G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a stupid movie. Its plot is razor thin, the structure is utterly bizarre, and the exposition-laden dialogue regularly borders on the ridiculous. But when you realize that you just watched Dwayne Johnson ride on a tank that looks exactly like the toy you played with as a kid and have just as much fun doing so, it’s hard not to say it was all worth it.
The film knows exactly what it is: a piece of pulpy fun that’s meant to be watched and then immediately forgotten about. Fully embracing the spirit of the source material, the movie doesn’t waste time making sure you connect with the emotional plight of its main characters, who have been left for dead after being turned on by their own government. Retaliation operates in a black and white world where you just expect to see the heroes take their hits, get back up, and then beat down the bad guy. It feels choppy and rushed at times because it’s constantly on the move to get to the next action sequence. Obviously making a movie this way is a gamble, as there’s the ultimate risk of making a movie that’s both a mess and incredibly boring, but nobody will be able to accuse G.I. Joe: Retaliation of being the latter.
After starting his career with the dance film Step Up 3D and Justin Bieber's concert doc Never Say Never, director Jon Chu makes his an impressive action film debut with the G.I. Joe sequel. Taking full advantage of the fact that the most popular characters in the franchise happen to be ninjas, the middle of the movie features a high-flying, dialogue-free sequence that has Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Jinx (Elodie Yung) battling against a team of masked martial artists in a snowy mountain location that is a perfect big screen experience and thrilling to watch play out. Likewise, the filmmaker recognizes that you could create a 90 minute movie called Dwayne Johnson Blowing Shit Up and gives audiences exactly what they want.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation has its ups and downs in terms of performances, but its bright spots are actually particularly excellent. Once again playing the role of “franchise Viagra,” Johnson once again proves that he is one of the best, most engaging action stars we have, and continues to look like he’s just having a ball on the big screen, wielding a big gun and taking out the bad guys left and right. And while Johnson doesn’t get a great deal of support on the hero side of things – as D.J. Cotrona, Adrianne Palicki and Bruce Willis’ characters are far too flat to do anything interesting – the villains are packed with plenty of pulpy goodness. Playing Zartan in disguise as the President of the United States, Jonathan Pryce has not only a surprisingly big role, but is one of the best things about the film, just chewing through the scenery and reveling in playing the bold, confident baddie. Add in elements like Ray Stevenson’s Firefly (who plays the character with an accent that sounds like a weird mix of Cajun and Australian), and a quick-but-excellent appearance by Walton Goggins, and you have a handful of actors who not only keep the movie going, but make it a lot of fun to watch.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation isn't exactly a “good” movie thanks to its weak narrative, but nobody is going into the movie for a story. Buy a ticket, enjoy watching ninjas on zip lines and The Rock kicking ass, and when the lights go up try to avoid thinking about it on any deeper level.