G.I. Joe: Retaliation, 2013.
Directed by Jon M. Chu.
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Bruce Willis, Lee Byung-hun, Adrianne Palicki, D.J. Cotrona, Ray Park, Ray Stevenson, Jonathan Pryce, Elodie Yung, RZA, Joseph Mazzello, Arnold Vosloo, Walton Goggins and Channing Tatum.
When Cobra takes control of the US government and orders G.I. Joe destroyed, a small team of Joes led by Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) seek help from the original Joe, General Joseph Colton (Bruce Willis), and hatch a plan to win back the White House and defeat the evil terrorist organisation.
I was mildly entertained by the Joes' first big screen outing in 2009's G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. I wouldn't go as far as to say I enjoyed the film, but I enjoyed it as much as possible, considering that Stephen Sommers' name was on the credits. Sure I thought it had its faults, plenty of them, but in all honesty it never had a chance of living up to the G.I. Joe movie I'd imagined way back in the 80s when I was obsessed with all things "Action Force", as the G.I. Joe line was known here in the UK. Still, having sat through The Mummy Returns and Van Helsing, I expected little from The Rise of Cobra, and that's what it delivered.
Despite the franchise getting off to a somewhat shaky start, I was happy to hear that a sequel had been given the green light, and even happier to hear that Sommers was out of the director's chair. Though I'd never heard of Jon M. Chu before he was announced as director (for some reason I never got around to seeing Step Up 2: The Streets, Step Up 3D and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never), the arrival of the first trailer way back in December 2011 left me somewhat excited - could Chu deliver the G.I. Joe movie I'd be dreaming about all those years ago? The second trailer only added to my anticipation, and then came that shock announcement from Paramount that they'd decided to push G.I. Joe: Retaliation back a whole nine months, just weeks before the film was due to hit cinemas.
As we all know, a delay like that is never a good sign, regardless of how the studio spins it (in this case, to allow time for a 3D conversion), but in the case of G.I. Joe: Retaliation I think it's been a good thing, for me at least. You see, if I'd have seen this film last summer when my anticipation levels were through the roof, I'd have been disappointed, whereas now, having had nine months to lower my expectations, I found myself more than mildly entertained. It's not that G.I. Joe film I imagined as a kid, but it comes a lot closer than G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra did, and it's a shame that Chu didn't get his hands on the franchise first, as opposed to finding himself saddling with having to follow the events of the first movie.
So then, I've waffled on for long enough - what about the film itself? Well, things start off pretty much where The Rise of Cobra left them, with Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) having assumed control of the U.S. government by impersonating the President (Jonathan Pryce), Cobra Commander (formerly Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and now Luke Bracey, with Robert Baker supplying his voice) and Destro (formerly Christopher Eccleston, and now insignificant) incarcerated for their crimes, and Duke (Channing Tatum) in charge of his own field team, having now proven himself worthy of being called a Joe. Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun) is back from the dead somehow, while 99% of the G.I. Joe team have gone Absent Without Explanation. Snake Eyes (Ray Park) is still around though, and there are a few new faces including Flint (D.J. Cotrona), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), Jinx (Elodie Yung) and - most importantly - Duke's new best buddy Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), who seems to have had a promotion or two in the years since A Real American Hero.
With President Zartan using his newfound position to identify the location of the prison holding Cobra Commander, Storm Shadow and Firefly (Ray Stevenson) launch an operation to free their illustrious leader, while Duke and his team head to Pakistan to recover a nuclear warhead. However, the whole operation is a ruse by Cobra to eliminate the Joes; Snake Eyes is framed for assassinating the Pakistani Prime Minister, and President Zartan orders his new Cobra Special Forces to obliterate G.I. Joe for their 'treason'. Fortunately for the Free World, Roadblock, Flint and Lady Jaye survive Cobra's attack and make it back to the States, where they hook up with legendary Joe General Joseph Colton (Bruce Willis) and concoct a plan to defeat Cobra before the terrorist organisation brings the world to its knees with its latest deadly weapon.
If you're familiar with the G.I. Joe franchise, or you've seen any of the trailers for this second film, then Retaliation delivers pretty much everything you'd expect to see: Cobra has a maniacal scheme that brings the world to the brink of destruction, Roadblock fires his big gun, Flint has a bit of a thing for Lady Jaye, General Colton drops a few jokes, Firefly blows stuff up, Snake Eyes fights Storm Shadow and an entire army of ninjas, and Cobra Commander... well, he's wasted again here actually, despite looking a thousand times better than he did at the end of The Rise of Cobra. It's a pity, because CC has the potential to be a great screen villain and most of the other characters are done well enough - although it really bugged me that Flint is outranked by Roadblock. And Firefly is way too keen to take his mask off at every opportunity.
While it's far from perfect, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is an improvement over its predecessor in pretty much every department. The plot is paper thin and the action scenes are probably on par with The Rise of Cobra in terms of visuals and excitement, although thankfully Chu didn't felt the need to stick ridiculous Iron Man suits on each of the Joes in order to pull of some impressive stunts and set pieces. Aside from that, the cast is better, the characters are better, the costume and vehicle designs are better (and in the case of Cobra's vehicles, much more in line with the classic 80s look), the jokes are better, and there's no contrived relationships between the any of the villains and good guys - barring the contrived relationship already established by Sommers, which is forgotten about here anyway. If only we could have forgotten about The Rise of Cobra in its entirety and started things off from scratch under Chu, but at least we got a superior sequel that features flashes of the G.I. Joe we know and love.
Flickering Myth Rating - Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Gary Collinson is a writer and lecturer from the North East of England. He is the editor-in-chief of FlickeringMyth.com and the author of Holy Franchise, Batman! Bringing the Caped Crusader to the Screen.