Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Review: G.I. Joe - Retaliation

Here's the real review of this film.

First of all let’s address the elephant in the room: why are we just now getting to G.I. Joe: Retaliation when I was doing my Summer movie preview last year. Wasn’t it supposed to be a Summer 2012 release? At the time the rumor was that the studio realized that Channing Tatum had somehow become a big star somewhere between the time they started filming this flick and Spring of last year and decided to shelf the film and add in more scenes with him there, as the original cut didn’t have too much of him. Apparently that was just hearsay and the real reason was that Paramount was afraid that the Box Office disaster that was Battleship earlier last year was indication that a similar fate would befall this movie. So they took it back for 3D conversation and to re-plan their marketing strategy. Ah Hollywood; you actually don’t know anything about art, do you? (Though I do find it pretty funny that Hasbro got screwed over in that they weren’t able to ship the giant amount of toys they planned, likely costing them a ton of money. Thanks for canceling G.I. Joe Renegades and Transformers Animated, assholes)

So here we are in 2013 and while I was excited for this movie last year now I feel like I’ve waited so long that I really don’t care too much about it. This movie is directed by Jon M. Chu who has directed such hits as Step Up 2: The Streets, Step Up 3D and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never which is exactly the résumé you want someone to have when you hire them to make a movie primarily aimed at testosterone fueled action junkies.

 Also despite the fact that many sources referred to this as a “reboot” of the G.I. Joe movie franchise this is actually a direct sequel; it takes place after the last film and resolves or at least addresses several plot points from G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Hell, despite what I assumed going into the this movie The Doctor from the last flick is Cobra Commander in this movie! The people who said it was a reboot may not know what a actually reboot is.

Full review after the jump.

[WARNING: I spoil this movie something fierce so proceed with caution]

Snake-Eyes, wielding traditional ninja weaponry
Sometime after M.A.R.S.’s scheme was stopped and Destro and The Doctor were arrested, Duke (Channing Tatum) has become leader of G.I. Joe, which has been reorganized as an elite American taskforce (…for some reason). However Zartan, who has been posing as President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce) this whole time finally begins enacting the true plot that Cobra had been planning from the beginning. To this end he orders the elimination of the Joe team and frames them for war crimes. Despite the effort several members of the squad survive: Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) and Flint (D.J. Cotrona). They decide to track down whoever was responsible and stop them in order to avenge their fallen brothers.

If you recall I had a lot of issues with the previous film: the characters were lousy, it was sexist, the romantic subplots were really poorly done, and Wacky Black Sidekick pretty much ruined every scene he was in. So, and this is probably why this flick is called a reboot, most of those issues from The Rise of Cobra are removed for Retaliation. Mostly (we’re get back to that). There’s no superfluous or nonsensical love scenes, virtually all of the Joes were removed except for Snake-Eyes (including Sergeant Stone, which means I’ll have to wait for Curse of the Cobra’s Mummy to be the third film, I guess), and Marlon Wayans had nothing to do with the filming of this movie. Most of that would automatically make this movie better than the first.

Wacky Black Sidekick Real American Hero!
I also liked Cobra’s mast plan. And my “liked” I mean “was amused by” because the scheme is really, really convoluted. I’m going to try to recap it here, which includes the majority of the plot from the first film, and there’ll be a lot of spoilers. Also it will be a lot of text, so feel free to skip this next paragraph. Let’s go:

[Note: While connecting dots I'm making assumption because otherwise the plot is "A Wizard Did It" since the film doesn't actually bother to sit down and link the two films

