GI Joe Retaliation seeks to bounce back from the rather passable but underwhelming first installment by signing on two of today’s most badass action icons – Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who only has to appear in a movie for its awesomeness to rise ten notches and John McClane himself — Bruce Willis.
This time, the story borrows inspiration from current events and revolves around the ongoing missile dispute among major countries in the world, most prominently the United States and North Korea. With Zartan posing as the most powerful man in the world (the President of the United States) using high level nanotechnology developed by the Cobras, he attacks the Joes and frames them in the murder of the Pakistani president. Zartan then uses the death of the Pakistan head to call on other world leaders to meet regarding nuclear disarmament in the guise of seeking a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict. All the while, the Cobras plot Cobra Commander’s escape from a high security German facility. Unfortunately for them, some of the Joes escape and vow to avenge their brothers from the treachery of the Cobras, and clear their names as loyal soldiers of the United States of America.
The story itself offers nothing new. This storyline has been rehashed time and again in mainstream action movies and the only thing that is different is the presentation. In terms of action, I could not fault the filmmakers for their execution because of the non-stop explosions, stunts and machismo that oozes from every pore of this film. However, I felt that there was too much going on most of the time that the story just fades into the background and everything just becomes a big bunch of action scenes lumped together. The problem with this is that the audience becomes so bombarded with everything that is going on that they cease to appreciate individual moments of brilliance in the execution of the scenes.
I also felt that the bromance between Roadblock (Johnson) and Duke (Channing Tatum) was a hard sell in the beginning of the movie, so much so that audiences would feel that something big will happen between the two based on their interactions and dialogue. From the get go, there was a difference in the treatment of the two actors as Johnson’s character clearly overshadowed Tatum’s character Duke, who was part of the original characters of the franchise.
Sad to say, I was also not a big fan of Johnson’s tortured look. I felt that it is one thing to project rage and anguish but its another thing to oversell it to the audience. While I could not fault Johnson for his execution of his action scenes, I could, and would call him out on his overacting.
I think the thing that differentiated GI Joe’s second installment from other action megahits like Transformers and The Expendables was that it became too intense. It focused too much on the action sequences and failed to consider its balance with fun and entertainment. GI Joe is based on a cartoon series and making it fun is a basic requisite for the film. The first installment had Marlon Wayans as Ripcord who flipped wisecracks at Channing Tatum’s Duke. This time around, no one was there to counter Roadblock’s intensity, and there were hardly any missteps on the part of the Joes that posed as a challenge to their rather impossible mission.
One thing I liked about the film was the subplot that focused on Storm Shadow (Lee Byun Hun) and the Arashikage Clan. I liked how his character was given a chance to shine in this installment because Storm Shadow is one of more dynamic characters of the franchise. Lee Byung Hun is a fine actor and I liked his fashion sense best among all the ninjas of their clan.
All in all, director John M. Chu managed to come out swinging with this high impact popcorn movie. I’m not quite sure whether I liked it in total but it did have its merits. My main problem with the movie was that it was too cliché. I guess I was just looking for something different, but I guess that’s my problem.