The natural evolution of Jesse Ventura.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a weird sort of sequel. It liberally ignores the “canon” of its predecessor in many superficial ways, drops characters and icons we saw in the previous film without explanation, and often feels more grounded and as if it takes place in an entirely different world than the first one (which was much more science fictional). The result is something that I can only compare to two different versions of the same comic book character(s). John M. Chu proves he can do more than direct dance movies or follow Justin Beiber around, showing a flair for action and humor that lends itself well to this movie, but he also feels like a guy coming into an X-Men run two years after the last notable one.

This movie also has an interesting production history. There were several rumors going around when it was delayed (it was supposed to come out last year). The most popular rumor was that it had been delayed to bump up the presence of Channing Tatum and his character Duke. 2012 was the make year for Tatum and it makes a lot of sense that the studio would look at this fact and say “our movie needs more of this year’s it-guy”. I don’t know how much they added, but the official report was that the delay was really about a post-conversion to 3D. And here I thought these fuckers had realized what a bad idea that usually is. Fortunately in G.I. Joe 2, the 3D is actually pretty good and often cleverly used to punctuate the action choreography.

Anyway, as to whether or not this movie is any good… you’ll have to ask yourself whether you liked the first one or not. It’s definitely different, as this sequel is more grounded and less ridiculous (for the most part) than Rise of the Cobra. That being said, it’s still a cartoon action movie coasting on a somewhat thin coating of charm and violence. The first movie was more violent and more crazy than this one, and if that’s why you liked it (if you did) then you will maybe be disappointed by Retaliation. Of course, if you didn’t like the first one because of those elements, Retaliation will certainly seem like the better of the two.


Tatum and Johnson have great chemistry, actually.

Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) is the sergeant and buddy of Duke (Tatum) who now leads the Joes. The only other Joe from Rise of the Cobra is Snake Eyes. The others are not mentioned, not seen, and the entire organization seems smaller, powered down, and so on. It seems that Joe 2 only takes place a few months after the first (sourced from some dialogue Zartan has about impersonating the president only for a few months). Yet, with all these disconnects from the first one, it feels like it should be years later. Anyway, some more connective tissue would have helped cement the reintroduction we get to the Joes, but the movie knows it isn’t going to go there and tries to get stuff swinging quick enough for the audience to roll with it. Roadblock is essentially our main character and the other primary team members are from Duke’s core squad, who we are introduced to fairly early on.

In the first movie, Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey this time around) managed to get Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) implanted as the President of the United States (Johnathan Pryce). Then ol’ hissy face got captured along with Destro (who isn’t really in this movie) leaving Zartan to prepare for some kind of master plan. How this all goes down in a logistical or tactical sense is incredibly unclear, but Zartan eventually springs Cobra Commander with the help of Firefly (Ray Stevenson, who else?) and the whole shebang gets under way. Their first step? Kill all the Joes and frame them for a bunch of bad shit so they can’t stop the Cobra from being all nefarious.

Their plan basically works. 90% of the Joes get killed. The only survivors are Roadblock, Flint (D.J. Cotrona), and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki). Because they are in Japan when the ambush goes down, Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and newly ninja’d Jinx (Elodie Yung) are also spared.


Stevenson is becoming a full-time scenery chewer. Here he has a bizarre Southern accent.

Most of the movie is spent on Roadblock and his two buddies trying to figure out what happened. Once they do, with the help of the original Joe Colton (Bruce Willis), they go into full attack mode with the help of Snake Eyes, Jinx, and a temporarily allied Storm Shadow (Byung-Hun Lee). Obviously they more or less win the day and this is not even close to the most interesting thing about the movie or what I did like about it.

Most of the appeal comes down to actors having fun, actually. Every single one of them except for a few notable exceptions. Foremost of which is D.J. Cotrona as the useless and wasted Flint. Flint’s big specialty is that he’s Cameron from Alphas. He does redundant (there are fucking ninjas galore in this movie) freerunning and so on. He also has a triaged (I imagined it was sacrificed in the editing chamber) love connection with Lady Jaye, who gets way more screen time and is yet the more problematic character. Flint is just Duke 2.0, basically. He’s a pleasingly handsome dude but he is not given any time to show if he can be as charismatic as Tatum and therefore, he is just there like a prop.


Of course it comes down to tits.

Palicki is given the thankless role of playing to the insecurities and base desires of this movie’s ideal demographic: young men. She starts off being the “smart one” on the team but inevitably has to leverage her sex appeal as her real asset. This would be fine except it is, by this point, so fucking boring. And as safe, boring, and lazy as it is used here (it’s pretty much lifted directly from Mission Impossible 4 but that movie tried harder to make the token female a character), it just forces you to confront that this is even a thing in movies. They could have just left it alone or let Palicki play a character who is smart and sexy on a legitimate basis. It’s like if she was allowed to just be intelligent, it would somehow break 18 year old men’s minds. I mean, on top of the sex appeal thing, her one intelligence-based contribution is her uncovering of the President’s true identity. It’s a two step process: the first is her using observation, analysis, and technology to reveal that he is an imposter and the second is using T ‘n’ A to get DNA confirmation. Before Part 2, she is told that her evidence “isn’t good enough” by a sleep-acting Bruce Willis who continuously calls her Brenda and makes a couple of chauvinistic jokes before standing in as the channeling tool of her daddy issues (which are mired in male chauvinism). I can tell they were trying to do something with this character but there’s no nuance or subtly so it just feels like one giant ugly concession to insecure little boys.

