Half animated film come to life, half martial arts movie, in G.I. Joe: Retaliation look for one of the best action sequences ever to hit the big screen. Darker and more grounded in the realities of today’s terrorism themed movies as opposed to the days of action war pictures centered on the Cold War, the sequel to G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra is only slightly less fun than the first live-action look at the action figure-turned-animated show and comic book-turned-action figure again franchise. Whereas Rise of Cobra was steeped in toy references and faithful action figure costume re-creations, Retaliation has a plot that could have been pulled from the 1980s animated series.
After a disaster caused by a conspiracy between Zartan and the evil shadow organization called Cobra wipes out literally every active G.I. Joe but three, it’s up to new top ranking officer Roadblock, played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to lead the charge to unravel the conspiracy and save the world. He’s joined in a superbly created, fast-thinking survival maneuver by Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), who must then find their way out of a deep water well. Despite being developed characters from G.I. Joe incarnations past, Flint comes off a bit like Hawkeye in The Avengers and Lady Jaye as the token female Joe in an era you’d think would be long past relying on jokes about women in the service. Still, they both make the best of it and the trio, along with Duke (Channing Tatum), the squad leader of the Joes in Rise of Cobra, they share some good chemistry and laugh out loud moments in the film. If there is any fault in Retaliation it is why the producers thought the plot required eliminating such a pantheon of other great Joe characters who were featured in Rise of Cobra, like Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), Baroness (Sierra Miller), Ripcord (Marlon Wayans), Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), or General Hawk (Dennis Quaid). It’s also a bit disappointing Bruce Willis’s General Joe Colton didn’t have a few more scenes. Willis, transitioning from action role to the wise general role, steals every scene and a partnership with Dwayne Johnson in another film, G.I. Joe or not, would be a fun thing to see.
Returning to dazzle anyone who likes good action sequence is Ray Park as Snake Eyes (who admittedly must be the Harpo Marx of the Joes you just wish would get to take off the mask and show any emotion) and Byung-hun Lee who couldn’t be better as Storm Shadow. Both Park and Lee along with Elodie Yung as martial arts fighter Jinx all have some of the best martial arts moves in Retaliation of any epic martial arts film, which may be overlooked by some martial arts genre lovers by the popular nature of this movie. And Lee’s Storm Shadow gets more character development than probably any other character of the film–a great and unexpected surprise. Although we’d seen bits of the Snake Eyes vs. Storm Shadow and Cobra minions in a mountain top battle in the previews to the film, the scene played out in full on the big screen was only grander, complex and visually stunning than anyone would expect. A “making of” feature for the choreography and planning of this sequence will be a must for the DVD/Blu-Ray release.
Another great scene come to life is a high-level security prison facility underground with water tanks keeping Destro (Christopher Eccleston in Rise of Cobra but indiscernable here), Cobra Commander, and Storm Shadow in a state of tormented hibernation. It’s the kind of scene you’d find in episodes of the Superfriends cartoon series and Justice League of America comic books, and in live action it plays pretty believable. A brilliant Cold War throwback game of chicken for the future of nuclear world domination between the world leaders led by Zartan (played alternately by Jonathan Pryce and Arnold Vosloo) is also a scene ripped beautifully from past comic book stories. Ray Stevenson’s disturbing villain Firefly, the Doctor Doom-esque Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey), and Walton Goggins as a smarmy but smart warden, also get plenty of key action scenes.
If you like Dwayne Johnson or any incarnation of the G.I. Joe franchise you will love G.I. Joe: Retaliation–there is something here for everyone. G.I. Joe: Retaliation has so far received a great box office showing, which will likely mean a G.I. Joe 3. What would be a good focus for a third G.I. Joe film? How about returning to the non-war era of the action figures with the G.I. Joe adventure team? We haven’t yet seen bearded blond and brunette Joes from the early 1970s, and the various James Bond-inspired underwater spy figures and accessories.
Or better yet, how about introducing a new supersoldier Joe by resurrecting the 1970s cyborg Joe, Atomic Man?
There is plenty of the G.I. Joe franchise yet to be explored.