The Guilty Pleasures: “G.I. Joe: Retaliation”
I’m here today to make a case for the under appreciated G.I Joe: Retaliation, released in 2013 and directed by Jon M. Chu. Is it the best comic book movie out there? No. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve our attention.
I blame the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There, I said it. What Marvel, and now Disney, have done with the Marvel properties has spoiled audiences for comic book movies. Not to say that this is a bad thing, as there are only one or two MCU movies I don’t care for (The Incredible Hulk, I’m lookin’ at you). However, pending how Batman vs. Superman turns out, Marvel is really the only game in town. They have the money, which in turns provides the talent and the resources to make dazzling movies. So when another comic book property comes around that doesn’t perform on the level of, say, Iron Man 3, which came out a few months after G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the underdog gets panned.
Now, I understand the problem with comparing Iron Man 3 and G.I. Joe Retaliation. The latter is definitely not without its issues. Primary among them in my mind is the shoehorned extra scenes of Channing Tatum’s Duke. The first G.I. Joe movie and part of the second were made before Tatum made it big, so in order to form a bigger audience draw and to add gravity to Duke’s early exit before he SPOILER ALERT basically eats a missile a nigh 20 minutes into the flick. But this movie is not without its charm, either. There is a lot of fun to be had here.
I’ll start with the plot. Zartan, played by Arnold Vosloo, a Cobra operative gifted with disguising nano-robots, impersonates the president and orders a hit on the Joes (this doesn’t go well for many of the Joes, Duke included). Zartan is also tasked with seeking out the holding facility currently imprisoning Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey) and Destro. Once freed, Cobra Commander seeks out – what else? – world domination. The three remaining Joes learn that the president is being impersonated and have to get extra help from an old Joe in order to stop the Cobra plan. If that’s not a plot basically pulled right out of the comics, I don’t know what is.
I also thoroughly enjoy the inclusion of some choice Joes. Of course, there’s Snake Eyes, reprised by Ray Park, my favorite. Silent, deadly ninja. My biggest pet peeve with the first movie was fixed in this one. What is that? The freakin’ lips on Snake Eyes’ mask. I was so glad the lips were removed for Retaliation. Depending on the origin story, whether from the first movie or the comics, the man doesn’t speak. Why would he need lips? I also love that this movie explores Storm Shadow’s conflicting alliances, played once again by Byung-Hun Lee. In the comics, he has been known to take both sides. He is, after all, an Arashikage clan member to Snake Eyes. In the movie, Storm Shadow forms a tenuous bond with the Joes to stop a mutual enemy in Zartan. Lady Jaye, played by Adrianne Palicki, Jinx, played by Elodie Yung, and even the Blind Master make appearances in this flick. Then there’s Cobra Commander himself. Missing from the Rise of Cobra was the Cobra Commander we all know and love, but in Retaliation, there he is, Cobra Commander Classic: silver faceplate, leather uniform, cape, all of it.
There are also some great sequences here. The one that always sticks out in my mind is the mountain sequence. After Storm Shadow is injured while extricating Cobra Commander from an underground prison in Germany, he is taken to a haven in the mountains to heal. The Blind Master, played by none other than RZA, tasks Snake Eyes and Jinx to retrieve Storm Shadow alive. After Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow duke it out, Storm Shadow is drugged and ziplined back down the mountain, followed by scads of red ninjas. Oh, those dastardly red ninjas. Snake Eyes and Jinx basically swing around the mountains cutting red ninja lifelines left and right. So gratifying.
Not everything was fixed in this sequel, however. A few casting choices irk me a bit. For instance, Dwayne Johnson (are we still calling him the Rock? I never know) is cast as Roadblock, which basically turns the entire movie into a Rock action vehicle. For such an ensemble property as G.I. Joe is, there’s too much focus on Roadblock. There’s also Firefly, played by Ray Stevenson. As Firefly is a Cajun gentleman, Stevenson tries his hardest to pull off a Cajun accent, but just can’t quite pull it off. Surely there was someone better? Finally, there’s Bruce Willis. What the hell. He plays Joe Colton, the original G.I. Joe. Aren’t we all glad he had the afternoon off to make an appearance? Did he shoot his scenes in this movie between his takes on the set of Red 2?
I know all of this sounds like I hate the movie. I definitely do not. Despite the issues I have with it, which are admittedly nitpicky and fanboy-ish, I enjoy the corny performances and the unbelievable plot. It is, after all, a movie based on a comic book. The MCU makes such an effort to ground the events in the real world (except for arguably Guardian of the Galaxy, which takes place primarily in space), that it’s easy to forget that even 10 years ago, before the MCU, comic book movies were just for funsies. That’s why I’m especially glad this movie this movie exists – to remind us all not to take this genre too seriously.