The further into Jon M. Chu’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation audiences get, the more they will buy into its counterintuitive central philosophy: Plot holes can be fixed by explosions. And there are a lot of explosions in Retaliation.
If you are a fan of such things in movies – ridiculous action scenes, shape-shifting villains holding the world hostage, evil plots so excessive words like “unbelievable” aren’t sufficient, and yes, explosions – stop reading this review right now and go watch Retaliation. But if you like your adrenaline tempered with quality filmmaking, ease off that gas pedal a bit and think about it.
Retaliation follows the remnants of an advanced military unit called the G.I. Joes (Dwayne Johnson, D.J. Cotrona and Adrianne Palicki) as they search for revenge and vindication after most of their team is killed in an attack designed to make them look like a rogue operation. The attack, seemingly, is ordered by the evil Zartan, who has shapeshifted to impersonate the kidnapped President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce). Assuming the Joes are dead, he seeks out the leaders of the world’s nuclear-capable nations to try to set a treaty and establish a nuclear weapon-free world.
But wait, why would such a devious villain want a peaceful, nuclear-free world? I won’t spoil it, because it’s as impressive as it is ridiculous (that is, stupidly so), but suffice it to say he’s got his reasons.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation is ridiculous fun – a strong step up from its predecessor, The Rise of Cobra – but there isn’t much more to it than spectacle. There are some impressive action sequences, including one pretty spectacular one in particular that takes place on a series of ziplines somewhere in the Himalayas, but try to dig below the spectacle and you’ll wind up in a very shallow sinkhole of vapidity. The dialogue is atrocious (“They call it waterboarding, but man, I never get bored” – ugh) and the acting is suspect at best (point in case: RZA), all of which might work in the film’s favor as a distraction from an all-timer of a silly plot.
But the more you watch, the more fun you’ll have. The character dynamic is fun to watch, especially as some former villains – such as Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) – are forced to team up with the Joes and former Joes (well, former Joe, Bruce Willis) to fight a common enemy. And the action scenes almost make the movie worth sitting through, although they move so quickly the 3D glasses would likely be a waste of money. In addition to the above-mentioned zipline sequence, there’s a fun prison break scene involving Storm Shadow and Walton Goggins, and one particularly pretty destructive sequence near the end sandwiched between ninja fights and car chases.
The fact that Zartan’s plan largely involves a questionable interpretation of geography, astrophysics and nuclear technology almost seems forgivable when there’s so many stimuli adding a nice, glossy sheen to everything.
If you’re going to see G.I. Joe: Retaliation, you already know what you should expect. You’ll love it. But for those of you on the fence, maybe those who are considering a Blu-ray viewing session sometime down the road, this is a perfectly fun movie to watch, except for the parts when the characters speak. If you watch it on mute, you won’t have any problems.