“G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, directed by Jon M. Chu, 110 minutes, rated PG-13.
Let’s be honest: “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is really nothing more than a pregame warm-up to the next “Fast and Furious” movie. Even as that, it fails.
The sequel to “G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra” finds Duke (Channing Tatum) as the head of a thriving Joe program, with Dwayne Johnson’s Roadblock as his best friend for life and second in command. For those who remember the first film, “Retaliation” drops most of the original team and replaces them with an entirely new lineup of Joes, including DJ Cotrona as Flint and Adrianne Palicki as Jaye.
Absent from the sequel, not surprisingly, is Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who wisely stayed far, far away from “Retaliation.”
This time around, things go south for the Joes as they’re set up by shape-shifter and Cobra agent Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), who has taken the form and role of the U.S. president (Jonathan Price), using his power to hunt down the team, killing all but a few.
This world of G.I. Joe has no sense of political process, as the president orders the killing of U.S. military with the claim that they’re now the “bad guys.” There’s no real debate over this, no trial for the Joes, and no upheaval from the people of the United States after their demise. Just a president ordering their deaths and aligning himself with the terrorist organization known as Cobra. It’s all accepted a little too easily, making “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” even less logical than the 2012 “Red Dawn” remake.
But there are a few remaining Joes who survive the attack, and under the leadership of Roadblock, they seek vindication and revenge against the “president” who ordered the strike against them. They also take on the task of saving the world from the Cobra Commander and the mad men who are now running the United States.
There are a number of other subplots being juggled here, complicating a simple story with too many moving parts, none of which is the least bit interesting. The number of characters, both new and old, is a serious problem for the film, because it doesn’t have enough patience or smarts to give any of them a distinguishable identity, save Tatum’s Duke.
The story and everything surrounding it simply serve as an excuse for some clunky PG-13 gun fights and explosions, yielding the body count of an R-rated movie without the blood, messiness or box office hindrance that comes with it. The only exception to the tiresome action is an acrobatic, well-choreographed martial arts fight along the edge of some far-off cliffs, where Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and new addition Jinx (Elodie Yung) fend off some ninja thugs while moving the unconscious body of Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) along an elaborate zip line suspended hundreds of feet in the air. It’s so well made, in fact, that at times you forget it’s primarily computer-generated effects you’re watching.
But one good action scene does not make a movie, and when action’s supposed to be your bread and butter, that doesn’t bode well for a film like “G.I. Joe: Retaliation.”