Speaking of which, it’s interesting that they even bother with Jaye but leave Flint totally by the way side. I want to give the movie a little bit of credit for this but it’s hard given how poorly the whole thing is executed. Thankfully, this movie is really light on character. In fact, Jaye and Storm Shadow are the only characters who get any real development.


The ninja sequence has been widely seen already thanks to marketing, but its really great.

The best thing in the movie is the extended sequence of Snake Eyes and Jinx assaulting the mountain temple where Storm Shadow is recovering from injuries sustained whilst busting out Cobra Commander. Phew, mouthful. This part features all the best action choreography in the movie (though there is lots of good stuff here and there) and makes you want to watch an entire movie of these ridiculously ninjas running around in a world that can’t really be the same one that the rest of Retaliation takes place in. But whatever, they wanted to have their cake (grounded G.I. Joe movie) and eat it too (fucking ninjas) and I guess they did.

The Rza shows up as Blind Master and delivers such a ridiculously brief sandwich of ridiculous exposition that I was pretty much gaping. In about thirty five seconds, he explains that Storm Shadow needs to be taken alive, Jinx is his cousin but on their side, and Snake Eyes needs to use some special sword. Later, we find out that this whole time it was Zartan who killed Hard Master (seriously) when they were kids, framing Storm Shadow and bringing on Snake’s vow of silence. Oddly, when this is all revealed, Snake Eyes does not start talking.


Johnson has pretty good chemistry with fucking everyone.

The Rza’s showing up in this movie actually brings up a wonderful thing about it, and a way for me to be specific about what a good time most of these guys are having. First and most obviously, the banter between Tatum and Johnson is pretty good. Especially when you stop to think about how weird it is that it revolves around Roadblock’s two daughters, whom he seems to have produced asexually or from his biceps (no wife or mother or vessel is shown). Then there’s the solo acts hamming things up, chewing all the scenery in sight, and just elevating sequences of this movie into highly entertaining SNL skits.

This is mostly Walton Goggins who plays a slimey prison warden at the world’s scariest prison. This is the kind of cameo Goggins is best for and it’s weird for a second when he shows up but he just stares at you from the other side of the reel and says “watch me, baby” and then you do. Rza is weird and entertaining on some sort of meta level, but Goggins is just a weird random cameo.

Better than this is Johnathan Pryce as Zartan as the President. He gets all the best lines in the movie and is consistently watchable and hilarious. He makes all those typical villainous plotting/interrogating/moustache-twirling bits a total fucking blast. I never knew Pryce has this sort of shit in him. For the best stuff, please pay attention to the summit scenes where he plays a game of nuclear weapon chicken with all the other nuclear-armed leaders. When he pushes the button that has them all frantically launching their nukes, it’s like something out of Kubrick. “Yeah, I pushed it.” he deadpans. It’s fucking beautiful and my single favorite scene in the movie.

On the more downplayed front, there’s Joseph Mazzello playing Mouse, a Joe who is briefly the rookie marksman of the team. They even fit in a “Tiny Tim” joke as if to remind us all that this kid has been in very little since Jurassic Park for which he is still best known. He was recently in The Pacific and Justified so maybe we’ll see more of him.


Mostly this is kind of an ensemble movie, but they should have given Roadblock an arc.

Retaliation has a bit of the ra-ra American jingo that everybody knows and loves, but it is dropped before long into a more generalized militaristic story. Besides, it has a riff on Equilibrium‘s gun-based martial arts towards the end (Roadblock is actually a Grammaton Cleric) so I mean how patriotic can it really be? Do these things have anything to do with each other? Who knows.

It’s too bad about Duke and all the other characters from the first one. Of course, if they make a threequel, they can easily bring them all back. I mean, Cobra Commander (who isn’t half the villain in this as Zartan, similar to how he functions in Rise of the Cobra really) escapes and everything. It sucks that Zartan is dead, but at least Cobra has destroyed another prominent European city.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a limited, patchy movie. It is definitely entertaining, probably on par with the first one but derived from different sources, and features a few scenes and sequences that totally elevate it. It could have been really great if it was able to harness any of the things that work for it on a consistent basis, but I’m not sure that the people behind this movie really knew what worked and what didn’t. Or maybe they figured it out too late and decided to release it anyway, boosting ticket sales by making it 3D. Is Duke even really dead? There are some things we may never know.