Title: G.I. Joe: Retaliation
Who's Retaliating? The process is twofold: Cobra is retaliating because of their defeat in the first movie, causing the Joes to retaliate to their...retaliation.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant to the Film: Two and a half Sgt. Slaughters out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Elite counterterrorism unit with funny names seeks to foil a nefarious supervillain's plot to RULE THE WORLD.
Tagline: "Real American heroes."
Better Tagline: "Dangerous toyz."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: At the end of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra), Cobra Commander swore revenge on the G.I. Joes, the super-soldiers who brought him to justice. To this end, Cobra has somehow swapped master of disguise Zartan with the President (Jonathan Pryce), who orders the destruction of the Joes after they conveniently secure all the nuclear warheads from a conveniently civil-warring Pakistan. Three of the team survive -- Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) and Flint (D.J. Cotrona) -- only to find themselves up against both Cobra and their own government.
Who, as it turns out, has hired Cobra. Awkward.
"Critical" Analysis: If there's anything that diminishes expectations for the movie you're about to watch like seeing "Hasbro" listed in the opening production company titles, I have yet to see it. We're several years past the point where turning toys into big-budget movies is in any way noteworthy, but if you went back in time to 1984 and told me there would be a serious (budget-wise) cinematic production about a bunch of toys called "Destro" and "Ripcord," I'd have asked you when lobotomies became mandatory.
Having said that, G.I. Joe: Retaliation succeeds where its predecessor fails in two significant ways. First, the plot is semi-coherent. Zombieland scribes Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick wisely stripped away anything to do with mind control or love triangles and chucked 99 percent of the nanotech angle in favor of a straightforward double-cross/revenge flick. Director John M. Chu, whose résumé boasts such action epics as Step Up 2: The Streets, Step Up 3D and Justin Beiber: Never Say Never, displays a surprisingly deft touch when it comes to the movie's many fight scenes.
Second, there's a sense of fun here that was missing from The Rise of Cobra. Naturally, the stakes have "never been higher" and "the fate of the world rests in their hands" and "this time it's personal." But the camaraderie between Duke (Channing Tatum) and Roadblock feels genuine, and even Bruce Willis seems more relaxed, even if "Old Bald Shooting Guy" looks like it's the only role he has any desire to play these days (A Good Day to Die Hard, RED 2). The dialogue is snappier, the fights are more plentiful, and -- I may have to verify this -- I think there are even more ninjas this time around. You can never have enough ninjas, right?
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Does all that forgive...everything else? We're entering an era where filmmakers, realizing after decades of CGI bloat and flat-out idiocy like Battleship and Shoot 'em Up (to pick from a couple hundred examples), they no longer have to even attempt to make sense. Yeah, yeah, it's a *G.I. Joe* movie, but having the bad guy escort the deadliest ninja in the world to his super secret subterranean prison still clad in his armor and mask, or showing our "elite" combat team storming an enemy fortress without helmets is dumb even by toy-movie standards.
Even if it does afford us lingering shots of Tatum's smoldering good looks.
Against my occasionally better judgment, I didn't hate G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Johnson is the closest thing we have to a 21st-century Schwarzenegger, and even as embarrassed as he often appears here, he has undeniable charisma (and that chest, mercy). It's dumb, loud and violent, making it a perfect option for NASCAR fans on a race-free Easter weekend.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation is in theaters today. Yes, Channing Tatum's character dies. You should have figured that out from the trailer.