Review: G.I. JOE: RETALIATION Kicks Way More Ass Than It Needs To

Brian Clark, European Editor
G.I. Joe: Retaliation is not the toy-line adaptation movie we deserve. A market that allows for studio execs to even bat around the idea of dropping more than $100 million dollars on a consumerist nostalgia cash-in based on a bunch of action figures deserves the laziest, most incoherent, aesthetically muddled movie that hundreds of millions of dollars can produce. Instead though, Jon M. Chu delivers an extremely well-directed, cheerfully dumb and occasionally dazzling spectacle of explosions, muscles and one-liners. It's a hell of a lot of fun on any big-dumb blockbuster terms, but downright incredible when you consider that we're talking about a movie where the protagonist is named Roadblock (Block for short).

The plot-setup is a lot like the last Mission Impossible - The G.I. Joe team is sent on a mission in the middle east and most get killed, including Channing Tatum's character Duke, because Tatum's on his way to becoming a serious actor now. The remaining three Joe's, Block (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye and Flint, soon find out things are worse than they thought -- The President of the United States is on National TV telling the nation that the G.I. Joe team are the terrorists!

Only, it's not actually the president, but a villain named Zartan whose apparently a master of disguise. Yep, some shape-shifting villain kidnapped the president, replaced all of his secret service team and took his place. This is the first of many examples of a plot point so absurd that it seems to have come straight from the mind of an eleven year-old -- and in this case, I think that's actually a compliment.

The ensuing story developments continue in this fashion and involve ninjas, hundreds of nuclear weapons, Bruce Willis, an imaginative prison-break, George Patton's pistol (not joking), satellite weaponry, RZA, even more ninjas and of course, guns and tanks. We also meet dozens of characters with funny names like Firefly, Storm Shadow, Snake Eyes and, my favorite, Jinx.

But what really keeps the movie afloat isn't its knowing sense of the absurd, but rather Chu's assured direction. Until now, Chu's only credits are a few Step-Up sequels and the Justin Bieber movie, which perhaps makes him a surprising choice to take over the franchise. Actually though, as I watched the action scenes unfold in G.I. Joe, it hit me that someone with experience filming complex dance numbers is actually a perfect to helm this type of movie.

Chu knows exactly how to capture the action and sense of space without losing the viewer, and has an deft knack for pacing and editing. He is more visually competent at directing action than almost all the directors currently tackling this sort of thing, and as a result, the stunts and set-pieces are consistently exhilarating even when the stakes aren't clear. One mountain-side sword fight on zip-lines is -- I might as well say it -- breathtaking, and certainly more thrilling than any single scene in either The Avengers or the Spider Man reboot. And here, the 3-D conversion actually adds to the spectacle -- not necessarily because of the technical aspects, but rather because Chu's directing and editing are so competent and assured that the result isn't headache-inducing.

As this is a G.I. Joe movie, there is plenty of gun-porn, a plug for Fox News, and even a plot point that (I think) takes a firm stance against global nuclear disarmament. The dialogue is mostly a mashup of tough-guy banter and weak pop-culture references, but the actors, especially the villains, throw themselves into the roles admirably. Also, one part where a character quips, "I don't know why they call it water-boarding, because I never get bored," made me laugh out loud. Sorry.

As hardcore G.I. Joe fans have probably already guessed, the military action figures played only a peripheral role in my childhood, and I never did see the first film of this series because well, I didn't have to. And so, I can't speak to how the movie functions as a continuation of the first, or about whether it is more faithful to the action figures (whatever that even means). But as far as big, dumb twelve-year old war fantasies go, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is an effective, sometimes inspired one that caters perfectly to its target audience. And, unlike most films of its ilk, it gets the job done quickly and efficiently, clocking in at just a little more than an hour and a half. 
Around the Internet:
  • Fernando Yanmar Narciso

    what bothered me in the film was that zartan literally made london quit existing and nobody gave a damn about that in the ending

  • Rationalchopsticks

    Man the thing that REALLY got me about that was that the Joes waited until AFTER millions of Londoners got vaporized to spring into action. They were literally just waiting at the sidelines outside that room, waiting to spring their plan. The script is ridiculous levels of stupid.

