G.I. JOE RETALIATION: Legitimately Awesome Action Flick

Spectacular fight choreography. Crazy explosions. Over-the-top villains who put other movie supervillains to shame. Old-school characters renewed, new ones introduced. What G.I. Joe: Retaliation really gets across is that director Jon M. Chu is just a kid playing with action figures, and we get to peek into his imagination: and it is awesome.

 

Forget any conceptions you have coming into this film based off the first - they certainly did. While there are a couple of small carryovers like a handful of characters and the "nano-mite" technology (though it's really not used much), for the most part this is a completely new cast (literally the entire core team of Joes is new aside from Snake Eyes), with a much less "let's cram every popular scifi convention into a movie" feel and more of a "Hey, let's make a 2 hour live-action version of  G.I. Joe episode" feel. What's interesting is, they took both the good and the cheesy-bad parts of the old animated series - and it works.

The biggest thing this movie needed was of course compelling action, and it delivers. The about 8 minute long ninja fight on the side of a mountain (teased in every trailer and TV spot for the film released so far) is simply jaw-dropping. I literally had my jaw and eyes wide open during the entire sequence. Incredible feats of acrobatics, strength, and combat are on display and it is unlike anything I've ever seen. The rest of the theater was gasping and clapping and cheering and shouting out at all the same points I was, so it seemed I wasn't alone in that assessment. Other sequences, from Duane "The Rock" Johnson's Roadblock careening through Cobra forces in a tank to remote-control bullets and of course a one-on-one battle between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow (because: needs) don't disappoint, with phenomenal combat choreography and some physics-defying "holy $#!^" moments that will leave anyone who has ever played with action figures smiling.

Interestingly, while the action, along with Johnson's born charisma and leadership and the addition of new villain Firefly are all stand-outs, the biggest surprise is that the story is actually quite compelling. It serves to drive the action, yes, but it also have moments of real feeling and some courageous moves that make Cobra Commander and his organization quite possibly the worst supervillain threat seen on film. There are a couple of plot holes/leaps, including one big one towards the end of the film, but nothing that actually bothered me. In fact, the big one at the end of the movie, I later realized, essentially used 80s action cartoon logic - and that made me think, with how much reverence Chu placed towards the cartoon and toy line throughout the movie, that he may have even done that on purpose.

Duane Johnson was not alone, and while the only other true standout from the cast was Ray Stevenson's aforementioned Cobra villain Firefly in the acting department, there was a pleasant level of charisma on display from Channing Tatum. Tatum and Johnson's banter set the tone early in the film that this unit was a close-knit group, and gave the film some much needed levity. There were laugh-out-loud jokes between the crunching acts of villainy and the ass-kickings for all to cheer, and that helped balance the movie well. Lady Jaye as played by Adrianne Palicki was authoritative and took no guff from her male co-stars, but the real standout female addition to the cast was Elodie Yung's Jinx. It takes a lot to be side-by-side with Ray Park's Snake Eyes and put-him-in-every-action-movie-from-now-on-please Byung-hun Lee's Storm Shadow, but the female ninja held her own. The only slightly disappointing castings were D.J. Cotrona as newcomer Flint, and RZA's Blind Master. Cotrona's Flint just didn't seem to get the same characterization push that all the other new characters did, and fell flat without a truly heroic moment to stand on - not necessarily the actor's fault, but more what he was given. RZA, honestly, I can forgive - the dude loves G.I. Joe and kungfu, and his character really didn't have much bearing (or screentime) so whatever, let him have his fun. Jonathan Pryce does a great job with two roles at once, and Bruce Willis downplays himself so much, he really doesn't become a scene stealer, but just another Joe - it was some great acting and expert directing of his character that he didn't become a distraction.

The third act of the film makes a couple of those odd choices mentioned before, and honestly could have done with an extra ten minutes or so to grind the build-up rather than just taking it immediately to a high broil. There were some missed opportunities for direct shout-outs to old-school Joe fans as well that with the high level of homage present in the rest of the movie were somewhat disappointing. It is clear, however, that Paramount took a lot more input from Hasbro than in their first go-around, and it helped immensely.

Ultimately, when you get to see ninja fighting on the side of mountains and remote detonating lightning bugs and … something I won't spoil for you that Joe fans will love seeing in live action (and hearing named exactly like they are in toy/cartoon/comic format), the plot holes and questionable casting of RZA as a character from the comic book are pretty easily forgiven. There may still be snow on the ground across much of the midwest, but the first big action movie of the summer is here, and action fans - and G.I. Joe fans in particular - have a lot to enjoy out of G.I. Joe: Retaliation.

I look forward to the sequel (because with this setup: there will be one).

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

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