“GI Joe: Retaliation” Review: Still Dumb, Still Boring, But Slightly Less So

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“GI Joe: Retaliation” Review: Still Dumb, Still Boring, But Slightly Less So

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Channing Tatum and Dwayne Johnson in "GI Joe: Retaliation."

Channing Tatum and Dwayne Johnson in “GI Joe: Retaliation.”

After the first scene of “GI Joe: Retaliation,” there’s a sort of animated recap of who all the characters are and what happened in the last movie. It’s kind of like when TV shows will have a short “previously on” segment to try to get new viewers, as if to say “Hey! You don’t need to see the stuff that came before this!” Almost all of the decisions made on this film seem to be made in order to distance it from the original, 2009’s ugly and boring “GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra.” For starters, a whole new creative team was brought in, including writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (“Zombieland”) and director John M. Chu (“Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” and the second and third “Step Up” movies). Almost all of the original cast has either not been brought back or given substantially smaller roles (Byung-hun Lee, Ray Park, Arnold Vosloo, Jonathan Pryce, and Channing Tatum, all of whom are barely in the film), in favor of new cast members like Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis. Essentially, it seemed the studio understood that the last movie was terrible and attempted to improve. The film still falls victim to a lot of the problems of the first film, but manages to just barely elevate above it with a slightly better cast and humor.

On their latest mission, the GI Joes are set up and framed for betraying their country, and the few remaining members (Johnson, and the insanely uncharismatic D.J. Cotrona and Adrianne Palicki) are forced to “go rogue” and save the world from the evil mastermind Zartan, who is impersonating the president with a plot to blow up the world. It’s incredibly stupid, but stupid in a big way that manages to be fun a good amount of the time. This is, after all, the sequel to a movie that was about magical green dust that could fly around and eat airplanes and the Eiffel tower. So when characters are wearing gloves that can melt metal or get attacked by exploding video camera-wearing insects, you just laugh and run with it.

Essentially the problem is that the movie feels overlong, while at the same time at the end it feels somewhat unfinished, as if there’s still one last action set piece to come. The best scene of the movie is this big ninja fight on the side of a mountain, but it’s just thrown in in the middle of the movie featuring characters we’ve just met and really don’t care about. It’s really the highlight of the movie, especially as it comes in the middle of the deathly boring second act, and all the other action is just barely competent. One would think Chu would be picked to direct so he could use his experience with dance choreography to shoot some really fun action, but the only scene that feels remotely inspired by this is that one ninja fight.

I also appreciated the effort of trying to revamp the cast. Within just one scene of this movie, I really liked Channing Tatum’s character, a guy who I couldn’t have cared less about for the duration of the first movie. He and Johnson have some great banter, and you’re actually having fun with it. Then, 20 minutes in, Tatum is out of the film and Johnson is left stranded with a bunch of really boring co-stars, and no way to really have fun. That leads to a just plain arduous second act, cross cutting between strange scenes with rapper RZA playing a samurai sensei and Johnson and his team trying to prove the president is an imposter (there are endless scenes of them talking about thumbs).

You’d think things might pick up when Willis shows up, but no, he’s in full paycheck mode this year, just like he was in “A Good Day to Die Hard.” He shows up for a few scenes to supply weapons and deliver some truly awful one-liners, but really just seems like he can’t wait to get off the set.

The movie has become kind of infamous for the way it was pulled last year from theaters at the last second (is was so close to release that Paramount had bought a Super Bowl commercial and had already put up huge banners and multiplexes), for what the studio claimed was just a 3D conversion, but it was rumored a lot of re-shoots were done, particularly to add more scenes with Tatum after his growth in popularity last year with “The Vow” and “21 Jump Street.” Considering all that and the movie this film follows-up, it’s actually quite a nice surprise, not the huge mess riddled with studio interference that it seemed to be. It may be boring, have a pretty mediocre cast overall and headache-inducing editing, but “GI Joe: Retaliation” is infinitely better than “The Rise of Cobra,” so much so that I think the inevitable third movie might even finally reach the heights of what we call “good movies.”

 

2.5/5 Stars