Editor’s note: This preview/spoiler-free review was intended to drop prior to seeing the film, but having an opportunity to see it early, I took it and will have more thoughts coming on our next podcast (CSP EPISODE 50!). If there are any spoiler elements or plot reveals, I have tried to omit or conceal them, but apologize in advance if you get spoiled. Grow up, it’s just a movie!
In 2009, just a couple of years after Hasbro put Transformers on live-action film, G.I. Joe finally made it to the big screen. To say it was long-awaited was an understatement… grown adults were excited to finally see a toy, comic book and cartoon franchise from our childhood finally hit the silver screen. What we got was The Rise of Cobra, one of the worst adaptations ever and more reason to think that Hollywood was purposely seeking to sabotage anything we enjoyed as children. Right after we were treated to The Eiffel Tower being corrupted by green slime and the slow progression of JGL from Duke’s girlfriend’s brother to Cobra Commander, a sequel was announced.
Originally set to release in 2012, G.I. Joe: Retaliation was announced with only some of the cast from the first film returning, a slew of additional characters and cast and new writers. All under the guiding hand of a new director who pretty much guaranteed a better movie. The Rock! Bruce Willis! The Rza! Inspectah Deck! (kidding). All set for June, right? Nope, not even a month sooner, Paramount pulled the plug on the film’s release, announcing a delay in order to convert to 3D and increase marketing in international markets (by the way… screw you, foreigners!).
So… after the same amount of time it takes to carry and deliver an infant, we finally get the long-awaited, long-delayed and much maligned G.I. Joe: Retaliation to hit theaters. Why go see this movie? I’ll tell you why…
I had several problems with G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, from Cobra Commander’s origin to how Duke as linked to The Baroness and much in between, but the one thing that got under my skin more than everything was THE STUPID TITLE! Ever since the equally stupidly named Fantastic Four: The Rise of The Silver Surfer, we’ve been treated to what I’d like to call lazy titling and sub-titling by Hollywood. Rise of the Lyccans… Rise of the Planet of the Apes… The Dark Knight Rises… Rise of Taj… Rise of the Machines… WE FUCKING GET IT ALREADY!! I swore before God and my arachnid-eating dog that I would force-choke the next person who put Rise in the title of their movie. So what do we get for this new G.I. Joe sequel?
Simply put… RETALIATION! Concise, apropos and to the point. Basically the plot that everyone knows is that the government’s special G.I. Joe force is set up and ambushed. Almost totally wiped out by Cobra, the remaining Joes, led by Roadblock, discover that the order came from The President of the United States, who was actually replaced near the end of the first movie by Cobra’s master of disguise Zartan. They enlist the aid of the original G.I. Joe and go into battle with Cobra. Violence, gunfights and vehicles explode and there’s your movie.
I liked this setup better than Rise because, well, I don’t see any room for cheesy dramatic subplots or reveals that don’t make sense. Also, we get retaliation on at least two fronts– Cobra retaliates after being defeated in the first movie and G.I. Joe, of course, responds in kind in this film. You can probably guess how this end, but it’s a better ride and at some points in the movie it’s cool to see Cobra actually in control and running things. I mean, they have The White House, how awesome is that? (By the way, screw Hollywood for putting out two separate films where White House gets overtaken n the same freakin year. You suck, Hollywood!)
2. Ninja! Ninja! and Moar Ninja!!
Two aspects of Rise return for the sequel and with good reason… Arashikage clan ninja and longtime friends turned adversaries Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun) and Snake Eyes (Ray Park). Their fight scenes in the first movie made it somewhat worth the price of the ticket and to have them both back was a MUST! From what we saw in the trailers, they go at it some more, however they are joined now by Storm Shadow’s cousin/Snake Eyes’ protege Jinx (Elodie Yung) and a slew of ninja aligned with Cobra. The trailers going all the way back to last year show Snake Eyes and Jinx battling a bunch of red ninjas all while rappelling from the side of a snowy mountain.
