‘Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.’
2007’s G.I Joe: The Rise of Cobra was a surprisingly refreshing Hasbro-em-up, and neatly demonstrated that a keen eye for tone could contextualise and redeem a sub-par narrative. Truly a testament to Stephen Sommers’ (The Mummy, The Scorpion King) tonal awareness, the film remained faithful to its subject matter whilst providing memorable action setpieces, and held a wisely-placed tongue firmly in cheek.
Though it was by no means perfect, it was a refreshingly streamlined summer blockbuster that understood its place in mainstream culture, tailoring its content accordingly. Cobra was dumb fun, plain and simple. Explosives, ninjas, and explosive ninjas abound.
This leaves us with G.I Joe: Retaliation, a perplexingly unambitious, generic and downright cynical work of fiction, with all the slick and polish of an aged railroad spike.
Now helmed by serial mediocritist Jon M. Chu (Justin Bieber: Never Say Never), the series appears to have taken a fatal turn for the tedious, forgoing the former’s sense of tone and pace in favour of a script that somehow manages to be woefully messy, yet painfully boring.
Following the complete extinction of the G.I Joes, by their mortal nemesis Cobra, the few remaining operatives, lead by Dwayne Johnson’s ‘Roadblock’, must undercover Cobra Commander’s sinister plot of utter convenience.
Whilst the previous entry was hardly a Dickensian soliloquy, it was charmingly self-aware. Retaliation has no such charm, and instead eschews all sense of campy fun in favour of a darker, more realistic flavour. This is completely to the film’s detriment however, as the stronger story focus illuminates the fundamental narrative flaws and gaping plot-holes.
The film seems to masquerade under the banner of “sequel”, whilst retaining little but cosmetic references to its predecessor. The storyline carries on from the ambiguous cliffhanger ending of Cobra, but seems to ignore its own internal logic, along with the redeeming tone. This tonal dissonance only serves to highlight the significantly smaller budget, with most setpieces amounting to little more than unremarkable CG.
With regards to performances there’s very little to comment on, partially due to the apparent lack of a protagonist. Following Channing Tatum’s first-act swan song, leading to a rather graceless exit, the film clumsily stumbles forward with three forgettably dull leads. And whilst Dwayne Johnson has established himself as a competent action hero, his character’s never given the chance to compel, bar some early interactions with Tatum.
Retaliation’s flaws don’t lie in its premise, but instead in its execution. Jon M. Chu has somehow taken an inherently thrilling romp, and moulded it into something criminally dull and unbearably soulless. An almost surgically-crafted mess of an action film, Retaliation commits the one cardinal sin it couldn’t afford to;
Go rent Cobra.