‘I’ ON CULTURE
There are mixed opinions among people who see G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Critics seem to hate it while the audience enjoys the show. I can accept both points of view. The plotting is typical B movie two-dimensional, and the dialogue could have been written by someone who learned English last month. But the movie is fun. It is a typical bang-bang movie with tough guys (and a token gal) who are out to save the world. Surprisingly, there’s more than a bit of patriotism in the film as well.
The plot is beyond over the top. The group saves the day from some crazies, losing a lot of its members, when suddenly the president of the United States (Jonathan Pryce) goes on television, blaming them for the violence and calling them traitors. Back in the 1970s, that would have led to at least a couple of sex scenes, while in the ’80s, they probably would have found some dance number to train to. Since we’re past those simplistic days, however, the movie goes back to its (supposed) roots by finding the original G.I. Joe: Gen. Joe Colton (Bruce Willis). At that point, things get strange. Of course, as those who have seen the first movie know, the president has actually been replaced by a member of the evil group Cobra. It would not do to have the U.S. president as the villain in this type of film. Of course, since London is actually nuked as part of the action, we know the bad guys are really bad.
The leader of the group, Roadblock (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a stereotypical top sergeant, is convinced that something has to be wrong, so it’s up to him and his group of “traitors” to save the day so he can go home to watch Top Chef and play with his kids. The star of the original move, Channing Tatum, makes only a brief appearance and even keeps his clothes on. The rest of the cast, particularly the exceptional stunt people: Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun) do great work in brilliantly staged battle scenes (the movie was directed by Jon M. Chu, one of the top action directors). The rest of the cast handles simpler stunts while uttering dialogue that would have fit well in the old days of movie serials.
The film works better than the first film, which is a relief. The action scenes are exceptional. Of the actors, only Jonathan Pryce and a handful of the supporting people around him have really good dialogue. That might be because the movie is essentially one long-running ad for Hasbro, the manufacturers of the G.I. Joe action figures. The soldiers in the movie run around a lot and do great stunts, but their dialogue is only a couple of very small steps above those of the action figures.
Of course, all the main characters have their clever nicknames. Roadblock, Duke, Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) sound really “cool.” It would never do to have your heroes have names like Dwayne or Channing, etc. And they all look really good and carry weapons that not only look really good, but supposedly do incredible damage. The cast has all these quick quips that do bring chuckles from the audience, already attuned to the manly world of the movie hero. Willis, of course, is the master of these one-liners and does them well, even though he’s done the same part a dozen times. Not a lot is demanded of the actors, and they manage not to mangle the dialogue. There is a funny bit when Palicki pretends to be one of the gorgeous Fox reporters, and the president, looking her over (while she gets a bit of his DNA), declares her figure “fair and balanced.”
Many critics hate the tie-in between a toymaker’s product and movie characters, partly because they feel it is polluting and partly because the movie is more than a tiny bit obvious. They seem to feel that the enjoyment factor by the audience is not as important as the chance to make some really great wisecracks about the film.
What you should know is that it is an entertaining movie. It is far from great; it would probably barely make it to any threshold of a “pretty good” judgment. But in the season where studios release only their second-line blockbuster films, it is not bad. Think of it as a preview for the really big movies coming in only about a month.