G.I. Joe: Retaliation

When the president of Pakistan is assassinated, America’s elite fighting force the G.I. Joes are sent in to secure the country’s nuclear warheads.  Leading the Joes is Duke (Channing Tatum) and his second in command and best friend Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson).  Also on the team is Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), new recruit Flint (D.J. Cotrona) along with several other soldiers.  After they successfully acquire the warheads and are waiting for extraction from their desert operating base, the Joes are attacked by several helicopters firing machine guns and rockets.  Duke and the rest of the team are killed except Roadblock, Lady Jaye and Flint.  The attack was ordered by the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce) who is actually COBRA agent Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) using nanotechnology to disguise his face and voice.  The real President is being held in the cellar of the presidential retreat.  Zartan comes by with his protection detail to extract information from the captive world leader, including the location of the secret prison where COBRA Commander (physically played by Luke Bracey and voiced by Robert Baker) and Destro are being held.  Once that is learned, Zartan sends Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun) to break out COBRA commander, leaving Destro behind, but Storm Shadow is badly burned during the escape.  He travels to a Tibetan monastery to heal and is followed by Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and his apprentice Jinx (Elodie Yung).  The surviving Joes, knowing they cannot trust anyone in authority, are able to sneak back into the U.S. and approach the original G.I. Joe for help.  Retired General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis) agrees to do what he can to aid Roadblock and the others figure out why they were attacked and what the newly resurgent COBRA is up to.

“G.I. Joe:  Retribution” will never be confused for a military documentary but it will probably work well as a recruiting tool due to how every mission carried out by the Joes is completed successfully and with no casualties.  Sure, they get shot at but none of them is ever hit by a bullet.  It required an attack by the government to actually draw some blood.  Of course, that’s really just an excuse to kill off Channing Tatum’s character so he can and make more important films like “Magic Mike II,” plus it puts the very popular Dwayne Johnson in charge of what could be a very profitable franchise.  This first effort by Johnson and the new players will decide if the Joes have legs not only as toys but as matinee idols.  My guess, based on this effort, is the answer is “Yes.”
Johnson, Palicki, Cotrona and crew are a likable bunch.  The ease with which Johnson can play the tough guy with a soft side is fully on display here as his character has two young daughters. Despite his limited on-screen interaction with them, there is a sense he is a caring and loving father.  He and Tatum also have some nice screen time together as their characters are best friends.  Between shooting big guns and playful ribbing, the pair is able to establish a believable friendship that, in part, underpins the rest of the movie as Johnson begins a mission of vengeance for his fallen comrade and buddy.
While likable, Palicki, Cotrona and the rest are largely forgettable as they lack much in the way of character development.  We learn a little about Lady Jaye and her reasons for joining the military, but that’s about it.  Cotrona is a blank slate as Flint with no personality other than nervousness around Lady Jaye.
But no one goes to a movie like this expecting to be exposed to complex, well-written characters.  Audiences see films like “G.I. Joe:  Retaliation” to see fighting and stuff blow up, and there’s plenty of fights of the gun and fist variety plus stuff blows up real good in this movie.  Ray Park’s Snake Eyes provides lots of ninja-style action along with Lee Byung-hun, Elodie Yung and numerous faceless and nameless sword-wielding doomed henchmen.  A sword fight on the side of a mountain in the Himalayas is quite the exciting set piece that tries to take full advantage of the post-production conversion to 3D.  While bodies and swords fly at the audience on occasion, it’s the high-flying game of tag that provides most of the thrills.  The battle finale is also an exciting and tense affair.  While the outcome is pretty obvious, it still seems to be in question at times.  
The villains in the film are largely of the mustache twirling, hand wringing variety so they come off as mostly comical.  What I find the most confusing about the bad guys is why anyone would follow COBRA Commander with such loyalty and devotion.  He isn’t physically imposing; he doesn’t appear to be terribly wealthy or connected politically.  What does he do to instill such fear and servitude?  Is it the mask?  Is it the modified voice?  The poor quality of writing for this and other characters really sticks out in regard to the motivations for his following.  Of all the characters in this franchise needing a complete reworking, it is COBRA Commander.  Until there’s a real, identifiable reason he’s in charge, the G.I. Joe films will never rise above their lowly escapist entertainment status.  Perhaps they shouldn’t since they’re based on a line of action figures; but you’d think the filmmakers would want to do more with the characters than just sell toys.
“G.I. Joe:  Retaliation” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of combat violence, brief sensuality, language and martial arts action.  As you would expect, there are numerous gun battles and many people are shown getting shot but without the kind of blood splash you’d see in R-rated films.  There are a couple of brutal fist fights and one includes guns being fired at very close range.  There are a couple of close combat martial arts fights involving swords, throwing stars and staffs.  We watch one person blown up but it isn’t gory.  A woman is shown changing clothes in a blurry reflection off a TV screen.  Foul language is mild and scattered.
“G.I. Joe:  Retaliation” won’t win any awards for the script writing, the direction, the acting or the special effects.  All of these are pretty standard action picture quality.  The best attribute of the version of the toy-to-screen franchise is the likability of the actors and how they play the characters.  Even that could use some work but the film is still enjoyable and exciting.  It may prove a good jumping off point for future installments.
“G.I. Joe:  Retaliation” gets four guitars out of five.
The new movies this week run a wide gamut of styles and genre.  Let me know what you’d like me to see and review next.
Evil Dead—When five friends discover a Book of the Dead in a remote cabin, they unwittingly summon up dormant demons living in the nearby woods, which possess the youngsters in succession until only one is left intact to fight for survival.
Jurassic Park 3D—The movie 65-million years in the making returns to theatres converted to 3D.  Two paleontologists are invited to an island by a millionaire who has brought dinosaurs back to life.  Despite his assurances that everything is safe, a rouge employee causes a power outage that sets the most dangerous creatures free.
Trance— Simon, a fine-art auctioneer, joins a gang of thieves to steal a priceless Goya painting. During the heist, Simon suffers a head injury, and awakes with no memory of where he hid the artwork. When torture and physical threats fail to break through Simon's amnesia, the thieves hire a hypnotherapist to find the answer.
Upside Down—Though it is forbidden, a man devises a way to reunite with a long-lost love from the twin world that sits just above his own.
Stan's Choice--Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice currently in theatres.
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
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