(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.
Directed 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.
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.