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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Movie Review: G.I. JOE: Retaliation

In 2009, Paramount released G.I. JOE: The Rise of Cobra following the popularity of the 80's Hasbro toy based movies like Transformers (2007). Directed by Stephen Sommers (The Mummy, Van Helsing), the first G.I. Joe live-action movie was not very successful (barely making $150 million) and was panned by critics for its camp and cheesiness, although it remains simply a fun action movie, it was not taken very seriously. Whether it was a combination of directing, writing or casting (especially Marlon Wayans as Ripcord?!), The Rise of Cobra did not "wow" fans as it had hoped. Despite it's shortcomings, it left several open plot-points to be addressed in the sequel, which many doubted would even be made. With the release of G.I. JOE: Retaliation (2013), almost the entire cast has been replaced except for a few vital characters and fan-favorites. At the end of The Rise of Cobra, both Cobra Commander (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Destro (Christopher Eccleston) (both actors whom do NOT return for the sequel) were captured and imprisoned as their plan to launch nanomite missiles at major cities was thwarted by G.I. JOE, however Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) had successfully taken the place of The President of the U.S.A. (Jonathan Pryce)!
Now in command of G.I. JOE, Duke (Channing Tatum), leads his team on a mission in North Korea only to be ambushed afterwards by agents of Cobra. The only survivors are Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki). With the G.I. JOE team presumed dead, The President/Zartan condemns the G.I. JOE team allowing Cobra to take over and begin their plan to launch satellite weapons called Project Zeus into orbit which will target every major city in the world! While Snake-Eyes (Ray Park) is away to train new recruit Jinx (Elodie Yung), Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) and Firefly (Ray Stevenson) break Cobra Commander (now played by Luke Bracey) out of his heavily guarded and sophisticated, underground prison, leaving Destro literally "out of the band". While the Joes find a way to reveal The President for who he really is, they enlist the help of retired General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis) to stop Cobra from taking over!
Jon M. Chu, director of such teen-oriented/music/dance movies such as Step Up 3D (2010) and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (2011) seemed an unlikely choice to direct a special-effects driven action movie, but after seeing it, I was thoroughly impressed. Gone are the hokey, low-budget looks of The Rise of Cobra as well as the Sci-Fi-like costumes and weapons, in favor of a more Modern Warfare style with the G.I. JOEs wearing basic military camouflage instead of the black-tight, armor of the first movie (with the exception of Snake-Eyes).
As for the plot, every element in the movie is very much like the original G.I. JOE cartoons we all know and love, right down to the ultimate weapon of mass destruction and Cobra's desire to rule the world. As for the characters, really, the only ones who return from the first movie to make a significant impact in the movie is Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow, whose life-long feud hearkens back to the original comic books and their origins in the first movie. As for the other main JOEs like Duke, played by Channing Tatum, who has a very "brief" appearance in the movie, Roadblock, played by former wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, is the most prominently featured character in the movie and could almost hold the whole film by himself. As for Snake-Eyes' (played by the versatile stunt-actor Ray Park, who also played Darth Maul in Star Wars: Episode I) part, while exciting (and with ninjas!), seems more like a side-story compared to the rest of the plot. The famous couple of Flint and Lady Jaye is featured, although Flint is somewhat bland, forgettable and is in no way like his character, he doesn't even wear his signature green beret! Lady Jaye however makes for an interesting character and is given an emotional backstory, unlike Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), who came across as very cold and stiff in the first movie. The addition of Joe Colton, played by Bruce Willis is somewhat ancillary as his function is to fill the void left by General Hawk (Dennis Quaid, who also does not return) from the last movie. Like most aging action-stars, Willis does make a few "old" jokes like in The Expendables 2, but it is not as overdone.
The villains in Retaliation are much more like their cartoon/toy counterparts. Although we see nothing of Destro, who was a major part of the first movie, he is rumored to come back in the third movie. In the new movie, Cobra Commander appears in a few scenes complete with uniform and his trademark silver face-mask, along with his new, deep, Darth Vader-esque voice, he is a very imposing figure. The Cobra symbol, which was almost non-existent in the first movie, is boldly displayed in the movie, although sadly they refrain from using their famous "COBRA!" battle-cry. Firefly, played by Ray Stevenson (Punisher: War Zone (2008), makes for an interesting villain as the fan-favorite Cobra saboteur, who even uses tiny, robotic, fireflies! As Cobra takes over the government, proudly raising their flags over the capitol, you can't help but consider the subject of The White House being taken over by terrorists which is starting to become a popular trend with upcoming films like Olympus Has Fallen starring Gerard Butler and White House Down (coincidentally also starring Channing Tatum) which seems to suggest a possible political agenda.
Originally, G.I. JOE: Retaliation was set to be released back in June 2012, but due to the recent popularity of 3D movies, it was pushed back to March 2013 so that it could be converted to 3D. The 3D effect, however provides very little improvement as suspected. February and March have always been a "dead time" for movie box offices, with movies like Oz the Great and Powerful pushing for $200 million, Summer blockbusters like The Avengers, which made over $600 million over the Summer. The G.I. JOE movie franchise has surprisingly improved in quality but has yet to surpass the opening weekend numbers of the first movie of $50 million, only bringing in $40.5 million so far.
Despite the huge fan-following and heavy Internet promotion with YouTube and Cobra Special Forces.com, G.I. JOE: Retaliation, I fear, will be just another mediocre action movie franchise. Most of its appeal relies mostly on the nostalgia factor and for those like me, who were kids during the 1980's. Now as adults, we can enjoy the Transformers and G.I. JOE movies without taking it too seriously, yet for those of us who still love and cherish those childhood memories, we can take these movies as homages to those toys and characters we spent countless hours playing with in our own little imaginations. While the first movie almost seemed like a parody of G.I. JOE, this new movie seems to try and take those characters and put them respectfully in a more of real-world setting and the film presents us with more believable characters and scenarios. If you were a JOE fan like me, than you just might feel the need to stand up in the theater and shout "YO JOE!"