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G.I. Joe: Retaliation Low on Plot, High on Action

  • Susan Ellingburg Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2013 3 Mar
  • COMMENTS
<i>G.I. Joe: Retaliation</i> Low on Plot, High on Action

DVD Release Date: July 30, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: March 28, 2013
Rating:  Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of combat violence and martial arts action throughout, and for brief sensuality and language
Genre:  Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Thriller 
Run Time:  110 minutes
Director:  Jon M. Chu
Cast:  Dwayne Johnson, D.J. Cotrona, Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis

"It’s pretty much lots of fighting and blowing things up occasionally punctuated by brief moments of dialogue," I told a male friend after the screening for G.I. Joe: Retaliation. "That’s pretty much exactly what I want," he replied. So there you go.

Okay, there’s a little more to it than that. The elite fighting force known as the G.I. Joes is basking in the glow of a job well done when disaster strikes. Betrayed and bloody, they have to fight for their lives... and this time it’s not just their old mortal enemy COBRA who’s out to get them. The bad guys’ plan? World domination, of course (or global destruction, whichever comes first). The villains have infiltrated the highest level possible, but to say any more would be a spoiler and there’s not much plot to begin with so I’ll try to keep as much of it a surprise as possible.

So let’s talk about some of the Joes: There’s Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson, Snitch), the tough-on-the-outside/squishy-on-the-inside character Johnson always plays so convincingly. He's a loving dad and loyal friend; if the world was in peril he’s the first guy you’d call. Flint (D.J. Cotrona, Dear John), is the aw-shucks member of the team whose role seems mainly to be the foil for Roadblock and Lady Jaye. He does that well enough, but his character is mostly forgettable. And let’s not forget the girl Joe, Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki, Legion), who can whoop any man who crosses her path and look fabulous doing it. There’s a lot of whooping to be done, too, because as Roadblock eloquently remarks, "World ain’t saving itself," and it’s up to the Joes to put it right. Fortunately, they have Bruce Willis (A Good Day to Die Hard)—I mean, Colonel Joe—on their side. A visit to his house provides some comic relief; you’ll never look at your kitchen the same way.

A shout out is due to Walton Goggins as the warden at the prison where Cobra Commander and friends are held. The warden enjoys his job a little too much, but so does Firefly (Ray Stevenson, The Three Musketeers), the weapons master on Cobra Commander’s payroll who has an arsenal of destructive toys. Ah, it’s "good to know we’re not running low on crazy."

Since the plot is thin it’s a good thing the action is nonstop. It must be said that there is something satisfying about watching an evil character get his rear end kicked. It may be violent, but the fight choreography is impressive. There’s a mountainside ballet of a battle on ziplines that ran a little long but was beautiful to behold, especially in 3D. However, an early firefight was so full of odd angles, flashes of gunfire, and jerky edits it was almost sick-making. On the positive side: this was not cartoon-variety violence. The emotional and physical devastation of fighting, destruction, and loss was given its due. It’s not pretty, but it’s something.

Another positive: the special effects are impressive. The 3D takes you into the action. While it’s occasionally distracting to have a ninja fall into one’s nose, the overall effect is excellent. Slow-motion is used to optimum effect, heightening anticipation much like that moment when your ride hesitates at the top of a roller-coaster hill. Some of the weaponry, like mini firefly bombs, is cool in a mildly creepy way. The explosions—and there are many—are often beautiful. And the scenery: mountain hillsides, subterranean prisons, even outer space all look spectacular on screen.

In short, it’s pretty much lots of fighting and blowing things up occasionally punctuated by moments of moderately clever dialogue. The bad guys are really bad, the good guys are not particularly God-fearing but they’re at least on the side of justice and freedom. If the plot makes you roll your eyes, at least the special effects are cool. If that’s what you want in a movie, go for it. If not, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Some drinking.
  • Language/Profanity: A couple of he** including a “welcome to…”; da**; and the f-word is implied but cut off just in the nick of time after “mother—” There’s a fair amount of smack talk and some subtle sexual innuendos.
  • Sex/Nudity: Some amount of cleavage shown; woman shown in exercise gear consisting of short shorts and sports bra; man unzips woman’s evening gown, she’s shown undressing (underwear intact) in a reflection while man discreetly watches the reflection. Man shown shirtless.
  • Violence:  A lot of weaponry shown. Soldiers killed in battle. Much fighting with guns, swords, and other weapons, sometimes on side of cliff resulting in warriors falling to their deaths. Weapons of mass destruction deployed and destroy a major city. Bad guy in disguise cuts his own “face” with a knife. Considerable hand-to-hand combat, including one scrap between two women, one elderly. Torture implied but not shown. Man badly burned. People impaled, shot, blown up, and dispatched in many different ways. Man hit by car (but survives).
  • Spiritual Themes: Before heading into battle Roadblock prays (if you can call it that) by saying: "In the immortal words of Jay-Z: 'Whatever deity may guide my life, Dear Lord don't let me die tonight!'" The ninjas discuss their devotion to "the Hard Master" who was murdered; he seems to have been their spiritual leader. Some suggestion of Eastern religion form of healing… or it might have been a medical procedure; honestly it was hard to tell. One character learns his life is based on a lie, says "My fate was chosen for me," and confesses "It's possible to feel so much hate you stop feeling." Unfortunately, what could have been an opportunity for him to show remorse and growth must have been left on the editing room floor.

Publication date: March 28, 2013