G.I. Joe Retaliation is exactly the sort of movie I look for when I’m tired on a plane: something that has enough action and humor to be entertaining, but which requires very little intellectual or emotional investment. And so I’ve been looking for an opportunity to catch this flight on every flight I’ve taken since it came out in 2013, but I’ve never had any luck. Then, suddenly, it was added to Netflix’s list of offerings, and it became an opportunity too good to pass up.
There’s just something about Netflix which functions like a bad movie enabler (see, for example, Grease 2). After all, like seeing a movie on a plane, it’s not exactly free, but you aren’t paying any money for it that you weren’t paying anyway.
The movie is a sequel to 2009’s GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, which is genuinely one of the stupidest movies that I’ve ever seen. This movie is basically just as stupid, but somehow more entertaining. A big part of that is the cast, I think. Headlining things this time is Dwayne Johnson, playing Roadblock–a likeable tough guy who is followed around by some sort of coolness field that allows him to succeed at everything he does. So, just like Dwayne Johnson plays in everything he’s in.
He’s abetted by Lady Jaye, played by Adrianne Palicki, who takes over from Rachel Nichols in the first film as the action girl with geek cred–Nichols being the star of Continuum, while Palicki featured as Bobbi Morse / Mockingbird in Agents of SHIELD. Palicki, who is apparently 180 cm tall, is an imposing presence on screen. I can’t really imagine her playing Wonder Woman, but it’s not surprising that somebody once cast her in the part, even the TV pilot she starred in never was aired.
And adding star power to everything is Bruce Willis, who appears as General Joe Colton, the man after whom the G.I. Joe’s are named, and just about the only person that Roadblock trusts after most of the rest of the team are killed in a sneak attack authorized by an enemy who is masquerading as the US President.
Amongst the few characters returning from the previous film is Snake-Eyes, a silent ninja who is once again played by martial artist Ray Park. He gets the most impressive action set piece in the film, which is this inventive thing where he and a bunch of other guys are fighting while swinging around on big ropes that are hanging far down and along the side of a giant chasm. It’s ridiculous, but, admittedly, pretty cool.
Indeed, the action set pieces are all pretty well done and generally more enjoyable than the original film, and as outlined above, the personalities involved are generally more to the point, with less fluffing around to get in the way. This movie knows, better than its predecessor, how to strike the tone necessary to create fairly intelligent military action in the midst of what is clearly the plot of a live-action cartoon. It surprised me, for example, how plausible the scene is where most of the Joes are killed in a sneak attack, including their leader played in an extended cameo by Channing Tatum. Similarly, the fact that three of them are able to escape was believable, with their survival carrying with it a sense of genuine tension and menace.
But don’t worry–that sense of naturalism doesn’t overstay its welcome, as we get plenty of movie minutes devoted to explosions, guns, tough-guy talk, and heavy revving vehicles. And to keep things from being too samey, the movie occasionally turns into a martial arts flick every once in a while, like in the chasm sequence mentioned above.
It is also filled to the brim with over-the-top villainous theatrics. I mean, these are bad guys who carry around explosives that fly around like fireflies, and who destroy London by dropping big heavy sticks on it from space. Crazy technology, crazy resources…one of them is even disguised as the president of the United States. And they still aren’t satisfied until everyone publicly bows down to their leadership. There’s nothing really subtle going on here–these guys want to Rule The World, and there not giving too much thought about the administrative realities of such an endeavor.
So, is G.I. Joe Retaliation good? Not exactly. Is it stupid? Pretty much, yes. But does it reach beyond its own grasp? Not really. And is it boring? Thankfully, no. And in that alone, it’s a huge step up from its predecessor.