G.I. Joe: Retaliation
– for intense sequences of combat violence and martial arts action throughout, and for brief sensuality and language.
Director: Jon M. Chu
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, D.J. Cotrona, Jonathan Pryce, Byung-hun Lee, Adrianne Palicki, Ray Park, Bruce Willis, Channing Tatum
Running Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Theatrical Release Date: March 29, 2013
Blu-Ray Release Date: July, 2013 (Amazon.com)
In G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the team is not only fighting their mortal enemy, Cobra, but they are forced to contend with threats from within the government that jeopardize their very existence.
As a product of the 80s myself, it should come as no surprise that a brand like G.I. Joe is something that sparks the interest of my inner child. There were few new movies I wanted to see come to light more than G.I. Joe as a kid. And when a live action movie had been teased via live action commercials, comic books and toys, my hopes had been high. As we know how the story goes, it wouldn’t be until 2009 when the first live action G.I. Joe film would become a reality. After the success of the 2007 live action treatment of Transformers, it seemed like a no-brainer to bring G.I. Joe to the big screen. Sadly, their first attempt was painfully flawed, with the first mistake having been bringing a director like Stephen Sommers on to helm the film. Sommers had begun to seemingly lose his grip on what makes a good movie following the success of the 1999 The Mummy reboot, and his fingers brought little good to breathing life into the G.I. Joe franchise. After G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was met with a respectable reception in the late summer of 2009, it seemed only right to continue the story in a sequel. It was eventually greenlit, thankfully without Sommers, and G.I. Joe: Retaliation was set for a summer 2012 debut.
Sadly, only a month from its late June 2012 release, G.I. Joe: Retaliation was shelved. Not only was it pushed back from its summer release, but it was delayed nine months to March 29, 2013. The reasons given were that it was to be converted to 3D, while rumors of Channing Tatum’s character Duke meeting an untimely end early in the film apparently inspired the addition of a few extra scenes between Duke and Roadblock. But whatever that reason, fans hoping for a better live action treatment of G.I. Joe would indeed have to wait almost another year (which, we all know, would also mean that a possible third movie would also be delayed because of it). But the time has come and G.I. Joe: Retaliation is here; so these questions remain: is it better than the first film? Does Duke really die? Was it all worth the wait?
I’ll be completely honest; this review is written by a guy who takes his G.I. Joe to heart. (My older brother and I spent many hours as wee lads playing with armies of G.I. Joes on our living room floor.) After seeing the 2009 film, I revisited the 80s cartoon series, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, and loved it. As I said before, I grew up on the show as a kid, but seeing it as an adult was deliciously nostalgic. The show was cheesy, sure, but it was a great deal of fun too. The 2009 film tried to capture it somewhat, but missed feeling like G.I. Joe at all. And that’s the most important thing when you’re trying to update something people are already familiar with in some form. You need to at least capture the heart of the show. Nearly every character was drastically changed, while other characters were given relations to each other that not only made no sense, but had nothing to do with the original canon. So, with many fan’s complaints about The Rise of Cobra, Retaliation was treated as much as a reboot as it was a sequel. The end result is a tremendous improvement, but its execution is bittersweet in many ways.
The cartoon series often focused on different groups of Joes from episode to episode. For example, one episode would have Duke and Scarlett leading the pack, while another would have Flint and Lady Jaye in the lead. Sometimes all four would be involved in some form, but the constant? Cobra Commander. But in the same way that Duke and Flint would take their turn at the forefront of a given episode, Zartan and Destro (with the Baroness) would also sort of move in and out of the story. [Warning: some minor spoilers ahead] For Retaliation, Destro is dismissed pretty early on (in a way that leaves his fate very ambiguous), while Baroness isn’t even mentioned at all (I guess we can chalk that up to her being imprisoned at the end of the first movie). The big unanswered question just might be “How in the heck did Storm Shadow survive being run through by a sword and dropped into freezing cold arctic water?” but they avoid even attempting to explain it and just assume an explanation isn’t important and just have him suddenly appear in the film like nothing ever happened (y’know, like death?). Other heroes from the first movie, like Scarlett, Ripcord, General Hawk and Breaker, have a noticeable, unexplained absence here. In many ways, I have to admit that I just didn’t miss them, but it’s kind of implied that, when most of the Joes are killed in a devastating surprise air strike, that they could have been among the casualties. (Those characters hardly felt like G.I. Joe characters in the first movie, so their absence makes this feel oddly more like G.I. Joe, to me at least.) And finally, to answer everyone’s question, Duke does indeed meet his demise fairly early on in the film. Channing Tatum was one of my least favorite cast members in The Rise of Cobra and when I first heard that he got offed in the movie last year, I was pretty excited. I’m not a fan of Tatum, but if you ever saw the original cartoon, it can probably be agreed that Tatum isn’t a thing like the original Duke. Oddly enough, Tatum’s interpretation of Duke in Retaliation is far more likeable than in Rise of Cobra. He and Dwayne Johnson–who plays Roadblock here–actually do look great on screen together, and they played off each other far better than Tatum did with Marlon Wayans as Ripcord. (Actually, there’s no character in this movie that exists solely for comic relief, and I’m quite grateful for that.) However, it seems like a fairly odd choice to make Roadblock–a character who spoke in rhyme and was known for his skills as a chef in the cartoon–the new leader. In fact, Flint is extremely toned down from his chisel-jawed, take-charge animated counterpart here, so it’s an odd role reversal. Flint was a leader originally, but he plays second fiddle here. Still, I appreciate the attempt to bring in some chemistry between Lady Jaye and Flint, and it’s kept as subtle as it was in the show.
