The bass was booming with each explosion, the walls shook with every bullet fired, yet my ears weren’t ringing during my screening of G.I. Joe: Retaliation. On the other hand, my head was throbbing from trying to keep up with the sequel’s needlessly convoluted screenplay.
Rhett Reece and Paul Wernick have joined forces to make a simple enough concept as untraceable as Roadblock’s small troupe of Joe’s. Dwayne Johnson plays Roadblock while his battle cohorts Flint (played by D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (played by Adrianne Palicki) follow. They’ve been framed for stealing nuclear warheads and their camp has been blown to smithereens. Now, they’re on the hunt for justice and to avenge the death of one of their lost Joe’s. Hopefully, their next hunt involves looking for a better vehicle to showcase their talents.
Meanwhile, Cobra Commander (played by Luke Bracey) has been freed from his frozen slumber to work with two rugged baddies Storm Shadow (played by Byung-hun Lee) and Firefly (played by Ray Stevenson) to work with a skilled master of disguise who has taken the role as President of the United States of America (played by Jonathan Pryce in a duel role playing different people but both roles are just as hammy).
Meanwhile, Snake Eyes (played by Ray Park) and Jinx (played by Elodie Yung) are sent by the Blind Master (played by Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA who mumbles and barks out lines) to fetch Storm Shadow for answers regarding the murder of Hard Master.
Trying to piece together the film after watching it is a mission in itself. Trying to follow it as it unfolds on screen is damn near frustrating.
The story is spaced out – both structurally and logically. I wasn’t expecting a dumbed down action movie, but I was at least expecting something where I didn’t have to take myself out of the film to give myself a play-by-play every 10 minutes. Moviegoers are constantly being whisked away to different parts of the Earth with a mere subtitle setting the stage every time we switch plot points. It’s jarring, distracting, and puts a large damper on what the film is supposed to be.
It doesn’t help that each character – even though they have their own specialty – looks the same. Guys have similar scruff and fatigues while the ladies wear leather outfits that all look the same and have eyes that look alike when their faces are covered in battle.
Another odd attribute about the script is that Reece and Wernick are unaware of the line that’s supposed to exist between “dumb fun” and “plain dumb” to a point where it seriously affects the somewhat enjoyable parts of Retaliation.
Take the idea of this master of disguise, Zartan, taking over for the President of the United States of America. Even though Pryce is chewing scenery, it’s entertaining to see Zartan’s plot form, playing mind games with leaders from other nations. But, if Zartan is such a cunning master of disguise, you would think he’d keep his sense of humour under wraps a bit more and maybe save his game of Angry Birds for when he isn’t organizing a new nuclear free world order.
So, to recap (because I’ve gotten so used to it after watching this catastrophe), G.I. Joe bogs itself down in exposition, misplaced humour, and an array of bland characters that all take on the same build and descriptions making it incredibly hard to follow.
Surely the action is easy to take in, right? Not really – and that almost trumps the script for being the biggest disappointment. G.I. Joe: Retaliation is directed by Jon M. Chu, which is a move that is slightly out of the director’s element. Chu helmed Step Up 2: The Streets and the surprising Step Up 3D, showing that he’s an incredible master at directing and shooting choreography. However, after watching Chu’s effort here, I suppose filming dance choreography for a movie and filming fight choreography are “apples and oranges”.
Chu seems to think that by stationing his camera up close to the brawls, this will build intensity and make those punches more impacting. Unfortunately, he’s wrong. This method of directing doesn’t allow audiences to take in the action or the fight choreography to the fullest degree because we simply can’t make out what we’re seeing. It’s just a bunch of guns, fists, and fatigues mashing up against each other. We might as well be watching a kid act out these scenes with action figures.
And with the mention of kids, I’m sure this dopey sequel will wet their whistle – even if they won’t necessarily be able to keep up with the clumsy writing.
SIDE NOTE: I didn’t see G.I. Joe: Retaliation in 3D but I did lose my D-Box virginity to it. Although the film was crummy, it did make me a D-Box believer. With each rumble my seat made after each bullet was shot and explosion detonated and with every move my seat made after Dwayne Johnson flipped someone over, my smile grew. I just hope my next D-Box experience is spent watching a better movie.