While it might be the height of critical cliché (and analytically wrong) to call G.I. Joe: Retaliation “a real American Zero,” if the combat boot fits…
Actually, this amped up pseudo-sequel to Stephen Sommers’ incessantly brain dead 2009 adaptation of the Hasbro toy brand wallows in a weird level of kinetic testosterone which sees Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Bruce “Where’s My Paycheck?” Willis attempting to jumpstart what many saw as an already failed franchise. With this equally weak if watchable effort, Joe and his elite soldier buddies are still on life support.
When last we left the Joes and their arch-nemesis Cobra… ummm… does anyone remember what happened at the end of the first film? Well, anyway, our holdover hero, Duke (Channing Tatum) leads his group of super soldiers into Pakistan to prevent a nuclear nightmare. Unfortunately, they are betrayed by the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce) who is actually Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) in a nanotech disguise.
When the fallout clears, a new leader named Roadblock (Johnson) must take his makeshift team, including comrades with names like Flint (D.J. Cotrona), Snake Eyes (Ray Park), and Lady Jane (Adrianne Palicki) to stop baddies with monikers like Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun) and Firefly (Ray Stevenson) from releasing the imprisoned Cobra Commander. Along the way, they pick up the original Joe (Willis) who may hold the key to stopping the madman and his shapeshifting minions once and for all.
It’s too bad you can’t market high-powered weaponry to the underage crowd. Otherwise, G.J. Joe: Retaliation would be the perfect feature-length commercial for oversized guns that go “BOOM!” and equally elephantine bombs that level entire cities (sorry London). As with Michael Bay and his adult ADD tendencies, this is ad agency advocacy as proposed blockbuster entertainment. No matter that the script stinks (and these guys wrote Zombieland), the characters are wooden and one-dimensional, and the link to the previous film tenuous at best. Of course, a double cross is used to explain away the lack of real returning players, but for the most part, this version of Joe isn’t interested in continuity.
Instead, director John Chu (who apparently earned his popcorn flick credentials churning out Step Up sequels and a Justin Bieber documentary) stages efficient firefights and fisticuffs… and that’s all. He’s not interested in letting his cast cut loose, nor does he understand when the script calls for a character to crack wise (which is basically why Bruce is here). Instead, he manages the movie like a non-elite quarterback, handing off the hokum while avoiding the inevitable fumble or pick-off. This isn’t one of those “so bad they are good” efforts. Instead, G.I. Joe: Retaliation creates its own new category of crappy — so middling its maddening. We don’t expect greatness from Johnson, Tatum, or the rest of the muscle-bound cast. But we do want something beyond the rote and relatively watchable.
Unfortunately, all G.I. Joe: Retaliation has to offer is bravado and balderdash. As 3D CG figures twirl and twist like rejects from a low rent Cirque De Soleil, we are supposed to marvel at the mayhem and demand seconds. All you really want to do is ask for your money back. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of single-digit IQ entertainment, especially if the audience is in on such a cinematic status. But G.I. Joe: Retaliation actually stands by its stupidity. That sound you’re hearing are brain cells dying from a lack of engagement… or maybe, just embarrassment.
Blu-ray extras include a commentary track, deleted scenes, and extra making-of features.