  • Brian Clark

    Hahaha, for some reason I thought that was hilarious, but yeah, a number of people have taken issue with the fact that the film deals in so much real world international conflict without taking any of it seriously.

  • leahtevez

    It's plain dumb fun. Dunno why ppl care about deep characters or intriguing plot lines. It's a movie about toys. Blow crap up, be loud & noisy, put in some corny dialogue and fill it with all the action you can.

  • Matt Zimmermann

    I enjoyed this movie immensely...but when you say that the mountaintop zipline scene is more thrilling than any scene in The Avengers you make me want to shoot myself for liking it. Are you fucking serious man?

  • Brian Clark

    aw, put the gun down. It's just an opinion that's different than yours. Whedon is a clever, witty guy with some real writing chops, but i think that visually, he's borderline incompetent. there was not a single sustained sequence in the avengers that i even remember making me feel even half of the excitement of that mountain scene in GI JOE. On the flipside, there was nothing as excessive and dragged-out in JOE as the neverending alien robot monster attacks new york thing in the Avengers.

  • Juan Andrés Valencia

    Just came back from watching it. It's extremely stupid but the action sequences are top notch.

  • hutch

    You and I may have different ideas about top notch action sequences are. I remember people praising that fight between Johnson and VinDisel in 'Fast & Furious' while I thought my jaw was going to break from yawning so hard.

  • That fight sequence was certainly far from 'top notch' in terms of inventive fight choreography or bringing anything really new to the table but I personally found it really damn funny and really damn entertaining in the way it literally oiled Dwayne up and played to all those old, homoerotic stereotypes of action movies from the late 80s / early 90s. To me that was a very intentional nod and wink to the audience that was very, very well executed.

  • bmg314

    Thanks for the SPOILER warning! :-\

  • Brian Clark

    I do apologize if I've ruined the moviegoing experience for anyone, but I weighed both sides of it, and I really don't think that giving away something from the first ten minutes of a movie that barely has a script in the first place constitutes a serious spoiler

  • bmg314

    No worries... If it was that important to me I wouldn't have read any reviews before seeing the film...

    Then again, it would have been pretty easy to type: "spoilers ahead!" :-P

  • SpongeBorg

    Ok, I've seen it and as the reviewer suggests keep your expectations low and you won't be disappointed. The thing that bothers me about this film was that certain parts were really good (again, for an action flick based on a toy line) but others were so nonsensical that they made me angry. The Rock and Jonathan Pryce seem to be having a good time and it's contagious... Bruce Willis might as well have been Liam Neeson in Battleship. I also thought Channing Tatum's character Duke would be making a surprise resurrection and waited through the entire credits for a final shot telling us, hey he's not dead. But no, for whatever reason he's toast (which probably won't stop them for bringing him back in the next one with a different actor if this one makes enough money). I just wish all the action scenes were as good as the the zip line fight scene and the thing had just a little more internal logic.

  • Dalinkwent

    The mountain fight was the only stand out scene in the movie. Storm Shadow breaking out Cobra was also pretty cool. Every thing else was pretty standard. Not a bad film, CERTAINLY better than the first.

  • Cedric Chou Ya-Li

    The Gorb wets his pants over 'Olympus', the Clark does the same in 'Retaliation': I don't know what's the drug "du jour" at Twitch, but I want to score some!

  • The Gorb was supposed to review this thing, but they scheduled the press screening on first night of Passover, JUST TO FUCK OVER ALL THE JEWS.

    Well, maybe that wasn't the reason, but, naturally, I took it that way.

    Feel bad for me, I'm off to THE HOST, and might need some JOE'ing afterwards to clean the palate.

    OLYMPUS is magnificent. 'Nuff said.

  • Ard Vijn

    This comment is so funny in hindsight. Because after having read your THE HOST review, yeah, I actually DO feel bad for you! You took one for the team, buddy!

  • Brian Clark

    Haha, Mescaline, tequila, gin, champagne and orange juice like they drink in that new Almodovar movie -- "agua valencia."