So Rex Lewis, normal soldier, finds and falls in love with Doctor Mindbender’s nanomite technology research and fakes his own death (or at least doesn’t let anyone know he hadn’t in fact died in action) in order to further study it. During this period he forms “Cobra”, or at least what would eventually become “Cobra”, and amasses a shockingly large amount of personnel, resources and followers including several psychopaths, sociopaths and crazy ass zealots. Some of these zealots managed to infiltrate the US government and Secret Service which would have to have taken years. He perfects the nanomite tech and creates various different ways to implement it including enhancing soldiers, doomsday warheads, and the ability to turn dudes’ head into metal for some reason. At the same time he also has his forces begin plans for satellite weapons (that have nothing to do with the nanotech that started all of this) that would have to take years to fully complete. At some point Rex, now calling himself “The Doctor”, alongside several of his Cobra subordinates (Zartan, Storm Shadow and a brainwashed Baroness) infiltrates corrupt international arms manufacturer M.A.R.S. and manipulates its owner James Destro into using the now perfected nanotech to start a complicated war (it’s actually unclear whether Rex infiltrated M.A.R.S. or if Cobra was always in control of it but judging by Destro treating The Doctor as a subordinate and his reaction to the last act of the first movie it seems clear he was not aware of the true plan and probably didn’t know much, if anything, about Cobra). This was a red herring however as Destro was never meant to succeed but rather distract the world’s attention away from Zartan who had by now replaced the President. This was so Zartan, using his newfound position, could gain access to America’s nuclear arms so that he could in turn trick every country with nuclear capabilities into launching and detonating their entire stock of missiles thus leaving them completely defenseless against the now competed satellite weapons are in orbit and pointing down. Rex, now known as “Cobra Commander”, uses this as leverage to blackmail the counties of the world to hand over total control of the world to him. This plan was years in the making and would have cost millions upon millions of dollars (if not in the billions) to complete.

That. Is. Ridiculous.

This is such a convoluted plan that that had very narrow margin of error. Plus how ordinary military scientist Rex Lewis went form Duke’s best friend to megalomaniacal would-be conqueror is never addressed (at least in the first movie it seemed like he was doing everything for SCIENCE!) nor how he collected the resources for ANY of this but you know what; I’m cool with that. I like that the villain’s plot is like that. Yeah, normally I prefer strong motivation and, you know, sanity when it comes to this kind of thing and this sound like the type of crap a cheesy cartoon or comic book villain would do. But Cobra Commander IS a cheesy cartoon AND comic book villain and has been for thirty years! This is exactly what I want him to do on the big screen! I don’t want him trying to extort money, I don’t want him to use a complicated land scheme; I want Cobra Commander to try to rule the world because, damn it, Cobra is a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world! This is exactly what the first movie got wrong.

"I'm Cobra Commander, bitch!"
 Okay, I know I’ve written a lot so far but we’re only getting started. Here’s what I didn’t like about this movie.

First of all the studio made a tremendous mistake by jettisoning so much from the first film without things being a straight reboot. This causes us to ask of a lot continuity questions such as what he f**k happened to the majority of the Joes form the first movie (we’ll get more to the questions in a bit). Also the decision to kill Duke off was questionable as it feels like it was unneeded since, as the main character of the first film, it’d make a lot of damn sense to have him part of the new ensemble. Plus it’s feels like a big “FU” to anyone who actually enjoyed the first movie (Duke could have easily just retired between films). Worst yet Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Christopher Eccleston, who almost single-handily made the first movie watchable, do not reprise their roles here. With Eccleston it’s not too bad because his character was sort of written out of the film (“You’re out of the band” said Cobra Commander in the film’s best line) but since it’s established that Cobra Commander and Rex Lewis/The Doctor are the same damn guy why not hire JGL back and let him go further into the eccentric comic book villain territory? Perhaps JGL didn’t want to do it but if there’s any reason other than that it’s bullshit.

Speaking of how good the villains in the last film were I’m sad to report that no one is anything close to as entertaining as that in this film. This is partly because of how serious everyone seems to be acting (which, I admit, is still better than how silly everyone acts in the shitty Transformers Bayformers movies) but the fact is there are no M. Bison moments here. Which is a shame because the one thing the filmmakers forgot to do when they got rid of the wooden and uninteresting protagonists from the first movie was to replace them with interesting and developed protagonists thus the problem is still the same. Oops. Much like the first film everyone feels sort of interchangeable, like anyone could have been on the screen. Roadblock is kind of developed but not really, Flint pretty much just stands there, Lady Jaye doesn’t do anything that couldn’t have been done by Scarlett thus making it confusing why they had to replace her, Jinx seems to only exist to provide exposition for scenes where Snake-Eyes can’t since he’s mute, and Snake-Eyes, one of the only good aspects of the first movie, contributes nothing except action scenes. None of the main characters have arcs and none of them change or learn anything. They’re just there and it really make sit difficult to come out of the movie not feeling like I just wasted my time. The cast features decent actors but they have NOTHING to work with.

