A few good ninjas – G.I. Joe: Retaliation review

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By Simon Miraudo
March 25, 2013

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is easily the best film produced under the Hasbro banner, clearing the lowest cinematic bar perhaps ever known to humanity. Justin Bieber: Never Say Never director Jon M. Chu has been subbed in for the outgoing Stephen Sommers (who helmed predecessor Rise of the Cobra), while Zombieland screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick are credited with the script. The picture’s release was delayed by eight months when studio Paramount decided to convert it to 3D in post (and, the rumours go, shoot more footage with the ascendant Channing Tatum). These disparate ingredients do not suggest a particularly coherent – or even good – final product. But, Retaliation still beats the bombastic, indecipherable, psychotically unfunny Transformers series (our modern action benchmark) at its own game. It stars Dwayne Johnson, Bruce Willis, and a bunch of ninjas. You’d have to work hard to not make this thing fun.

The handful of Rise of the Cobra superfans out there will be sad to learn Retaliation pays little tribute to what’s come before. Most characters are gone, save for Tatum’s Duke and Ray Park’s Snake Eyes. In their place are Johnson’s Roadblock, Adrianne Palicki’s Lady Jaye, and D.J. Cotrona’s Flint. Their team is tasked with claiming some nukes from a turbulent Pakistan. After a job well done, the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce) arranges for the Joes to be wiped out. Their unit decimated, Roadblock leads a small team back to American soil, where, they suspect, the POTUS has been replaced by evil master of disguise Zartan (Arnold Vosloo).

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That description makes the plot seem much more sensible and straightforward than it really is. It does not account for the subterranean prison in Germany where villains Shadow Storm (Byung-hun Lee), Cobra Commander, and Destro are being held in stasis. There is no mention of the martial arts training camp being run by RZA. Nor have I even alluded to the mountain top resort where ancient healers are revealed to be ass-kicking experts, or the suburban home where ‘Original Joe,’ General Colton (Willis), has hidden enough weaponry in his kitchen to kick off a coup. Later, at an impromptu summit arranged by President Zartan, various heads of state play ‘Nuclear Warhead Chicken.’ Everyone gives North Korea a hard time. This is a very strange movie with a very welcome sense of humour. It could even kick off a fruitful franchise for the appealing and naturally funny Dwayne Johnson after a fit of false starts.

Chu has only directed dance flicks prior to Retaliation, yet his expertise is put to good use here. The main problem with Rise of the Cobra was not its lunkheadedness (despite a climax wherein an ice lair sinks to the bottom of the ocean); rather, sluggishness. Sommers presumed the audience would be interested in the vast mythology of a Saturday morning cartoon, and was emotionally invested in the hopes and dreams of the human manifestations of action figures. As such, the explosions and car chases were few and far between. Here, the table-setting is brief,  motivations are clear, and the pace rollicking. Don’t be mistaken: it’s still tremendously stupid. Mercifully, this one winks far more often than the super-serious feature it follows.

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Retaliation is yet another jingoistic document of the States’ perception of itself as the world’s police. In one hilariously offensive and dismissive aside, England suffers unequalled devastation, and no one seems all that fussed. It also features a horizontal ninja showdown on the side of a mountain. Feel free to bemoan the latest G.I. Joe for being representative of everything bad being pumped out of Hollywood right now and still have a good time. I primarily encourage the latter. Lord knows you’ll need to save some disdain for Transformers 4.

3.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

G.I. Joe Retaliation arrives in Australian cinemas March 28, 2013.

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