Tuesday, April 2, 2013

G.I. Joe: Retaliation - Theatrical Review

Release Date: March 27, 2013

"G.I. Joe: Retaliation" is a great American dud.

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: AMC 30 Orange
Time: 9:00 pm March 27, 2013   
Projector Type: Digital 3D   
Film Rating: PG-13   
Film Runtime: 1 hr 50 min
Studio: Paramount Pictures

Loves: G.I. Joe the cartoon
Likes: G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra, Dwayne Johnson
Neutral: Replacing the entire cast for the follow up sequel
Hates: Delaying a movie for 9 months to make more money instead of fixing it   
Greenlit: Get ready for more Joe action cause a third film is coming

The Joes have taken down Cobra. Both Destro and Cobra Commander are locked away deep inside a high security prison and the Joes are sweeping the globe eradicating any remaining Cobra operatives. Unbeknownst to the Joes however is that before Cobra Commander was taken prisoner, he had replaced the President of the United States (Jonathon Pryce) with his number one stealth agent Zartan (Arnold Vosloo). With the Joes spread across the globe Zartan quickly puts into motion a scheme that will eliminate all Joes, free the Cobra Commander and eventually lead to global domination. Only the remaining Joes, Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Flint (D.J. Cotrona), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), Snake Eyes (Ray Park), Jinx (Elodie Yung) and the original Joe (Bruce Willis) stand in their way of total victory.

"G.I. Joe: Retaliation" was supposed to come out last summer. Poised as one of the big blockbusters of 2012 with a multi-million dollar ad campaign in full swing, it was pulled from the summer line up a mere 4 weeks before its release date and given a March 2013 date that was over 9 months later. The internet was abuzz with theories as to what the delay was for, reshoots, adding 3D, the poor performance of "Battleship" weeks prior (another Hasbro property) and poor scores from early test screenings led everyone to believe the finished product was anything but finished.

There were few who remained positive that the film would recoup the money lost by missing its release date by adding 3D and even less who thought the film would be anything more than a big pile of steaming s**t. The wait is over and the next installment in the G.I. Joe franchise is upon us. So, how did it turn out after all? Well, let's just say they could have used another 9 months.

The first G.I. Joe movie wasn't great. It wasn't even necessarily a good movie by even the lowest standards, but it sure was a heck of a lot of fun and full of nostalgia for any kid of the 80s. For all its flaws, it nailed down exactly what a movie based on the old cartoon series should be. Ninjas flying in jet packs, global terrorism, chest thumping patriotism and lots of cool gadgets and toys. The cast wasn't exactly as strong as it could be either but they were all game to make a loud and ridiculous movie that could be enjoyed by anyone willing to turn off their brain for a couple of hours. Somehow the long awaited sequel manages to get everything wrong that the first one got right.

How exactly is this a worse G.I. Joe movie than its Stephen Sommers directed predecessor? First of all, the fun of that first film seems to have been completely sucked out of this new endeavor in favor of some technically proficient but extremely dull action sequences. You would think that watching a daring escape with a dozen ninjas battling it out on the side of a mountain would be exciting stuff but instead it barely raises a pulse. The entire film just feels detached in this way. Detached from the events occurring in it, detached from the shallow but fairly straight forward story and ultimately detached from the viewer themselves.

Where the film really drops the ball is with the characters (something even the horrid Michael Bay Transformers got right) and with the overall tone. The one thing that made each G.I. Joe memorable has been their personalities. We aren't talking depth here, but a distinct personality that matches who they are. Case in point is Roadblock, whose signature quality was that he rhymed everything he said. Is it silly? Yes. Is it funny? Yes. But this new film is missing that silliness and it shows. Johnson's performance isn't bad, he just isn't trying to be anything other than himself which is a problem.

