When the release of G.I. Joe: Retaliation was delayed in order to add 3D to the finished film it is said that the film industry was stunned. There were warehouses full of toys ready to be shipped to various stores all over the country, and those that were already on the shelves were removed.
It’s stories like these that bring out the cynic in seasoned movie-goers. We all know that the film business is primarily a business, but is G.I. Joe: Retaliation really nothing other than one giant commercial presented in 3D to sell Hasbro toys, toys, and even more toys? The answer is obviously, yes, and in abundance. And it’s a really bad commercial.
Having not seen the first G.I. Joe released in 2009, I’m told the second bears little resemblance to the original. The film scored well with fans but was universally panned causing the makers to rethink about a series reboot rather than a continuing sequel. There was never a question that another G.I. Joe would be filmed – not with a toy, comic and media franchise waiting to kick back into high gear – the only question was, how different would it be to the first? According to a colleague at the screening, the answer is louder, busier, but no improvement. I’ll take his word for it.
It helps if you’ve played with the toys. Names such as Cobra, Zartan, and Storm Shadow are there but they’ll only mean something if you’re already familiar. Those going in cold will have little clue, particularly as the movie presents these characters with the assumption you already know who they are. Without that background knowledge, all of these heroes and villains come across as faceless cartoons in colorful, shiny crash helmets, continually beating each other up for reasons never entirely clear to the uninformed.
In short, G.I. Joe: Retaliation appears to have no clear narrative. There’s a story of sorts buried in there somewhere, and it has something to do with a traitor called Zartan who impersonates the President of the United States then orders the termination of all the Joes, but after that I admit up front, I was lost, and worse, I didn’t care.
With its fetish for weaponry and a pulsating rock and roll soundtrack, the film has its targeted market locked in. Pop references abound. When Dwayne Johnson gives his men a pep talk he begins with, “… In the immortal words of Jay-Z,” and when the traitor Zartan becomes the POTUS he states, “They say this is a thankless job, but yesterday I hung out with Bono.”
There’s also the occasional stab at humor. Jonathan Pryce looks to be having fun as the principle villain impersonating the country’s leader, and he manages to make things lighter among the noisy mayhem by appearing continually amused at what he’s doing. When Adrianne Palicki as Lady Jaye approaches the President pretending to be a reporter from Fox TV, the fake President responds, “That’s why you look so fair and balanced.”
The action is continuous, but it never engages or appears in the slightest bit thrilling. It’s just stuff happening, and you passively watch while figuring out who is fighting who and why. Plus, after all the technical tinkering that slowed the movie’s initial release, the 3D doesn’t work. It’s obvious the film was shot in a way never meant for an extra gimmicky dimension – characters and objects are out of focus in the foreground making it feel as though you often have something annoying in the corner of your eye, and backgrounds simply look flat – so the addition of the system is there for no other reason other than to add profit at the box-office because of the higher priced tickets.
Before anyone accuses me of not understanding the teenage market, or not knowing what a kid raised on action dolls, violent cartoons and video games want in their entertainment, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m nowhere near the targeted demographics for a film such as this, but surely even teenagers deserve a cohesive story with characters of depth along with the non-stop gun play? The mind needs something to hook on to.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 100 minutes Overall Rating: 4 (out of 10)