    But, no, really, I'm just trying to review a G.I. Joe movie on its own terms here. This isn't some action movie game changer that everyone should see, and I think it's pretty clear that my expectations were somewhere below sea level before the movie started. The movie is still 100% dumb, shallow and politically wrong-headed. But I wouldn't want anything thing else from a G.I. Joe movie, and those who were at all invested in the existence of this thing will have a good time. And yeah, I stand by everything I said. There are at least two set
    pieces that, in my opinion, represent some of the finest pop filmmaking
    that I've seen in this type of movie in a long time. I'm probably extra
    enthusiastic since THE AVENGERS gave me a headache, SPIDERMAN elicited zero wonder or exhilaration (especially compared to the mountain scene in
    GI JOE!) and TAKEN 2 felt like it was edited by a robot blender. So, you know, read the review, get a sense of the thing and make up your own mind of whether you should see it. Also, for what it's worth, I got a way bigger buzz from this one than all the violent, jingoistic fear-mongering in Olympus Has Fallen.

  • hutch

    Well it's down right decent of you to write this review. I still won't see it though. I don't double dip in franchises that burned me. I'd rather use that 20 bucks to help kick start whatever the fuck Astron-6 has next in the canon.

  • Brian Clark

    I support this. I thought it was a pretty good dumb movie, but by no means something that everyone NEEDS to see.

  • tman418

    "The G.I. Joe team is sent on a mission in the middle east and most get killed, including Channing Tatum's character Duke, because Tatum's on his way to becoming a serious actor now."

    Wait a minute...I thought that one of the reasons for film's major delay (it was supposed to be released June 29th 2012) because they had to re-shoot much of the movie so that Channing Tatum wasn't killed off in the first few minutes of the film. Are those rumors false?

  • Brian Clark

    Nah, I mean, I don't think it's a spoiler -- dude dies in the first five or ten minutes. He doesn't even last half as long as Steven Segal in Executive Decision.

    I've seen about three different run times listed for the movie, so I suspect that there was quite a bit of re-editing done during the delays. Who knows. It's still just a G.I. Joe movie at the end of the day.

  • Ard Vijn

    STEVEN SEGAL DIES?!!

  • VyceVictus

    The official story is that it was delayed for 3D conversion

  • tman418

    Right, that was "official" reason, which was true. But I was told that the reason why it was delayed for an unusual amount of time (longer than it usually takes to convert a movie to 3D) was because Paramount decided to re-shoot the film because "test audiences" didn't like the fact that Channing Tatum's character died too soon, due to the fact that Tatum has become a much bigger star since the first G.I. Joe movie.

    However, I did hear through the grapevine that such rumors wer false. But on the other hand, maybe they were true, because I'm seeing a lot of previews with Channing Tatum and The Rock being "buddy buddy" in the film. So I'm just gonna have to wait and see the movie for myself.

    I was also told that Paramount didn't want their film competing with "Magic Mike," which also starred Channing Tatum and was scheduled to be released on June 29th, 2012, the same date that GIJR was supposed to be released.

  • hutch

    They didn't want GIJOE competing with the other films of the time. That's for sure.

  • hutch

    GI JOE a kick ass movie? 3-D conversion stunning? You guys know April 1st is still 4 days away.

  • Juan Andrés Valencia

    I honestly wish I was kidding.

  • Brian Clark

    I'm not super up on the tech aspects because I don't like 3-D that much, but yeah, it works stunningly well in this movie. Chalk it up to the conversion or the fact that Chu doesn't cut between 100 closeups over the course of five seconds like most action movies these days or both.

  • Juan Andrés Valencia

    To be fair, some conversions are amazing like Top Gun, The Lion King, Beauty And The Beast or Piranha 3D but it's mostly because they took their time and they actually gave two fucks about them.

    This one seems to have been a perfect fit for a remarkably stupidly awesome film and it's the living proof that 3D conversions CAN work, hell, look at the new Star Trek film, the thing looks as good as many films that have been shot in 3D (And even that can fail, do I need to mention Tron Legacy or The Amazing Spiderman).

  • Ard Vijn

    Piranha 3D's conversion was amazingly bad. People's hair was either three feet behind them or moving through walls, cables went to the wrong ships, some people were floating a few inches above the deck, a computer monitor showed 3D (how does THAT work?!)... the list continues.

    Granted, the movie completely redeemed itself with the 3D underwater swimming scenes.

  • Juan Andrés Valencia

    It's also worth mentioning that the 3D conversion looks ABSOLUTELY STUNNING.

  • Wow. I almost want to see this now. HATED the first one, which I watched for free on the tube.

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