G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a Better G.I. Joe Story, But Not a Great Movie

by Howie Decker @HowardTheDeck

Oh boy, this one’s gonna cause some fights.


The “one” I’m referring to is both the movie and this review. Based on other early reviews I’ve read and the primary Twitter reaction, a lot of you are going to disagree with me. This review is not going to endear me to many of my fellow Joe community members- and don’t forget, I’m as big a fanboy as they come. To this day, I still roll up the sleeves of every shirt I wear because of this action figure. Trust me, I really wanted to like this movie.

The movie itself already caused one disagreement that I was in the middle of. Here’s a sample of the conversation that occurred between two of my friends sitting on either side of me during the end credits of G.I. Joe: Retaliation:

Guy 1: Besides The RZA, that was a solid movie.

Guy 2: Did you say “solid”?

1: Yeah, I liked it! Didn’t you?

2: You’re not being sarcastic at all?

1: No, I really enjoyed it – I thought it was a great movie.

2: Wow.

1: Why, what did you think?

2: I hated it.

1: What did you hate about it?

2: Everything.

Both of them, turning to me: What did you think?

I had trouble giving a concise answer. I really wanted to like it. I didn’t hate it. I didn’t love it. But it wasn’t until a few minutes later when I hopped on a call to record a podcast that I realized how much I didn’t love it. As I verbally gave my reaction, I was hearing my thoughts on the movie for the first time, just like the others on the call. I hadn’t had any down time to configure my thoughts and form an opinion. I just knew I wasn’t overly impressed.

READ ALSO: The 50 Greatest G.I. Joe Characters of All Time

Don’t get me wrong, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is the G.I. Joe movie we should have gotten in 2009.

As generally disliked as G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was, I always tried to find ways to defend it. In the past, if I wanted to like something badly enough, I’d like it, regardless of whether or not that thing had truly earned my appreciation (see: Green Lantern). But let’s admit it- for every one of RoC’s redeeming qualities, there was a power suit, an unnecessary character relationship, or a Ripcord. Whenever I tried to sell the movie to someone who wasn’t a fan, I found myself apologizing for these things. Retaliation requires no such apology.

There’s nothing in Retaliation to be embarrassed about. If you’re a G.I. Joe fan, you’ll prefer this movie over Rise of Cobra simply because it’s more of a G.I. Joe movie. Joe fans’ comfortable feeling that their beloved property is in the caring hands of a fellow lifelong fan in Jon Chu were legitimate. It’s clear Chu loves G.I. Joe, that’s not the problem. There are a ton of homages to Larry Hama and the Marvel “A Real American Hero” comic run. For me, Hama’s comics are the default Joe continuity. They are what always has and always will bring Joe to life in my imagination. Seeing so many nods to them made me happy, and soon I’ll post a list of all of the Hama homages I noticed in the movie.

That said, something held Retaliation back. I’ll just throw out everything I can think of that prevented this movie from being the thrill ride I anticipated:

  • Many parts are very slow moving, and nothing is happening to move the plot or engage the viewer.
  • Flint was terrible. He’s a strong character in every Joe medium, and should have been a character on film that could step in as leader if a third movie is made. That was not nearly the case, and it’s a mixture of casting and writing.
  • I didn’t notice the 3D for much of the movie- meaning essentially all the delay did was give us 9 months to mentally hype the film and suffer from trailer overload. If you’ve seen all of the trailers, you’ve seen this movie.
  • Yes, we got the Cobra Commander we all want.. visually. We got a great costume design and a cool voice. The character himself was given no pivotal scenes or meaningful dialogue. Zartan was more of a main antagonist than Cobra Commander was.
  • There was no climactic scene. Again, this is where the trailers ultimately hurt the experience, but that has to be taken into account. The mountainside ninja fight scene was good, but by the time you watch the movie you’ve already seen it. The wow factor is gone, and no other scene steps up to take its place.
  • Jinx is cute but fully disposable.
  • There were lots of Cobra troopers, but no Cobra Troopers. Why stay so true to Cobra Commander and Firefly’s iconic looks but have Cobra soldiers wearing generic camo? A missed opportunity.
  • The plot depends too much on the viewer being wildly impressed with The Rock punching and shooting things. Hey, I like both of those things as much as the next guy, but not as the entire basis of the final scene. We need more. The ending was flat. No swerves, no surprises, no “OOH” moments.
  • No closure for any of the main characters. Maybe Lady Jaye, who has a special moment with Joe Colton.
  • Nothing was done to set up or hint at a potential sequel, besides the played-out “villain gets away” trope. And in this case, there wasn’t even a big deal made about the villain escaping. After the credits I had to ask someone, “Wait, what happened to Cobra Commander?”. I honestly couldn’t remember. Not a good sign.

None of my issues with Retaliation have anything to do with far out plots, cheesy dialogue or shallow characters, because that’s G.I. Joe. If you prefer realism, go watch Zero Dark Thirty. Like I said, we finally got a G.I. Joe movie, unfortunately it just wasn’t a good one.

There are definitely some highlights. Cobra’s top secret game-changing technology (Project Zeus) is reminiscent of such ambitious Sunbow creations as the MASS Device and the Weather Dominator. Lady Jaye is a visual scene stealer (fancy words for HOT), and I’m not just talking about the red dress scene. Adrianne Palicki’s dialogue with Bruce Willis was fun. The Rock is as good as Roadblock as you think he’ll be. Ray Stevenson’s Firefly is a treat. Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes are as good together as they were in RoC, and again Byung-hun Lee steals most scenes he’s in. I actually wasn’t as offended by The RZA’s portayal of the Blind Master as many other early reviewers seem to be.

I hope this movie is successful enough to warrant a third G.I. Joe film, in which Chu would have no previous mess to clean up before commencing with his own story. What I’d love even more would be Chu helming the film and Larry Hama brought on as a special consultant, in the same way that Christopher Nolan is “godfathering” The Man of Steel and seemingly all upcoming Justice League character-based movies.

For everything the Transformers fanboys (and soon TMNT fans) feel Michael Bay is doing to desecrate their nostalgic memories, Jon Chu is carefully nursing G.I. Joe fans’ memories back to health. The fact that this movie was unmistakably G.I. Joe is a good thing, and a step in the right direction.

I’m prepared to defend my opinion, so please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or continue the conversation on Twitter or Facebook.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation opens Thursday March 28.




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