Movie Review: G.I. Joe Retaliation hints at greatness, but never gets there
Comparing G.I. Joe Retaliation to the original film isn’t going to do anyone any favors. The first go-around was widely regarded as a sub-human disaster. Retaliation, at the very least, can confidently be referred to as a movie, a film even, if not a great one. It’s still in an entirely different class.
The first problem is that this sequel acknowledges the original abomination’s existence. It wastes time bridging gaps between the two films and if you didn’t know better you may get the feeling that watching the original film would increase your enjoyment of this one. Eventually, the cast starts to fall into place, the plot gets going and Retaliation finds its footing. That is, it realizes its true calling, emulating a Saturday morning cartoon with larger-than-life characters and a diabolically evil plot.
The highlight for me was a mission that felt almost detached from the main plot. The scene involves a cliffside assault and a pile of ninjas all doing battle suspended from climbing gear. It’s ridiculous, exciting, and it feels like G.I. Joe.
The dry, military-focused opening scenes eventually give way to more scenes like that. Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) starts out as a typical, oo-rah’ing bro, but by the end of the film he’s larger than life, running around firing a turret in his bare hands. Bruce Willis, as Joe himself, is light-hearted and fun, while characters like Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow are appropriately brooding.
It’s perhaps in the cast of villains, though, where you can really see a fun direction for these films. They’re all unique and over-the-top, almost like Metal Gear Solid boss characters (MGS is actually a pretty good framework for a G.I. Joe movie now that I’m thinking about it). Sure, their actual plot to manipulate world leaders is completely preposterous, but that’s exactly what a movie based on action figures should offer.
Somewhere in the process of transitioning from a sequel to a second attempt, G.I. Joe Retaliation tries to juggle too many things. For every awesomely badass character there’s some boring grunt the film tries to force us to care about. For every epic ninja battle there’s a boring military shootout. For every absurdly evil plot, there’s an unnecessary reference to current events. Sometimes the dialogue is snappy and funny, other times it’s painfully forced. There’s rarely a middle ground, making for a film that’s sporadic in its entertainment value.
At the very least, G.I. Joe Retaliation has a lot of the right ideas. Is it really that surprising that the first film managed to drag the sequel down with it? By the end there’s a remaining cast that could make for a very fun third film. They just need to remember that Saturday morning cartoon mentality. Keep the over-the-top characters next time, but don’t make it so ridiculous that it can’t even be enjoyed like the first one.