The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


G.I. Joe: Retaliation

G.I. Joe: Retaliation was supposed to come out last summer. In an unprecedented move, Paramount Pictures abruptly pulled it a mere month before the scheduled June release date. There were three rumored reasons for this: 1.) to convert it into 3D; 2.) to add more of the suddenly popular Channing Tatum; and 3.) because it was a disaster and they knew it would get slaughtered in the competitive summer marketplace. Well, the movie is now in 3D, so I guess that part's true. And Tatum does have a few scenes that appear to have been added on the fly, meaning that could be true as well. Most importantly, though, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is, in fact, a complete disaster that never would have lasted amongst the likes of The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises.

When the Pakistani president is killed, his country's warheads are promptly stolen. The G.I. Joes, including Duke (Tatum) and Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), are sent to retrieve them. What they don't know is that the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce) has been kidnapped by the evil organization known as Cobra and replaced with a doppelganger who wants to do nefarious things with those warheads. To get the Joes out of the way, Cobra attacks their camp, leaving them for dead and making it appear that they have committed treason. But of course, they aren't dead, meaning they not only have to launch a covert counterstrike on Cobra but also clear their good names. (Yes, it's that old plot again.) Bruce Willis makes a cameo as the original G.I. Joe, who is enlisted to help.

That's a pretty simple story, yet G.I. Joe: Retaliation is either unable or unwilling to tell it directly. This is one of the most maddeningly meandering pictures I've seen in a long time. The screenplay, credited to Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, throws in a lot of other stuff that, frankly, I didn't understand. There are a couple of ninjas, and a couple more ninjas who don't like the first ninjas, and an old ninja master who doesn't seem to like anybody. There's another guy who runs around in what appears to be a weaponized version of a bondage suit. Rather than sticking with the Joes as they carry out their mission, the film keeps stopping to focus on other things. The effect is the same as if someone asked you why the chicken crossed the road and then started talking about the cars driving past and the temperature of the macadam. The storytelling is so sloppy and amateurish that I didn't care for a second about any of it.

The film also suffers from something that plagued the first G.I. Joe movie: it assumes you enter with an encyclopedic knowledge of the property. Fan favorites like Cobra Commander (a.k.a. the bondage dude), Snake Eyes, and Storm Shadow all pop up here. Nothing is done with them, though. There is certainly no attempt to make these characters interesting for the uninitiated. It's just people in costumes, hoping to satisfy diehard fans with their very presence. Are the G.I. Joe faithful content with merely seeing actors dressed up as these individuals? Perhaps. I suspect many of them would like to see these characters actually do something of some consequence. I couldn't figure out who had allegiance to whom, or what was supposed to be important about them. If you went to a Halloween party and saw someone sporting a really fancy Cobra Commander costume, you might think it was cool and move on. The fan favorites in G.I. Joe: Retaliation make about as much of an impact.

Director Jon M. Chu stages the action poorly, relying on the now-requisite shaky cam to make certain you can't tell what's happening most of the time. The actors are just as bland. Willis does his usual I'm just gonna phone this one in thing he does whenever he's cashing an easy paycheck, while Johnson coasts in Generic Action Hero mode. Only Jonathan Pryce and Walton Goggins (who gets a fun cameo) are worth watching. Everyone and everything else is fundamentally not engaging.

This is the second awful G.I. Joe movie. It is even worse than the first one. Perhaps there is not a good film to be made from this material. Or maybe doing it live-action is just a mistake. (I could see a decent animated picture coming from it.) Both The Rise of Cobra and Retaliation make the same mistake: they spend so much time paying lip service to fan favorites and trying to create crazy action scenes that they ignore characterization and plot, the very things that might make us actually give a hoot.

( out of four)

Note: Because of the last-minute decision to convert the film to 3D, I opted to screen the 2D version. Believe me when I say that there is nothing here that would be worth seeing in 3D.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of combat violence and martial arts action throughout, and for brief sensuality and language. The running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.

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