Friday, March 29, 2013

G.I. Joe: Retaliation review

Well, it finally got to theaters. G.I. Joe: Retaliation was originally slated to hit theaters last summer on June 29 before being pushed back exactly nine months to March 29, 2013. The move was baffling. This was a film that was scheduled to hit theaters in less than a month when it was delayed and was highly anticipated by fans. Paramount cited a 3D conversion but some say the real reason was to put more Channing Tatum in the film. After seeing the film, I honestly have no idea what the real reason was. It certainly wasn't to put more Channing Tatum in the movie. But although the film's 30% approval rating by critics on Rotten Tomatoes says the film didn't get any better over nine months, I'm not sure that's the case. G.I. Joe: Retaliation is still an entertaining action flick. It certainly has its problems, but unlike other explosion-filled epics, it has an intriguing and cohesive plot. Too bad none of the characters have a story.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation starts fresh from the much-hated original, The Rise of Cobra. This story follows Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) and Flint (DJ Catrona), primarily. The film begins with a siege on a nuclear facility. The President's (Johnathan Pryce) new plan is to disarm the world's nuclear warheads. But the President really isn't the President. Zartan is the real President and he has a dastardly scheme behind his sleeve. His first initiative: killing the G.I. Joes. He succeeds in his mission, but the three Joes listed above survive. Eventually, the trio team up with former General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis), Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and another important foe to take down Cobra and save the world.

First off, before I list off my criticisms, I will say that I really did enjoy Retaliation. It was a fun summer popcorn movie with a ton of good action setpieces and a really interesting plot. But it has its share of big problems. The first is the long lag in the middle of the film. It deals with building the plot up, but it switches between stories way too often and is definitely the least interesting aspect of the film. The good thing is that the dual stories of Roadblock and his gang and the pursuit of Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) by Snake Eyes, come together in the last thirty minutes and make a really nice finale that is exciting and filled with tension.

There are bigger problems than a slow middle act. Most films have that. Even Argo, one of my favorite movies, is slow in the middle. But most films don't have a character that just pops in and out and honestly serves absolutely nothing to the plot that I can remember. Seriously, maybe I'm forgetting something, but the screenplay of this film gave Bruce Willis not a thing to do. He just shows up and shoots a few people occasionally. It was one of the most mind-boggling things I've seen in a movie in a long time. That's the only problem in an otherwise clever and cohesive story.

But the biggest problem of the film is character development or lack there-of. There is absolutely no character development and so many actors talents are wasted. We kind of already know the back stories of Duke, Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow but we don't know much about Flint, Roadblock and Lady Jaye. And honestly, I can't say that I learned a ton about them. Roadblock was a little kid who grew up in the hood. Lady Jaye's dad didn't want her to be in the military. And I know nothing about Flint. And what does Firefly (Ray Stevenson), one of the premiere baddies, have against Roadblock? They never explained that. I don't know if they (the screenwriters) just forgot or they didn't care, but it was annoying and noticeable.

I read in a review of the film that although the film features the destruction of an entire city, it still felt small. And I was watching it, I realized that the review was dead on. It's a real tense film towards the end but the buildup isn't something that feels cataclysmic like Transformers: Dark of the Moon. It's quite different from that but isn't an epic film.

Besides my criticisms, I still liked G.I. Joe: Retaliation a lot. The best thing is the story. They really did try to make a good story for the film, and you could tell in the final product. There were logical twists and turns and a tension filled final half although you know how it's going to end. I mean, I thought that it was a really interesting story. You might think that nuclear war is something that has been beaten down in films, wait until you see how Retaliation handles it. I'm telling you, you'll be surprised. There's a cohesive plot.

In addition to the fact that it has a plot, it also has some great action scenes. The two best both involve ziplines. The first is the storm on the Pakistani nuclear compound which features a ton of explosions and shooting. It's a ton of fun and a very memorable sequence. The second is the mountain scene with the ninjas. That is an expertly made action scene and really nice considering the amount of skill that had to take. It's up there with Tom Cruise on the building in Ghost Protocol (although Ghost Protocol is a much better film). Also good is the last thirty minutes of the film which features a lot of nuclear destruction and shooting.

Another thing that was an improvement on the last film was the fact that it finds the right tone. It's absurd (sometimes a little too absurd) and has a lot of dark humor and machine gun fire. It doesn't take itself too seriously. It's quite a bit of fun when a film does that. And G.I. Joe almost reaches an Avengers-like state where the film is just a lot of jokey fun. Unfortunately, Retaliation does take itself too seriously with its revenge plot and falls short of that happy medium tone.

All in all, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a perfectly fine action thriller. It's a fun movie that will entertain you for two hours. Just go in knowing what you are getting. Don't expect something with great dialogue. Don't expect anything substantial. Know that it's two hours of pure action film. The 3D was decent. You could either see it in the format or not. G.I. Joe: Retaliation is an improvement on the original but not an improvement enough to call it a really good action film.

THE FINAL GRADE: C+                                           (6.3/10)

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