That scene plus several others is an aspect of G.I. Joe that we need more of. I should mention that we’ll also see Wu-Tang Clan’s The Rza as The Blind Master, however ____ he doesn’t do much besides pace around and speak with a very confusing accent that’s a mash-up of kung fu movies and native New York-ese. Which leads us to the next reason…
3. Better cast
Rise had an ensemble cast that actually brought a lot of audiences to the theaters. Sure, they left disappointed, but turnout would be high for any movie with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sienna Miller, Rachel Nichols, Dennis Quaid, Marlon Wayans and a cameo by Brendan Fraser, right? Two major flaws with the casting… Channing Tatum (we’ll get to him later) and Marlon Wayans. Not that Wayans was a bad choice for the first movie as Ripcord, but he was written as Marlon Wayans joins G.I. Joe rather than as the Ripcord we knew in comics. And sorry for the cism here, but why Ripcord? Why not Stalker or Alpine? And what the fuck was with Heavy Duty instead of Roadblo… OK,we’re talking about the sequel here, back on topic…
Retaliation brings back most of the cast members that worked in the original. Back are Tatum, Park, Lee along with Arnold Vosloo as Zartan and Jonathan Pryce as The POTUS/Evil POTUS. They nixed the United Colors of Benetton look of Rise’s G.I. Joe, so thus no Heavy Duty, Breaker or Cover Girl, but we get bona-fide action star and WWF/WWE wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Roadblock (questionable choice due to complexion, but The Rock’s got the personality to pull it off) and Bruce “Yippee Ki Yay Motherfucker” Willis as General Joe Colton. Also joining the Joes are D.J. Cotrona (Skin, Detroit 1-8-7) as Flint and Helloooooo Nurse Adrianne Palicki (Friday Night Lights) as Lady Jaye. Joining the ranks of Cobra are Ray Stevenson (Punisher War Zone, Rome, King Arthur) as Firefly and Luke Bracy & Robert Baker as the body and voice of Cobra Commander, respectively. The star power of The Rock and Bruce Willis is more than enough to see this film, but I’d also note that the cast here is a better fit than the disjointed cast from the first movie, and that’s all due to our next reason…
4. Director Jon M. Chu is no Stephen Sommers
Don’t believe me? Check out this tweet from him earlier in the week…
3 days until my newest film #GIJoeRetaliation comes out in theaters!!! Take a date. U might get some afterwards…
— Jon M. Chu (@jonmchu) March 25, 2013
OK, so maybe this is the same guy who directed Step Up 2: The Streets and Step Up 3D and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (wait, what?), however, putting that resume aside, Chu is an admittedly die-hard and vocal Joe fan. Not just of the G.I. Joe cartoon, but also of the comics. The movie doesn’t seem as much like a toy ad as the first one was, and there are elements of the comic book mythos included in this story. Credit should also be given to newly brought in writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (both wrote Zombieland). This team is a huge “step up” (pun intended) from Rise’s writers Michael Gordon, Stuart Beattie and Stephen Sommers, who admittedly didn’t even read or research any G.I. Joe source material for that drivel (accelerator suits? I rest my case…)
As noted above, Chu went out of his way on social media and in press interviews to tell anyone who will listen that he is committed to making a better G.I. Joe movie. Having seen the final product, I can say he’s done a much better job. There are more recognizable Joe and Cobra vehicles, mannerisms and references. What is also present is lots of action with balanced exposition and some elements of comedy without going over the top. Which actually brings us full circle to the next reason…
5. Redemption for Channing Tatum.
I’m no fan of Channing Tatum. To myself and countless other moviegoers back in ’09, he was that deer-in-headlights faced dolt who got lucky enough to play Conrad “Duke” Hauser, the lead character of G.I. Joe, in Rise. Channing Tatum went on to watch his status and star rise in Hollywood, from doing romance stories to yukking it up in a surprisingly watchable remake of 21 Jump Street to showing it to the Laker girls onstage alongside Kevin Nash in Magic Mike. Simply put, this guy who we all can’t stand and hold responsible for how bad Rise sucked became an A-lister. And he’s back for the sequel! Two takeaways from seeing Retaliation actually square Channing Tatum with me, however:
A. His on-screen chemistry with co-star Dwayne Johnson is fantastic. The two of them share some funny banter in a few scenes that show the close relationship between Roadblock and Duke that’s reminiscent of how well the Joes bonded in the comics and cartoons. I have to admit, Channing Tatum is a funny dude.
B. Those rumors about the movie release being delayed so that they can shoot more scenes to add Channing Tatum to it now that he’s a bigger name? Well, they’re not true. HE DIES!!! HAHAHAHAHHAAHAAAA!!! FINALLY DUKE IS DEAD! SERPENTOR WOULD HAVE BEEN PROUD!
**END OF SPOILER**
So yeah, thanks a lot for that, Channing. Catch you later in that The White House On Fire: We Don’t Need No Water Let The Motherfucker Burn movie…
6. They delayed it by damn near a year, so it can’t be THAT bad, right?
Not really a reason, but the crux of this article is that this is an actual G.I. Joe movie. To paraphrase white Harvey Dent from that Nolan movie everyone hates so much:
We’re not getting the G.I. Joe movie we want, but the G.I. Joe movie we NEED!
Similar to how our 44th President has had to deal with a shit-ton of mess left behind by his predecessor, so too does Jon M. Chu and his writers have to deal with the terrible taste from Rise along with that yearlong delay. I did not see this movie in 3D (which is a racket, by the way. Use the extra money on a box of Sno-Caps or Jujy Fruit!), so I don’t see how that would warrant nine months, but if they get an extra few million out of Bucharest, then so be it. But this was the G.I. Joe movie we should have gotten in 2009 and for that, I say go check it out. And with the way it ended, there is definitely set up for sequel(s) to come. Sure, this movie has a few plot holes and a few flaws, but I went in expecting a G.I. Joe popcorn action movie and that’s what I got. After all, it could be a lot worse…
… a whole lot worse!
Classick Material loves going to the movies and wasting good money on popcorn and a hot dog. Yes, he knows what’s in those hot dogs, but they’re delicious! He is the editor-in-chief of this site, co-host of the Cold Slither Podcast and host of the all-new Classick Team-Up podcast. Despite her involvement in Michael Bay productions, he still considers Megan Fox very easy on the eyes. Follow him on twitter @classickmateria