There’s a very simple test to figure out if you’re going to enjoy G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Imagine a kid, playing with his toys, creating an epic, albeit not entirely coherent adventure for them; then imagine someone turned everything that kid imagined into a big-budget movie. If that sounds horrible to you, don’t go see this movie. If you understand why this is the highest compliment I can pay G.I. Joe: Retaliation, you should go ahead and buy your tickets now.
Retaliation improves upon its predecessor in pretty much every way imaginable. Gone are the Accelerator suits, non-epic car chases and Marlon Wayans. Retaliation feels like G.I. Joe — not like the cartoon, not just like the comic, but what people loved about the franchise (especially the toys). Director Jon M. Chu gets it. It’s like he made a checklist about what made G.I. Joe special, and decided Retaliation was gonna have all of it. Which means we get:
• A few covert Joe missions
• A few gadgets that are a little bit out there but not wholly unbelievable
• Ninja fights
• People shooting at each other
• Unique-looking military vehicles attacking each other
• More ninja fights
And Retaliation packs all this and more into its trim, just-under-100-minute run time. Between the entertainment on screen and the brisk pacing, there’s practically no time to think about the film’s plot holes and problems. I’ve listed a few in the spoiler-y musings section below, but let me assure you, when I realized them, I thought, “Well, that doesn’t make much sense, but I’m having such a good time. Who cares?”
Which is another way Retaliation improves on the original. Here’s a few more things Retaliation has/does better/does right more than Rise of Cobra:
• Likeable characters
• Cool Cobra agents
• Made Cobra Commander look awesome
• Made Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow seem like badasses while they were adults
• A simultaneously goofy and cool Cobra plot to take over the world
• A simultaneously ridiculous yet diabolical Cobra weapon they use to take over the world
• Raised the stakes almost immediately (i.e. had stakes)
Retaliation isn’t a perfect movie by any means — no one’s going to confuse it with Citizen Kane — but it’s a completely sold action movie while being a thoughtful love letter to G.I. Joe fans. But it’s not slavish devotion — Chu truly cherry picks the essence of G.I. Joe, and brings out its best to the big screen in a way that should entertain hardcore fans and mass audiences alike.
Assorted Non-Spoiler Musings:
• The Rock was born to be in a live-action G.I. Joe movie. I know he had a wrestling career before this, but this is his true calling.
• The fact that Chu somehow made this movie mesh with the nonsense of the first one, while somehow still being this entertaining, makes me feel he should win should kind of special Academy Award. “Best Transformation of Shit into Gold” or something like that.
• I hate that Channing Tatum seems like a likeable, funny guy. He was a black hole of acting in the first Joe movie, but between this and 21 Jump Street, he seems like a genuinely funny, aware dude. I HATE THAT. LET ME HATE YOU, CHANNING TATUM.
• Oh, one more thing — I personally wouldn’t recommend seeing it in 3D. The action scenes are edited so quick that the 3D actually makes them a little hard to follow, which is a shame. But it may have just been me.
Assorted SPOILER-Y Musings:
• Another thing I loved — people kept their fucking masks on part of the time. I know actors are paid big bucks and showing their faces is part of the deal, but it makes a world of difference. Ray Stevenson’s Firefly was so much more intimidating with his mask on.
• I have absolutely no idea why they let Walton Goggins be an awesome bastard of a prison warden with a ton of great lines — it’s completely unnecessary to the movie — but it was still awesome. Walton Goggins is the best.
• Speaking of awesome people, Jonathan Pryce clearly had a lot of fun in the role of Zartan as the president, and it showed.
• Flint was kind of a non-entity though, right? Not only was his character a bit of a newbie, the actor — well, everytime I saw him, all I could think is, “That’s a mediocre photocopy of Karl Urban.”
• Thought: Cobra Commander didn’t sound like Cobra Commander (which is fine, because that would have been awful in a live-action movie) but he talked like Cobra Commander. Well done.
• Holy shit Duke really died. I heard the rumor, and hoped it was true, but then… he and Roadblock were so awesome. Here is the magic of G.I. Joe: Retaliation — I MISSED CHANNING TATUM. Although him being in charge of Joe after the first movie is still ludicrous.
• One plot point that was such nonsense I was forced to ponder it: The Zartan/Storm Shadow origin story. Almost as dumb as the Duke/Baroness thing from the first movie, but it only takes up about a minute of screen time.
• Man, I wasn’t a big fan of turning Storm Shadow into the honorable anti-hero so soon, but I can’t say it didn’t touch my nerd brain in a special way when Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow fought back-to-back.