Now before you start getting all worked up, it's important to note that most G.I. Joe characters are not held in such high regard as the Transformers so it is alright to take liberties with them, but at least do something interesting in the process. Flint, Lady Jaye, and Jinx, they are all just so bland and boring. The only Joe to get it right is Snake Eyes and that is only because he isn't supposed to talk. Chances are if he did speak he would be just as boring as the others (at least they got rid of those stupid lips on his mask). Let's not even discuss the decision to populate the film with an entire new cast which is just beyond baffling for a direct sequel. As for Bruce Willis...he just constantly looks like someone woke him from a nap to shoot his scenes and is as disinterested in what he is doing as we are in watching him.

One of the few things this new Joe movie gets right though are the villains. Cobra has always had colorful characters and they steal the show here on more than one occasion. Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) returns and despite never explaining how he survived a sliced gut that led to an icy grave beneath the tundra in the last film, he is still a lot of fun to watch. Cobra Commander (not played by Joseph Gordon Levitt this time sadly) doesn't get much screen time but he at least brandishes his trademark face mask.

The real standouts are a surprisingly joyfully evil Jonathon Price as the President and newcomer Firefly (Ray Stevenson) as Cobra's explosive expert (love those little firefly bombs of his). Both actors seem to be having a lot of fun with their roles and unlike all the Joes understand that they are in a live action adaptation of an 80s kids television show. If all the actors embraced their characters with the same enthusiastic glee as these two then perhaps it would have made for a better film, something the first film understood at least.

But then there is the tone of the film which is this mixed bag of silly fun and hardcore action set pieces which never strikes the right balance. In an attempt to harden up the G.I. Joe image, director Jon M. Chu apts for a more gritty feel to the action that just doesn't fit the lunacy of the G.I. Joe universe. Some of the spirit of G.I. Joe is still there such as unexpected alliances and one on one showdowns between certain characters who have a grudge with one another, but it just isn't enough to save this sinking ship.

As for the 3D and those reshoots? Well, 3D is never really a make it or break it factor for a movie. It can be fun if done right and tolerable if done wrong. But considering this film was supposedly held back for a little less than a year to integrate 3D into it one would hope the effect would be good or at least noticeable, which it is neither. With a cadre of horrible CGI planes, helicopters and ninjas being thrown at the audience, it looks as if 2 to 3 months were spent on the post conversion process and not the 9 they actually had.

The rest of that time was likely taken up with those reshoots the studio continues to deny actually happened. One of the more prominent rumors for the delay was a number of reshoots for Channing Tatum's character Duke. Reportedly dismayed test audiences thought the bromance between Tatum's Duke and Johnson's Roadblock wasn't nearly well established enough at the outset so the studio wanted to go back and add more Tatum into the fold.  The studio swore up and down that no reshoots were taking place but anyone with a trained eye for bulls**t can see exactly where the new scenes landed.

There are two scenes between Tatum and Johnson that stick out like a sore thumb. Not because they are bad but because in these two scenes, everything said and done in them relate only to those scenes. The real question isn't if they did reshoots anymore, but if they worked and if any of it actually helped the film and to that effect they did...sort of. There were clearly problems with the film way beyond the supposed issues between Duke and Roadblock that nothing any reshoots or adding 3D could repair. The only thing that seems to be fixed are the pocket books of the Paramount studio execs being lined with those extra nickels and dimes those 3D prices are bringing in.

The people in charge of this sequel clearly don't want to make a G.I. Joe movie. They want a by the numbers action movie with a popular license to get people into theaters. Can you believe they go through the entire film and not one person says "Yo Joe!"? How could anyone pass up the opportunity to create some PSAs in this world of viral marketing? Talk about your perfect ad campaign. None of this is even tapping into all the plot contrivances that make up a majority of the film (why was it important to disguise Storm Shadow as Snake Eyes again?). We will likely never get a great  G.I. Joe movie but we should at least get a fun one. This poor excuse for a sequel is bland, boring and worst of all it is insulting to think we waited all this time for something this lame. Here's hoping they get it right next time.





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