If you’ve come to Jon M. Chu’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation looking for plot, well, you’ve probably also forgotten what happened the last time we hooked up with America’s elite military force also named after action figures and comic books. While Chu does an admirable enough job cleaning up the mess left behind after 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of COBRA, the latest entry into the saga of the Joes and all their nifty little gadgets doesn’t manage to amount to more than a pile of fun jokes and one show-stopper of an action sequence. This time around, the Joe gang is unexpectedly abandoned and destroyed by the U.S. government, thanks to a president who insists that the Joes (mainly Snake Eyes) are responsible for the assassination of the Pakistani president, which has thrown the country into utter turmoil. What’s left of the team (and, man, is it a scant bunch) must uncover what’s really going on in order to salvage their reputations. Yes, it’s sort of a political thriller. Yes, it’s also just sort of boring.
While Channing Tatum’s Duke led his team to glory (relatively speaking) in the first film, the bare bones team of Retaliation is reluctantly led by Dwayne Johnson as Roadblock, who finds himself de facto boss of Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) and Flint (D.J. Cotrona) when everything goes haywire. Other familiar characters in the mix include Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee), and Jinx (Elodie Yung) who, despite all being integral to the plot, seem to exist in their own movie for the vast majority of the film. Tasked with figuring out why their president would abandon them so utterly and accuse them of such a senseless crime, the Joes turn to…the Internet and Bruce Willis, the modern world’s last bastion of hope and hell-yeah.
Penned by Zombieland scribes Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, Retaliation comes complete with a hefty dose of humor that was missing from the first film, but even with the wonderfully hammy Johnson in the lead role, Retaliation isn’t nearly as amusing as it should be. Paired with political intrigue that unexpectedly boils down to some serious stuff, the film can’t quite strike a tonal balance and it’s never as funny as it could be or as action-packed as it should be. Moreover, the return of Cobra Commander (come on, did you really think that he was going to stay asleep in that big bottle of water?) doesn’t carry much weight, mainly because we never see even a hint of the evil machinations the mirrored one is up to. In fact, COBRA’s nefarious plan is already well in place by the time the film starts up and even when their endgame is revealed, it’s still peppered with plot holes and endless questions. Fun is all well and good, but not at the expensive of anything resembling actual function.
Chu’s entry into the franchise was memorably pushed back from last summer in order to post-convert the feature to 3D, and while the expanded depth of field in Retaliation is a nice little addition (particularly during a soaring, mountain-set faceoff between Snake Eyes, Jinx, and an endless stream of other ninjas), the majority of “pop-out” pieces look unbelievably cheap and last minute. Few films benefit from the addition of 3D, and Retaliation is certainly one of them. Then again, Retaliation could have benefited from something else a little simpler – more action and more plot.
The Upside: Chu, Reese, and Wernick build in a lot of zippy one-liners and sight gags; the “ninja mountain” sequence is one for the ages (despite its unnecessary 3D); Adrianne Palicki is a standout.
The Downside: The sequel is still mighty slim on plot and motivations (even for a film based on action figures); the cast is mostly forgettable (yes, even The Rock); the post-converted 3D is, at best, throwaway, while at its worst, it’s distractingly shoddy.
On the Side: Does young sniper Mouse look familiar? You’re not crazy – that’s Jurassic Park’s Joseph Mazzello.