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G.I. Joe: Retaliation Review: The Wrong Kind of Dumb

It’s quite the rare (and somewhat unsettling) occasion when I wish a movie was dumber. Don’t get me at all wrong G.I. Joe: Retaliation is utterly brainless – moronic – but it lacks the unintentional, campy hilarity that made the original an unequivocal guilty pleasure for me back in 2009. This sequel stands as the very rare occasion where its upgrades – cast, action execution, hero characterization – actually work against the inherently silly nature of it all, resulting in bland schlock rather than kitschy gold.  Yes, gone is the bizarrely talented/eclectic cast of the original, the former of which included the likes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Sienna Miller and the latter (to put it nicely) Marlon Wayans. Once again it was that oddball consortium that gave the original some sort of identity. Here we have these newcomers (the survivors of an insider attack) looking to defeat the organization known as Cobra, their leader and their presidential hidden asset. Needless to say, placing stars Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis in their place simply seems easy (if sensible) in comparison.  All that being said it’s always great to see The Rock in his element, and though mired in a sea of near full-on embarrassment the man doesn’t blink. Willis is relegated to extended cameo duty as the namesake origin of The Joes and is written as a combination of John McClane and his character Frank Moses from RED – enough said. D.J. Cotrona and Adrienne Palicki also add some fresh blood as Flint and Lady Jaye respectively, but this isn’t really about the characters anyway so I won’t dwell. Speaking of non-existent characters, what about Channing Tatum’s Duke. If all the publicity of adding more footage of his character after the star's amazing box office run in 2012 – and following the film’s shove to this release date –  had you jazzed, I hope you were hankering for some scenes of him playing video games and acting cute with his best bud’s daughters. Weighty material like that made me forget all about 21 Jump Street and Magic Mike.  The supposed other reason for the film’s bump was to convert it to the oh-so-popular 3D format, and let me tell you it’s one of the most off-putting hack-jobs in recent memory. Convenience demanded I attend a screening in the extra dimension and when it wasn’t utterly distorting the perspective or being used in utter frivolity, it was blurring the action sequences – G.I. Joe’s lifeblood – to the extend of near-incomprehension. Regardless of what you take away from this review, avoid the 3D showings like…appearance-altering nanobots (?).  The film is oddly at its most memorable and fun when it reverts back to its toy-based roots, serving up gleefully ridiculous gizmos and gadgets for our soldiers (good and bad) to utilize while strolling (or driving or shooting) in slow motion, clad in either leather, military garb or simply sweat. Endowed with the coolest tech is disfigured henchmen Firefly (Ray Stevenson) who uses (you guessed it) firefly-esque miniature explosive drones to sneak up on his targets. Likewise his crotch-rocket that doubles as a series of missiles (hereby known as the blow-torcycle) is some of the film’s more inventive tech. Likewise the highly publicized ninja mountain fight (and the sequences that bookend it) is G.I. Joe: Retaliation’s highlight (distracting 3D aside). Such success is in no small part to the clash between warring martial artists Storm Shadow (bad) and Snake Eyes (good). Despite having the least amount of dialogue between them, they’re actually the most interesting characters and the fact that they use both guns and katanas in combat is just a badass bonus in its own right.  All in all it’s all just a bland, unmemorable affair. It’s never a great sign when side characters like Walton Goggins’ chipper prison guard actually serve as highlights or when the bad puns barely even come across as jokes. Props must be given to director Jon M. Chu who approaches the physical action with flair (it’s steady, well presented and with some inventive camera angles) even while he festers in everything else wrong with this sequel.  G.I. Joe: Retaliation is probably what this franchise should have been from the get-go: a collection of name actors shooting their way through faceless henchmen using outlandish gadgets to an end that sets up a sequel. Unfortunately, in my mind at least, the original achieved such a level of bizarrely watchable dreck, perhaps this fundamentally better follow-up was doomed from the start (plus, it’s still just really, really dumb).  


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