Film review: ‘G.I. Joe’ sequel is as lackluster as original

Film review: ‘G.I. Joe’ sequel is as lackluster as original
Left to right: Elodie Yung, Dwayne Johnson, Ray Park, and D.J. Cotrona in “G.I. Joe: Retaliation.” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

The latest film in the G.I. Joe franchise, “Retaliation” is arguably better than “The Rise of Cobra,” but the steps it takes to correcting the failures of its lackluster predecessor are insufficient to earn the right to holler the famous battle cry “Yo Joe!” 

After the G.I. Joes are framed as traitors, the newly released Cobra Commander holds the world’s leaders hostage by threatening countries with advanced weapons of mass destruction. The few remaining Joes meet up with General Joseph Colton (Bruce Willis) to form a strategy to stop Cobra Commander from taking over the globe. In the meantime, ninja allies Snake-Eyes (Ray Park) and Jinx (Élodie Yung) are determined to bring Cobra assassin Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) to justice.

Tone-wise, “Retaliation” is grittier than “The Rise of Cobra,” taking a cue from the “Call of Duty” and “EndWar” video games to establish itself as a down and dirty action-adventure. However, don’t let this new attitude fool you into thinking the cartoonish nature will not be present to satisfy the fans. The Joes and Cobra are rougher this time around, but that doesn’t mean their battles will alienate hardcore supporters.

The sequel brings a bigger punch and higher level of kinetic energy to its action sequences, thereby erasing viewers’ memories of the first film’s flashy flamboyance. Whoever doesn’t like to ponder the grave mistakes committed by “The Rise of Cobra” will be pleased to see that the improvements made to “Retaliation” create the kind of popcorn movie that Hasbro has become an expert at concocting.

On the downside, the scenes involving the Joes engaging their heavily armed enemies are so deafening that only those with a high threshold for loud noises will be able to have a good time for 110 minutes. It may not seem like a big deal, but when was the last time somebody got a thrill out of bombastic audio overriding the onscreen visuals?

On the upside, the mountain ninja battle — where Snake-Eyes and Jinx go toe-to-toe with Cobra operatives — is undoubtedly the best set piece, an example in which fluidity and clarity join forces to create a swashbuckling feast for the eyes. That scene alone will leave big smiles on the faces of moviegoers who like watching Asian martial arts films.

Speaking of which, did I forget to mention that Byung-hun Lee is remarkable whenever he strikes down his opponents as Storm Shadow? His performance may focus primarily on physical feats, but such skills are all that is required to produce the razor-sharp spectacle we pay to see.

Considering this film is based on a toy franchise, the type of storyline you can expect to find here is a clichéd and simplistic one. I think it’s a real shame that the G.I. Joes’ mission to foil Cobra Commander’s plans for world domination doesn’t mesh well with Snake-Eyes and Jinx’s spin-off quest to locate and capture Storm Shadow. If you ask me, the latter would’ve been a more interesting premise to expand for a standalone project.

Another point of contention lies within the G.I. Joe characters, which are as plastic as the Hasbro action figures they’re based on. Sure, they may bear a closer surface resemblance to their toy counterparts, but beyond that, there’s not much else to explore. Nope, Hasbro seems content with using only the most basic of personality traits, resulting in fighting men and women who are little more than expendable toys in the flesh.

With the exception of Park, Lee, and Yung, most of the cast performances are of either mediocre or poor quality. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson doesn’t quite save this franchise like he did with “Fast Five” two years ago; no amount of muscular charm makes his Roadblock interesting in the slightest. Bruce Willis lacks the usual enthusiasm he brings to the action genre. Channing Tatum (Duke), D.J. Cotrona (Flint), and Adrianne Palicki (Lady Jaye) are wasted here. Ray Stevenson is…well, the burly henchman you’d expect his Cobra character, Firefly, to be in a big-budget action film. Luke Bracey and Robert Baker are a match made in heaven, the former wearing the costume and the latter providing the voice of the infamous Cobra Commander.

In some ways, “Retaliation” can be considered an improvement in the fans’ eyes, but it doesn’t meet the character and story standards necessary to win the war, much less the battle.

MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of combat violence and martial arts action throughout, and for brief sensuality and language.
Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes
Playing: General release

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