G.I. Joe: Retaliation

Posted by Michael Parsons on March 28, 2013 in / No Comments


(This review was originally published on March 28, 2013 at Reel Film News)

If I were to tell you about a movie in which the President of the United States is held hostage inside his own compound while a criminal mastermind has his way with our country’s nuclear arsenal, you might think I was rehashing my review of last week’s unintentionally hilarious Olympus Has Fallen. In fact, I’d be talking about “G.I. Joe: Retaliation”, the long delayed second entry in the Hasbro-spawned action franchise. The big difference is that “Joe”, though sharing more than a few traits with the the aforementioned ‘White House under siege’ clunker, never takes itself too seriously. And we’d be silly to expect it to.

“Zombieland” writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick understand how to approach such ‘high concept’ stuff, and with tongue planted firmly in cheek (the film’s relatively high body count notwithstanding), it’s often a whole lotta fun. Somewhat maintaining the spirit of the popular action figure that inspired both cartoon and comic book incarnations, and more of an overhaul of than a sequel to 2009‘s disappointing “G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra”,  “Retaliation” revitalizes the fledgling series with a fresh cast and – get this – some pretty creative dialogue.

96872_galDirected by Jon M. Chu (“Step Up 3D”), “Retaliation” introduces Dwayne Johnson (“Fast Five”) as the character ‘Roadblock’, who leads a small group of Joes after an aerial strike wipes out almost the entire unit. The attack is perpetrated by a diabolical character named Zartan, who’s taken the physical identity of the U.S. President (Jonathan Pryce, reprising his role from the first film) thanks to a microscopic technology called ‘nanomites’, allowing him to subvert national security right under America’s nose. Meanwhile, the real Commander In Chief is tied up in a bunker, stuck listening to his sinister doppelgänger spit out some surprisingly funny one liners.

Quickly recognizing that the President isn’t who he says he is, Roadblock, along with Jaye (Adrianne Palicki, “Red Dawn”) and Flint (D.J. Cotrona, “Dear John”), who are all presumed dead, seek the aid of crusty retired General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis) who as we’re to understand, was the genesis of the G.I. Joe program some years ago.

89116_gal-500x333As it turns out, the whole conspiracy is a means for Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey) to destroy the world’s nuclear cache under the false pretense of global peace.

Like with most films of this breed, plot is not what sells tickets, and certainly not what keeps us on the edge of our seats. But this one has  several surprises. An early scene establishing the friendship between Roadblock and Duke (Channing Tatum, also reprising his role from the first movie) sets the comic tempo of the film as they bicker over a game of ‘Call of Duty’. Another  highlight is Jonathan Pryce’s wisecracking portrayal of the imposter president  (in one scene, Lady Jaye meets him under the guise of a Fox News reporter. His comment to her is: “That must be why you look so fair and balanced.”) Talented martial artist Ray Park returns as Snake Eyes, and Willis, who has fifteen minutes of screen time at most, proves a more likable and interesting character than in the entirety of “A Good Day to Die Hard” (angry elaboration in my forthcoming commentary, ‘What the Hell Happened to John McClane?’).

Energetic and entertaining, “G.I. Joe: Retaliation”  lays its groundwork in a realm where the laws of physics (among other things) don’t apply, which should be expected from the nature of its source material. As far as PG-13 popcorn fare goes, this one is well above average. Seems to me that whenever an action franchise needs a boost, ‘The Rock’ is the guy for the job.


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Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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