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G.I. Joe: Retaliation

March 28, 2013
G.I. Joe: Retaliation

Earlier on the day when I saw G.I. Joe: Retaliation I took a treadmill stress test, so at least something got my heart rate up for a few minutes. The movie was ridiculous and stupid, which could have been predicted, and which I’m sure some people regard as selling points. But even the action was unimpressive and, worse, the whole thing was boring, boring, boring.

What passes for a story is beside the point, of course, but for a stupid action flick there certainly is a lot of it. If you’ve recognized that the times when your characters are talking is just an excuse to get the audience from one explosion to another, then stop having your characters stand around talking so much. Don’t feint at being a spy movie with spy gadgets; don’t pretend to be a martial arts redemption saga. If all you have is blowing stuff up, then on with the blowing.

Still, we do have the story: at the end of the previous film Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey; voiced by Robert Baker) and Destro were captured, but Zartan, Cobra’s master of disguise, manages to replace the President (Jonathan Pryce). When the president of Pakistan is assassinated he sends in the Joes to secure a loose nuclear warhead, only to send in an attack to wipe them out and blame them for the assassination. With them out of the way, he is free to execute a ridiculously ornate plot for world domination.

Of course, they don’t all die. The three survivors of the attack are “Roadblock” (Dwayne Johnson), “Flint” (D.J. Cotrona), and “Lady Jaye” (Adrianne Palicki). Yes, the token woman in the core cast is explicitly called out as such. And yes, her only real purpose is to distract men by looking sexy. Oh, and “Snake Eyes” (Ray Park) is out there somewhere, on the run after Zartan accused him of the assassination that started all this. The three survivors regroup and recruit the original “Joe” (Bruce Willis) in a Mission Impossible-inflected attempt to stop Cobra’s plans.

At the same time, Cobra members “Storm Shadow” (Lee Byung-hun) and “Firefly” (Ray Stevenson) break Cobra Commander out of his prison, despite the fact that he is completely inessential to the whole world-domination plot. And Snake Eyes (remember him) is following Storm Shadow with the help of Storm Shadow’s cousin, “Jinx” (Elodie Yung), to bring him to justice for the murder of their ninja teacher “Hard Master”, all at the direction of “Blind Master” (RZA), in a bad rip-off of a wuxia movie.

There are so many factual errors and inconsistencies — he doesn’t need to torture someone to find that out; those drawers obviously have false bottoms and are useless as hiding places; orbital dynamics do not work that way; or that way — and I understand that none of them really matter. But when the action itself is done badly, then we really have a problem.

I’ll focus my criticism on the fight that happens early on between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, in part because this is the least terrible fight in the movie. We must ask ourselves why these martial-artist characters even exist within a military setting like G.I. Joe, and remember that they were introduced in the early 1980s to capitalize on the popularity of martial arts among the boys of that time. But why were martial arts so popular? because of the popularity in the 1970s of action films like those coming out of Hong Kong starring Bruce Lee and other talented martial artists.

The fights in those movies were truly works of art. They were shot steadily, and at a distance, all the better to show off the amazing talent and athleticism of the fighters. But the wuxia-style fight we get here is shot close and choppy, and it’s impossible to tell what’s going on, moment to moment. I do not mean to say that Lee and Stevenson are not talented and athletic performers, but director Jon Chu shoots them in such a chaotic way that it’s impossible to tell. And this is the best and most coherent of all the action scenes in the movie.

And all this failure is even more disappointing given that we’re getting it nine months late. Originally scheduled for the end of last June, it was pulled and post-converted to some of the worst, most eye-gouging 3-D I’ve ever suffered through. There were rumors of additional shooting to expand Channing Tatum’s role as Duke, but given that he still only has about ten minutes of screen time I don’t buy that. The only explanation that makes any sense is that Paramount realized what a terrible movie they were about to release, and desperately clawed at the opportunity to throw good money after bad.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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