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Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Channing Tatum, Jonathan Prhttps://reelheroesnow.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/scott.jpgyce, Byung-hun Lee with Bruce Willis
Director: Jon M. Chu
Screenplay: Rhett Reese
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 110 minutes
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)
Greg, we just saw G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Did you lose as many brain cells as I did?
No, only my self-respect for believing that Bruce Willis could make this movie worth seeing. This is a movie based upon the Hasbro toy line of the same name, and it is a sequel to 2009’s GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra. There is a better plot here than the first go-round. But it is a movie divided against itself as we’ll discuss later.
GI Joe: Retaliation is apparently aimed at Baby Boomers who grew up playing with the 6-inch action figures and watching the Saturday morning cartoon series. As it is rated “PG-13” it is appropriate for adults and older kids alike. Channing Tatum returns in the role he played in the prequel and is joined by Dwayne Johnson with a little help from Bruce Willis. So, it has the star power to attract an adult audience. However, the plot never rises above the quality of the Saturday morning cartoons.
To be fair, the movie isn’t intended for balding, over-educated, middle-aged geeks like us. The average 12 year-old boy might love it, assuming he’s into explosions, gunfire, and sword play. Here’s a brief synopsis of the opening act:
The Joes have just completed a successful mission in Pakistan but are unaware that the President of the U.S. (Jonathan Pryce) has been replaced by an evil imposter. This bad guy in the White House betrays the Joes by publicly renouncing them and then by bombing them into oblivion. Duke (Channing Tatum) is killed, leaving Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) as the only active Joes remaining. This trio vows to clear their good names and fix what has happened.
What follows is two movies in one. Which I suppose is necessary because the main plot doesn’t have enough weight to make it span two hours. The main plot follows Roadblock, Flint, and Lady Jaye as they return to the States and set up shop in an abandoned gym. They determine that there is an imposter in the White House and they need help to expose him. And there is only one man they can trust – the original GI Joe: General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis).
Meanwhile, Snake Eyes and Jinx are on a separate mission to track down and abduct the evil Storm Shadow. This “B” plot was mostly a lot of ridiculous ninja-style fighting. And when I say ridiculous, imagine two dozen ninjas suspended from a cliff by hand-gun shot grappling hooks all swinging around trying to kill our intrepid heroes with swords. The heroes are likewise swinging around on a zip cord between two mountains. In my mind I was wondering why the ninjas didn’t just slice the zip cord. Case closed. As it turns out, Storm Shadow isn’t as evil as you might think as he was framed by Zartan who is posing as the President.
Honestly, I felt I needed a score card to keep up with all the characters in this movie. A quarter of them were wearing masks or helmets so there was no way to tell who was talking at times. Although the writers did give Snake Eyes an out as he took a “vow of silence.”
Greg, I don’t think most 12 year-olds care about believability. They just want to see cool fight scenes on the sides of mountain cliffs. And the movie delivers in that respect. The main problem I had with G.I. Joe: Retaliation was the near total absence of character development at the beginning of the movie, and the same absence of character transformation at the end. We have a slew of one-dimensional characters who are certainly heroic, but their heroism is like one of those cheap chocolate Easter bunnies I just ate — completely hollow.
Scott, how can you on the one hand excuse believability because the movie appeals to 12-year-olds and then complain about one-dimensional characters on the other? You can have both good plot and characterization in a movie for youngsters, you know (witness our recent review of The Croods). Still, the heroes are very black-and-white. As such, Roadblock plays the classic reluctant leader. General Joe Colton plays the grizzled veteran. And Lady Jaye is the hot babe who kicks butt while wearing a sport bra and heels. And there ain’t gonna be a lot of depth in those roles.
I’m not saying I’m excusing it, just understanding it. And please don’t tell me that The Croods was believable! Come to think of it, most movies these days require a heroic effort on our part to suspend our disbelief. I guess I can forgive a lack of believability, but I can’t forgive a lame-arse hero story.
Now having said that, it’s possible we should cut G.I. Joe: Retaliation some slack for having such a feeble hero story because it’s part of a series. It’s often the case that a single installment of a series rarely contains the full hero journey. Notice that I said that it’s possible to cut some slack here. Personally, I’m not going to do any slack-cutting because it didn’t look like any effort was being made at all to craft a meaningful hero. Apparently nonstop action was the goal.
And it was achieved. The movie moves along at a good clip and Dwayne Johnson was good in the role. I’m going to give G.I. Joe Retaliation 2 Reels for being what it sets out to be – a shoot-em-up for pre-teens and fan-boys. But I can only give 1 Hero for the thinly-painted characters.
I went into the theater with low expectations, and those expectations were fully met. Even Bruce Willis couldn’t salvage G.I. Joe: Retaliation. I’m going to be very generous and give the movie 2 Reels if only because I can think of movies that are worse than this one. I’ll give the movie 2 Heroes because there is nothing more painful than agreeing with Greg on both ratings!