I admit I was pretty terrified upon hearing that Sommers was replaced with director Jon M. Chu. While I knew I was ready to wave goodbye to Sommers and his techniques, Chu’s resume doesn’t scream “action movie director.” If you take a look at Chu’s credits, you’ll see he’s primarily only helmed dance and music-themed films like Step Up 2: The Streets (2008), Step Up 3D (2010), and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (2011). The thought of a man with those credentials taking over an action/adventure franchise isn’t exciting in the least (I was half-expecting SnakeEyes and Storm Shadow to have some kind of life-and-death dance-off… Yes, I’m kidding). However, Chu turned in an end product far more in line with what one would expect from a G.I. Joe movie than Sommers did. Gone are shot after shot after shot after shot with mostly green-screened backdrops and gone are those abysmal robo-suits Sommers insisted on putting in the movie just because he wanted them in a movie. But what do we have instead? Chu took many different elements from the Joe lore and lumped it together in an attempt to appease fans while making a sequel and a reboot at the same time. The result is a bit messy, but hardly hopeless. G.I. Joe: Retaliation still has a so-so script and somewhat hyper direction and editing, taking characters from point A to B to C before you even can digest exactly why they’re doing what they’re doing. However, Chu also keeps the pace moving in a way that keeps you from overthinking these kinds of things. It works for while you’re watching it, but if you stop to think about it, you may just wonder how in the world they ever thought it made sense. But if you think about it as a live action cartoon, it’s all here: Cobra’s attempt at world domination is epic, captured characters make grand escapes, Zartan dupes many into believing he’s someone he’s not, SnakeEyes versus Storm Shadow, and big battle sequences. (Oh, and can anyone say H.I.S.S. tank?!) Cobra Commander finally sheds the stupid mask from the first movie and gets his signature silver faceplate (no matter how silly it might look in actuality), and we finally get to see the saboteur Firefly in action. But one of the highlights of the film may be the appearance of Bruce Willis as the “original” G.I. Joe, Joe Colton. Colton, in the lore, is meant to be the “G.I. Joe” from 1964, while the character was first given the name Joe Colton in 1989 in the comics (thank you, Wikipedia). Willis is always a fun screen presence and just seeing him join in the fun leant a special dash of nostalgia to the film. In truth, it probably wouldn’t be too far off to view G.I. Joe: Retaliation as the kind of story and action that might evolve during an imaginative playtime session between some kids with their G.I. Joe toys. It’s silly, amusing, but also quite entertaining–particularly if you are familiar with the characters.
The content for the film does take things a step back from Sommers’ treatment. Roadblock says “Mother—” in the opening of the film, but it’s cut off before even the start of the rest of the profanity could be used. Unlike Rise of Cobra, there are no uses of the “S” word and no severe uses of blasphemy (there is 1 “Oh my G-d,” though). The rest of the language is mostly “h*ll” and several uses of “*ss.” There is no significant sexual content, although Lady Jaye wears a small, tight jogging outfit to help distract a target they kidnap and interrogate, and later she’s seen in a busty red dress and again while changing out of it, by way of a distorted reflection on a TV screen. The main red flag, for parents to be aware of, is the constant action that seldom gets graphic but is often very, very violent. While Rise of Cobra wasn’t afraid to get pretty graphic, Retaliation only shows a little blood on some fallen victims, some burn marks on a character’s back (and through its various stages of healing) and a little bit of blood in two instances when characters are shot. Otherwise, there’s a great deal of sword-slashing and some stabbings, and lots and lots of gun play. Unfortunately, it’s too intense for the younger kids who would probably be the main target audience for a movie like this (heck, there are enough toys for it too).
