Yet another male-centred, nostalgia-based blockbuster (really, is it too much to ask for a Jem update?), G.I. Joe: Retaliation is about what you’d expect. This John Chu-helmed movie has all the weapon fetishism, stupidity and CGI-couched “action” fans would ask for out of a Hasbro-produced super-commercial, so it largely hits its intended target and stays there quite contently.
But as a film (and by any fair standards), how does it stand up? It doesn’t; it staggers around like the sluggish, idiotic eyesore it is. The problem isn’t that G.I. Joe: Retaliation is thoughtless, it’s what it tries to sneak in through the windows of the auspicious proposal (heard too often from “serious” critics) to turn your brain off.
The Joes, an elite military unit working for the United States like kind of a hallowed Blackwater, find themselves in serious trouble when the President (Jonathan Pryce) is somehow substituted by the evil Zartan (Arnold Vosloo). He tries to abolish the Joes, leaving only Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) among the living after an ambush.
Roadblock and Co. try to work their way back to the U.S., where they unravel more of Zartan’s plan and encounter a renaissance of Cobra. The Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey) is also defrosted to lead his pals to world domination by using Project Zeus, a battery of seven WMDs, against the now nuke-less world leaders.
There’s another a subplot that involves Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) and Snake Eyes (Ray Park), plus the original Joe (Bruce Willis) is brought into the fray. Things volley indiscriminately from one plot strand to another, often without rhyme or reason, and it’s hard to get a read on anything that’s going on in this muddle of a motion picture.
The mishmash that is the “story” of G.I. Joe: Retaliation won’t stop certain people from appreciating the CGI-heavy sights and mechanical, monotonous action sequences – and that’s the point. Movies like this aren’t designed to provoke thought; they’re designed to be dismissed, even by those who enjoy them, as “stuff you don’t have to think about too much.”
But what happens if you think about this “stuff” just a little? For one, you understand that G.I. Joe: Retaliation is just another item in a long, long, long line of movies that feature mostly men in the lead (or important) roles. These chaps are Alphas of the best kind, exhibiting their big guns and buddy-bravado at every turn.
What’s more, our Alphas are capable of resisting perhaps the most significant threat in the world with a pantry full of weapons and hearts of steel. The firearm reverence in G.I. Joe: Retaliation is off the page and perhaps should be, given the nature of the “source material,” but it’s pushed to unpleasant levels of irrationality with Chu’s vision.
This is clearly a man’s world (and a young man’s world), but, in case you weren’t sure, G.I. Joe: Retaliation twists the knife. Enter Lady Jaye, a would-be entrance point for a young girl curious about this gaudy cosmos. The character fought chauvinism to get to her position and even tried to one-up her dad, who alleged that he could never trust his life to a woman in the military.
And now, the catch: she is twice (and in relatively short succession) pushed into situations where she uses her looks to reel in a character while the menfolk do the barn-raising. Later, she stands in front of a mirror while dipshit Flint furtively watches her slip out of a red cocktail dress. Jaye actually says “If only my dad could see me now,” while Flint reacts to the ensuing irony-soaked soliloquy by praising her appearance. That he stops short of patting her on the head is a small miracle.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation is dreadful. A better movie could be made by knocking a set of figurines together in a vacant lot. The characters would be more interesting, the action more convincing (is there anything as stupid as the zip-line chase?) and the venture less offensive to those of even substandard intellect.