry had a rubber-clad-and-loving-it Sienna Miller and Joseph Gordon Levitt’s go-for-broke nutter to give the baddies some style: there’s little sense of who’s really in charge here so there’s no sense of urgency to the climax. Meanwhile, RZA’s inexplicably self-repeating appearance only reaffirms the lack of acting ability that nearly sunk his otherwise pleasurable kung-fu pastiche The Man With The Iron Fists.

Surprisingly, The Rock is also a weak link, his early scenes with best buddy Channing Tatum failing to spark despite the latter’s laid-back charm being perhaps stronger than ever given his recent critical reappraisal for the likes of 21 Jump Street, Magic Mike and Side Effects. Once the monstrously built ex-wrestler takes over, the tone becomes too serious and slippery, with his gung-ho chest-beating sitting at odds with the kitsch antics all around him. Adrianne Palicki and DJ Cotrona don’t make much of an impression either, while predictable choreography lets down the most charismatic fighters like Lee Byung-Hun, Ray Park and Elodie Yung.

It may well be shorter than Sommers’ film but it’s nowhere near as snappily paced and feels depressingly dragged out rather than enjoyably draining. The post-conversion 3D only serves to dilute the visuals, which might actually be a good thing given how cartoony it looks at times. This GI Joe is pretty much an Expendables for the pre-teen crowd, and every bit as insufferable and offensive as that sounds. Even Bruce Willis’ extended, joyless cameo represents another hold-over from Sly’s misjudged retro franchise, adding insult to injury by wrapping up the chauvinistic undertones with a sickening daddy-issues dynamic. Retaliation could quite easily have delivered more of Sommers’ old-fashioned fun, but instead it leaves Joe DOA at the second hurdle.

Reviewed on: 26 Mar 2013
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G.I. Joe: Retaliation packshot
The GI Joes face a double thrat - from COBRA and from their own government.
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Director: Jon M Chu

Writer: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, DJ Cotrona, Channing Tatum, Byung-hun Lee, Elodie Yung, Ray Stevenson

Year: 2013

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

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