Several years ago, I reviewed GI Joe: Rise of Cobra on this site and was one of the few people who actually said I enjoyed the movie. I went in with a willingness to let a lot of things slide and as such, I was able to enjoy it. Now, finally, the sequel is out and after watching it this past weekend I can officially say it’s a worse movie than the first one.
Rise of Cobra wasn’t going to win any Oscars, but it had some fun mindless action and a hi-tech, fast paced storyline that was focused but flawed. Retaliation is a movie that spent an extra 6 months getting retooled after executives saw the first cut and freaked out. Unfortunately despite their attempt to make something decent out of this, it still feels like a bunch of segments that were randomly shot with very little plot to string them all together. Director Jon Chu is most famous for making a Justin Bieber movie, so perhaps GI Joe: Retaliation would be better if it was a music video.
The first movie very much felt like a cartoon or comic book world and intentionally set that pace early on so you could believe some of the more fantastical elements. This movie tries to be gritty and “real” by having the characters all dress very boring and say stuff like “hoo-rah” so we think they’re real soldiers. Unfortunately, none of this works. You certainly COULD do a realistic GI Joe movie, but this isn’t it. The implausible elements in this film aren’t science fiction, they’re just mind numbingly stupid.
While the first movie had it’s own style, that wasn’t necessarily true to iconic GI Joe, it at least had a voice. Here we get a film that seems like director Jon Chu just flipped through a bunch of classic GI Joe comics and said “put this scene in, this one too, oh yeah and this one” without any real rhyme or reason. Cobra Commander wears a costume that’s “sort of” like his classic costume, yet the rest of Cobra all wear basic military fatigues. It’s very confusing to even know who’s a Cobra or a Joe in some of the large scale fight scenes because they’re all just regular guys in army outfits.
As stiff as Channing Tatum was in the first GI Joe movie, he’s fantastic in this film, showing more character and personality than any of the other Joes in this film or the entire first film. So naturally he dies 5 minutes in. Yeah, spoiler I guess, but let’s be honest, you all already knew that anyway. You’d think that scene would be sort of a big deal, but it’s not. The Joe team is reduced to 3 people in the first few minutes and aside from a passing line here or there, it’s no biggie dawg.
Everyone is dead, except for Snake Eyes, oh and Jinx, who just joined the team but isn’t on the team but everybody knows, oh and Joe Colton, who nobody knows except for everybody, plus a whole cavalry of other people who don’t get much screen time or names. If that sounds confusing, that’s because it is. People show up in one scene and then everyone acts like they know them the next. The movie also makes mention that this is only like 6 months since the last movie, which makes all of the plot holes even worse. If you accept that as fact, it turns everything on it’s ear even further. This movie should have been set several years later, not months.
The movie constantly rewrites the rules as if the previous segment didn’t connect to the one before it. Yet the whole film is spent trying to tie up loose ends from the first movie. I’ve heard a lot of people dump on Retaliation by saying the weak parts are the portions of the movie that deal with Rise of Cobra, but I completely disagree. The only parts of Retaliation that make ANY sense are the spots where they try finish the Rise of Cobra story.
Snake Eyes wasn’t the best character in the first movie, but he’s entirely neutered in this film. His costume looks even clunkier in this film somehow, so now he moves like Robocop. He has some odd story with Storm Shadow including some ridiculous fight scenes that make no sense and have no purpose other than someone wanted to have a bunch of ninjas hopping around. Worst of all, RZA (I have no idea who that is) plays some sort of ninja master who butchers his dialogue so bad that even if all the Wayans were in the first movie it wouldn’t have been as bad. Storm Shadow is pretty terrible too, as his storyline is so poorly executed that I just wanted someone to kill him. There’s some confusing scenes where he’s hanging out with Cobra, even after he’s turned to the Joes. It sort of seems like they just crammed that story in at the last minute, continuity be damned.
Chu lacks a deft hand with his concepts as well, going so far as to completely destroy the ENTIRE country of England (or at least all of London) without anyone even blinking. Millions of people just died, but nobody even reacts like it’s a big deal. Everyone in the world launches all their nuclear weapons at once and then they all just stand around as if it’s not important that they’re about to eradicate all life as we know it on the planet. Then they all destroy their nuclear weapons in a deus ex machina sequence that defies all logic. It’s like a fourth grader wrote most of these sequences. People complained about the robot suits in the first movie, but they were certainly more plausible than the nonsense that happens in the climax of this film.
The entire film is a vehicle for the Rock, which wouldn’t be bad if the ROCK COULD ACT… But apparently he’s been injecting so many steroids in the last couple of years that he lost whatever marginal talent he had in his earlier films. Rock’s performance is so wooden that Roadblock might as well been named 2×4. He has almost no emotion except for when he cracks the occasional out of place joke.
There’s only a few bright spots in this movie and none of them are from the places you’d expect. Walton Goggins (of Justified) shows up as a random warden and STEALS THE SHOW and immediately made me wish he had a larger role in the film. He just oozes awesome and is completely wasted here. The guy who plays Zartan is equally fantastic and finally, Firefly is alright, albeit underdeveloped. Unfortunately anyone who’s remotely interesting has to die in this movie, because Jon Chu is a moron.
This movie is just a mess, plain and simple. I did not love the first movie, but it was a decent popcorn flick where you could turn your mind off and watch it. GI Joe: Retaliation requires far too much mind removal to be enjoyed. I just kept waiting for something decent to happen or for it to be over. It’s not even a two hour movie, but it feels like an eternity. I know a lot of people “liked” this movie, but I have to wonder how much of it is because people just wanted to like it because they “hated” the first one. Aside from hamfistedly shoving in nods and winks to fans with no context, rhyme or reason, there’s nothing from the storytelling aspect that’s better than the first film here.
Lastly, lest you waste your time, there is nothing in the post credit sequence, but they do show a bunch of extra footage that’s not in the movie. You can just tell that there was mounds of stuff that ended up on the cutting room floor for no reason other than it didn’t tie into the movie as a whole. That’s the general problem with this entire film and I can’t in good faith recommend you watch it. Perhaps when they make the third movie, it’ll be better.