March 31, 2013



G.I. JOE: RETALIATION:  Not Even For Free – Endlessly Dumb Exercise In Boom-Boom Action

There’s a difference between making a movie for 11-year old boys and having a script that seems to have been written by one.  (Or in this case by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, doing a faithful imitation of one.)  Idiocy rarely comes as unmitigated as it does in GI JOE: RETALIATION, a movie that seems to have fewer brain cells than letters in its title.  Like an anecdote told by that 11-year old, it rambles through unnecessary random detail in some places while ignoring crazy lapses in logic in others, bouncing with enthusiasm but little skill from climax to climax.

The making of Retaliation might be (almost certainly is) more interesting than the movie itself.  Although strictly speaking a sequel to 2009’s marginally successful GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra ($302M worldwide gross against around $280M in total costs), it features almost none of the original’s creators or cast.  I’ll throw in a SPOILER ALERT here for the sake of politeness, but at this point it’s pretty widely known that the only major carryover from Cobra, Channing Tatum, wanted no part of the franchise and agreed to come back only if his character didn’t survive, so he’s barely present in Retaliation (although after the picture’s much-publicized postponement from last summer, apparently a couple of quick early scenes of Tatum’s character horsing around were added, and while blown up, his body is never discovered in this version).  Meanwhile, in order to goose the all-important international boxoffice, Retaliation was converted (badly) into 3D, and a chunk of storyline was devoted to Asian characters almost totally separate from the rest of the plot.

As all that indicates, Retaliation is more a business transaction than a creative piece of filmmaking.  To the extent there’s a coherent story, it has the terrorist Cobra group kidnapping and impersonating the President (Jonathan Pryce), a development hinted at in Rise of Cobra, and launching an incredibly convoluted, ridiculous plan to gain control of all the world’s heavy firepower.  The conceit launched in Cobra that “GI Joe” didn’t mean an individual, but rather a Special Forces-type group of elite soldiers, allows for the introduction of a batch of new characters, including Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson, messiah of faltering franchises), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki, who in bygone days was Tyra on Friday Night Lights), Jinx (Elodie Jung), Snake Eyes (Ray Park, who returns from Cobra, but you’d never know it, since he wears a mask at all times), and as the presumed substitute for Tatum’s beefcake role, the very dull D. J. Cotrona as Flint. Eventually they’re joined by Bruce Willis, doing a much less witty or charming gloss on his old-guy action hero turn in Red.

Their foes–Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) and Firefly (Ray Stevenson, last seen as the gay Russian gangster on Dexter)–have to free their leader Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey, replacing Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who clearly couldn’t run away fast enough) from warden Walton Goggins’ high-tech prison, then launch their ludicrous strategy.  Some excuse or other is found for an action sequence every few minutes, whether a ninja battle, an explosive attack or a swordfight–anything to keep the audience awake.

Although technically Johnson is the “star,” the way the movie is structured, with separate sequences featuring Willis and the Asian troupe taking up much of the running time, he never really has a chance to take control.  No one else does, either, especially since the picture has a weakness for masked characters (Cobra Commander and Storm Shadow are also often covered up), not allowing for much emoting.  Instead Retaliation roams around the world from digital setting to unconvincing digital setting, without any semblance of a center.

Like the 11-year old storyteller, once in a while Retaliation reaches a few moments of excitement, if not lucidity.  Director Jon M. Chu, until now known for music-driven movies like the Step Up sequels and Justin Bieber’s concert documentary, brings a nicely balletic touch to a parkour-like battle on sheer Himalayan mountaintops, Jonathan Pryce seems to be having fun slumming as the evil Presidential impersonator, and Walton Goggins (whose brilliant work on Justified earns him all the paycheck roles he can handle) brings some ripeness to the prison warden’s pride in his institution.  For the most part, though, the action scenes are routine, the CG is cut-rate, and the dialogue is sub-literate.

GI Joe: Retaliation mostly takes its revenge on the audience.  Like last month’s A Good Day To Die Hard and last week’s Olympus Has Fallen, it’s indicative of just what the undiscerning international boxoffice is doing to the action movie genre and the studios that profit from it.  It’s a movie that knows it doesn’t even have to try.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."