Review: Knowing that “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is weak – is half the battle

March 28th, 2013 at 11:17 pm by under Entertainment

Franchise ruined.

I’m normally nicer about saying these things but… those two words pretty much sum it all up.

After seeing “G.I. Joe: Retaliation”, I have an even greater respect for Bryan Singer (“X-Men”/”X-Men 2″), Joss Whedon (“The Avengers”), and J.J. Abrams (“Star Trek”) who carefully put together a bunch of popular characters into a movie that worked for both fans and people not familiar with the original stories.

“G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is just the latest mistake, see 2011′s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” that tried and failed to put a  bunch of characters from an 80′s franchise into a movie and make it interesting and satisfy the fans.

"G.I. Joe: Retaliation" poster courtesy Paramount Pictures

“G.I. Joe: Retaliation” poster courtesy Paramount Pictures

(My spoiler-free review)

Let’s start with the good things about the movie, because its a short list.

There is plenty of action – explosions, gun battles, hand-to-hand combat, swordplay, ninjas, reconnaissance, etc.

Sure the action is over-the-top ridiculous and they’re doing things that are basically impossible but so was the 1980s cartoon.

There’s some cool high-tech gadgets, its a little grittier than the first, and there are some new characters and references – familiar to the G.I. Joe cartoons and comics.

The movie leans heavily on the solid charsimatic performance of Dwayne Johnson (Roadblock), the cold and calculating Byung-hun Lee (Storm Shadow), a playful performance by Johnathan Pryce as Zartan playing the president, and convincing new bad guy Ray Stevenson (Firefly).

The best moments in the movie were the interactions of popular characters Storm Shadow (Lee) and his mortal enemy Snake Eyes (Ray Park).   The story arc of these characters will be appreciated by the die hard fans.

Now to the critical stuff:

I am shocked that the Hasbro would put such a potential money making machine of a franchise into the uncapable hands of people that don’t seem to care about the source material… and have therefore, alienated any possible audience they would have left.

I was a fan of the original source material “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero” (1982), and the first movie – “G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra” (2009) – which I know, I had problems with, but I eventually accepted most of them.  And although the movie looks like a modernized, live action version of the cartoons… I was very disappointed.

If you saw the first movie, this isn’t a spoiler… you’ll quickly notice that there are many characters missing that were in “Rise of Cobra”: General Hawk (Dennis Quaid), Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), Breaker (Saïd Taghmaoui), Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), RipCord (Marlon Wayans).   They were the main characters… now they are MIA without any explanation.  Many of them were very popular characters back in the day.  Two of them were on the poster/DVD case.  And there is no mention of them at all.  Also, Channing Tatum’s role (Duke) is much smaller in this movie.

At the beginning, there is a very weak and confusing explanation to explain what happened since the events of “Rise of Cobra”.  Its odd because that movie ended in a way that could have been seamless into “Retaliation”.

Some of the acting was as emotionless as the plastic toy figures that were a big seller when I was a kid.  Especially ‘Flint’ (played by D.J. Cotrona).  Also troubling was the accent of Elodie Yung playing martial arts expert “Jinx” … is she British?  Japanese? American?  It seems to change during the movie.  But the most distracting performance is RZA as “Blind Master” – he looks like he’s part of a Saturday Night Live skit making fun of G.I. Joe – but he’s serious!!!  And he’s supposed to be this wise and respected man… but its hard not to laugh at his makeup and performance.

There was a story but its clunky and disjointed… with many holes in the plot.  It goes from one set piece to another and introduces one new character after another and its doesn’t all fit together like a good action/adventure movie puzzle does.

Channing Tatum and Dwayne Johnson in "G.I. Joe" Retaliation" photo courtesy Paramount Pcitures

Channing Tatum and Dwayne Johnson in “G.I. Joe” Retaliation” photo courtesy Paramount Pcitures

I could have written a better story in middle school and the fanboys and non-fans would have loved it.   The screenplay would have had the same amount of action, been a little less over-the-top, not the angle this one took to introduce new good guys, I would keep the global trek to find the bad guys and anyone to support the fight against Cobra.  Back in those days, I probably would have also included something like the effort to destroy the weather dominator.  I definitely would include more memorable charismatic characters to add to this cast: Shipwreck, Mutt and Junkyard, and even Sgt. Slaughter to join with the very popular characters of Roadblock, Flint, and Lady Jaye.  Wild Bill, Snow Job, and Torpedo would have fit perfectly into the series’ conventions of adding characters to transport or train the Joes  for special missions.  Not just a better story, I would also have smoothed out transitions from one subplot to another.

The biggest problem with this movie wasn’t the storyline: the movie has no soul.

“G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is missing any of the chemistry or heart of the first movie.  The characters you may have liked from the first that had developed chemistry are absent.  In their place: a familiar Snake Eyes and a likeable Roadblock plus a hodgepodge of characters that are either not well developed… or poorly acted.

Also, while I’m on my G.I. Joe soapbox - Joseph Gordon-Levitt didn’t return as Cobra Commander… I understand recasting… its a business… but… the new actor needed to be more animated, more maniacal, more over-the-top like the cartoon and comic book version.  Especially since he looks more like that version and less like the Gordon-Levitt version of the first film.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

For many reasons it will NOT be “YOOO Joe” for most… it will be NOOO Joe… I give it 5.5 out of 10 … only the original G.I. Joe fans can find things to enjoy about this movie.

The red flags were there all along:
1. Movie was delayed from original June 2012 opening
2. Movie that has the budget and look of a summer blockbuster releasing in March, instead of May-August
3. Lots of publicity and marketing for the movie (because they know they need a strong opening weekend to break even on the $130 million project)
4. Director not known for pulling off these kind of projects – Jon M. Chu ["Justin Bieber: Never Say Never" (2011), "Step Up 3D" (2010), "Step Up 2: The Streets" (2008)]

MORE INFO (possible spoilers):

Cobra Commander and Storm Shadow in "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" photo courtesy Paramount Pictures

Cobra Commander and Storm Shadow in “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” photo courtesy Paramount Pictures

“G.I. Joe: Retaliation”

(2013) (rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of combat violence and martial arts action throughout, and for brief sensuality and language)
(1 hr, 50 min)

Starring: Dwayne Johnson (Roadblock), Jonathan Pryce (President), Byung-hun Lee (Storm Shadow), Elodie Yung (Jinx), Ray Stevenson (Firefly), D.J. Cotrona (Flint), Adrianne Palicki (Jaye), Channing Tatum (Duke), Ray Park (Snake Eyes), Luke Bracey (Cobra Commander), Walton Goggins (Warden Nigel James), Arnold Vosloo (Zartan), Joseph Mazzello (Mouse), RZA (Blind Master), Bruce Willis (General Joe Colton), DeRay Davis

Director: Jon M. Chu [" Justin Bieber: Never Say Never" (2011), "Step Up 3D" (2010), "Step Up 2: The Streets" (2008) ]

Genre: Action/Adventure

The Plot: The G.I. Joes are not only fighting their mortal enemy Cobra; they are forced to contend with threats from within the government that jeopardize their very existence.

So what did you think?  Please post a comment!

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“G.I. Joe: Retaliation” poster and photo courtesy Paramount Pictures

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