Flint's major contribution to the movie: stand around looking pretty
The only character who kind of has an arc is Storm Shadow, again played by Lee Byung-hun and again one of the few bright spots of the movie. Despite the fact that is character has development it really doesn’t make any real sense and, like before, makes us ask too many questions. The biggest one being HOW THE F**K DID STORM SHADOW SURVIVE THE FIRST MOVIE?!? If I recall he got stabbed by Snake-Eyes and fell down a pit that was electrified on a base that sank into the ocean five minutes afterwards that happened to be in the middle of arctic! I’m not saying that he couldn’t come back (it’s a movie based on a toy line/cartoon/comic book after all) but they don’t even mention any of this in the move and I find it pretty insulting.

Speaking of questions the plot is full of holes, both within the confines of this film itself and its relationship to the first one. Why is G.I. Joe now an American regulated organization that seem more like Marines than anything else when in the first film they were an international joint operation? For that matter what happened to all the resources, personnel and technology that was featured in that film? What happened to General Hawk, who isn’t even mentioned in this movie? For that matter where are Heavy Duty, Scarlett, Breaker and Ripcord, none of whom are ever referred to? Did they quit the Joes? Or are we to assume they were also killed, if not in the scene in the film (which they clearly were not at) then somewhere off-screen? (It’s okay to say Ripcord died in a fire off-screen) How much time has actually passed since the first movie? It’s implied it’s been a few month but is that really enough time for the G.I. Joes to be so drastically re-organized, Duke to become their commander, and Cobra to do all these schemes? How could Cobra possibly build seven fully operational satellites with apocalyptic capabilities and NO ONE notice? Even if Zartan was covering for them how could they finish construction in just a few months? Why does Blind Master talk as if he’s a member of G.I. Joe when literally nothing else in the film hints at this at all? Why are the Arashikage so quick to trust Storm Shadow when they spent so many years trying to kill him? Was Zartan a member of the Arashikage and, if so, why would it take them decades to suggest that the mysterious old man who turned out to be a Cobra operative in disguise might have killed the Hard Master instead of Storm Shadow, the little kid who had no real reason to? Why does Storm Shadow take decades to entertain the idea that it was Zartan who framed him? How come nothing in these two films suggested that Storm Shadow and Zartan had any relationship other than co-worker if they were in fact mentor/student? Why does no seem to have a problem with Snake-Eyes wearing his Power Rangers outfit to formal ceremonies when his fellow soldiers have to wear dress uniforms?

They still look pretty cool though
Okay that last one isn’t really a big deal but the rest of these questions were bugging the hell out of me throughout the film. They completely killed my ability to enjoy the film. Most of these things could have been answered with throw away lines but we didn’t even get that. Now I’ve enjoyed plot hole riddled films before but I think the reason I disliked this so much was that the film takes itself so goddamn seriously. G.I. Joe are basically superheroes (hence they primary fight a dude who calls himself “Cobra Commander”) but here they are little more than standard marines with nothing resembling their source material. The original film was far closer to the tone a G.I. Joe film should have. This movie feels like the filmmakers took more time to adapt the source material (which the first one didn’t) but lacks that tone. Neither flick gets it completely right and they both end up sucking for different reason because of it.

Also Blind Master felt 100% superfluous and the casting of rapper turned “actor” RZA makes no sense as the seemingly only qualification he has for being here is that he “really likes martial arts”. Similar Bruce Willis as Joe Colton, the original “G.I. Joe” is just as pointless in every regard but at least his casting makes sense (to trick people into thinking this is a Bruce Willis film and buy tickets).

This movie sucks. It’s not the same sort “Why the shit is this happening” kind of bad that Rise of Cobra was but it also lacks any shred of fun that was to be found with that film either. Where the first film could be laughed at for its flaws Retaliation doesn’t really work that way. This is a classic case of tossing out the baby with the bathwater: they got rid of the shitty elements from the first film but also accidently got rid for the entertaining parts of it too. To be clear I don’t find this to be an offensively bad film and action movie junkies will likely still enjoy the hell out of it. But if you like plots that make sense, characters that grow, or sequels that actually remember that they’re sequels 100% of the time then you’ll want to avoid this one. 

One doesn't talk, the other only talks to move the plot along
I give G.I. Joe: Retaliation 2 out of 5 Adorable Pandas


 -Cartoony evil plan for a cartoony villain 

-Manages to eliminate most of what made the first film so bad 


-Also removed what was good about the first film 

-Full of plot holes 

-Pretty much all the main characters are flat 

-Plays it straight way too much 

-Can’t decide if it’s a sequel or a reboot

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