For the most part, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a leap above its predecessor. While I found The Rise of Cobra to be entertaining upon my first viewing of it, all of its biggest flaws have become painfully difficult to overlook with each time I’ve seen it since. There’s potential for Retaliation to suffer the same fate from repeat viewings, but I found it to be a great deal of fun for this Joe fan with the first watch. It’s considerably more faithful to the source material and feels unmistakably more like a G.I. Joe adventure, even if it’s evident that the scope of the film had been scaled back tremendously. As anything other than a movie based around a cartoon series and toy line, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is an illogical mess, but for what it is, it’s a popcorn movie for fans of popcorn movies and a step in the right direction for the Joes, even if there is a laundry list of improvements that could still be made. I’d still love to see what a strong director and script could mean for this franchise, but until then, we have G.I. Joe: Retaliation.
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 3/29/13)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: Duke and Roadblock tease each other a bit with some mildly off-color humor. One such example is when Roadblock’s two little daughters run out of his living room, where the two Joes were sitting, and Roadblock teases Duke “That isn’t the first time you made a girl run screaming out of the room.” Duke replies, “That’s not the first time I made two girls run screaming out of the room,” to which Roadblock jokes that that was inappropriate; Lady Jaye wears a revealing jogging outfit in one scene, with a tight tube top, baring her stomach, and short shorts. She bends over to get the attention of a man they intend to question and he goes over to flirt with her; We see Lady Jaye in a cleavage-revealing red dress. Later, Flint unzips it for her and turns around sheepishly and tries not to watch as she slips out of the dress. We see her undressing by way of her very distorted reflection in a TV screen. We see there that she’s wearing black underwear (but it’s not that revealing).
Vulgarity/Language: 1 incomplete “mother–“, 1 “Oh my G-d,” 1 “d*mn,” 8 “h*ll,” 4 “a” words; Firefly gives two middle fingers to Zartan
Alcohol/Drugs: Some characters may be drinking at a banquet, but it’s not focused on.
Blood/Gore: The warden has blood on his face after an explosion; A large explosion singes Storm Shadow’s back and we briefly see the burned flesh on his back. Later, we see him getting some kind of treatment for it and we see a layer of white on his back (it’s tough to tell if that’s burned, dead skin or ointment of some kind on his back); Roadblock has a little blood on his face after fighting Firefly; A man who’s been shot in the arm has a little blood on his sleeve; Storm Shadow wipes a little blood from his mouth; We briefly see two bullet holes in a man’s clothing when he’s shot twice; The president runs a knife across his face and we see, not blood, but his face distort to look like Zartan’s and then back to being the president’s face; We briefly see Cobra Commander’s face looking very scarred from a fire that was shown via flashback in the first movie.
Violence: Extreme action violence: Lots of characters are shot to death; An air strike eliminates a whole platoon of soldiers. One runs to save a downed soldier and is then blown up in an explosion; We see a field littered with charred vehicles and dead bodies; Storm Shadow rams a man’s head repeatedly into the glass of a giant test tube; Storm Shadow slices up some guys in a prison with swords and stabs one while he’s on the ground (off screen); A motorcyclist sends in tiny explosive bugs that blow up parts of a prison, killing their guards. In one scene, a man investigates one in his hand and it explodes, killing him. The cyclist then leaps off his cycle and it breaks apart and collides with the front of the prison, blowing it open; Small grenades blow up, killing several people. The warden is shot and killed; Another explosion destroys part of the prison and Storm Shadow’s bare back is burned; Storm Shadow sees bodies falling past his window and runs out of the room to find SnakeEyes there. The two then fight–first with Storm throwing throwing stars at Snake and Snake just shooting them to pieces–with swords and other martial arts style fighting; Jinx and SnakeEyes knock out Storm Shadow, bag him and carry him away from the mountaintop with a slew of ninjas in pursuit. Some fall to their deaths accidentally, others are cut down by Jinx and Snake. SnakeEyes then causes an avalanche, killing a group of ninjas; Roadblock and Firefly fight with Firefly nearly killing him, but he’s hit by a car and scared off; The president is punched repeatedly; Zartan, as the president, drags a blade across his face to reveal his true face to the real president before it changes back; Roadblock jabs a needle with a sedative drug in it into a man’s leg; A man is blown up; Colton pops out of the back of a truck with a machine gun and fires on some Cobra troops; Firefly and Roadblock spar with pistols while shooting at each other; Roadblock drives a tank of sorts, blowing up stuff and other tanks along the way; Roadblock wields a gigantic chain gun at one point; We see tons and tons of weapons hidden in Colton’s house; Many nuclear warheads are shot into the atmosphere but don’t make their targets; Cobra drops a bomb in London, decimating the city; Storm Shadow cuts a bullet in half that is shot at him and then throws his sword into a man’s chest, killing him; And lots of other action violence.