Some films require a specific demographic for full enjoyment, and in the action genre, it seems there are a lot aimed at teen boys. A prime example: Gone in Sixty Seconds. It’s not that it’s a horrible movie, it’s just that the storyline is incoherent, the characters are all one-dimensional, the ending is obvious from sixty seconds past the opening titles and the performances are all uninteresting. And the male/female relationships? It couldn’t be more cliche.
And yet, there’s a certain sophomoric fascination in a film about cool guys stealing gorgeous cars and trying to score with the sexy gals. Really, it’s a perfect film for a teen boy, even if his date’s going to be distracted, wondering whether this means she can now convince him to see the latest Rom-Com with her next weekend.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation is in the same category, and if I could just shut down the mature, adult part of my brain, the boy inside would totally dig the tough guys, monosyllabic dialog, shiny toys, loud guns and non-stop action, while ignoring the completely muddled and confusing plot, terrible story arc, random scenes added based on exit surveys of screening audiences, and misunderstanding of world politics. But hey, it’s the Joe’s and they represent all that’s great about America, right? Booyah!
The film opens with the G.I. Joe team — led by Duke (Channing Tatum) — sneaking through the DMZ fence separating North and South Korea to extract a prisoner from the North Koreans. All of whom apparently really need new glasses because even when the GI’s are directly under a spotlight, the Koreans can’t see them crouched on the edge of the fence. And the prisoner? Why he’s there, who he is, what happens to him afterwards, that’s all on the cutting room floor apparently, because the scene had no relevance to the film at all. And that sets the tone for the entire movie.
As has been widely publicized, actor Channing Tatum’s popularity took the production team by surprise so they delayed release of G.I. Joe: Retaliation to add more footage with Duke. Unfortunately, it’s all obviously a last-second addition that adds nothing to the film at all, even for the most die-hard of Tatum fans. Soon enough it’s Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson likable as always) who is in charge of the Joe’s and the squad’s on the run, wanted for crimes against the United States, while bad guys have taken over the country and, soon, the world.
The G.I. Joe universe has a pantheon of good guys and bad guys, a world that’s so complex that the opening titles introduces them all to us trading-card style. The good guys are Jinx (Elodie Yung), Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), Mouse (Joseph Mazzello), Flint (D.J. Cotrona), Snake Eyes (Ray Park), Roadblock and Duke. The bad guys are Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey), Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), Havoc (Matt Gerald), Firefly (Ray Stevenson) and Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee). Got it?
Jaye, Flint and Roadblock are left for dead after being double crossed by the President (Jonathan Pryce), who seems more set on initiating nuclear armageddon than anything else. But why? That’s part of the mystery that propels the film forward, as the Joe’s have to hide out in da ‘hood while they come up with their plan to stop the impending chaos and restore their team to America’s good graces.
Who better to add to the team than the original G.I. Joe himself, General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis). In a sequence that’s simultaneously funny and ludicrous, General Joe agrees to help them out, then shows the arsenal he has stashed in his house, a collection of weapons and destruction that could arm a third-world nation. All neatly hidden under the stove, behind the cereal boxes, in the pantry, and even in the garage. I mean, none of the neighbors would notice, so it’s all logical and believable.
As someone who enjoys smart action films, I was constantly disappointed with G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Even comic book movies can have depth and substance to them — witness The Dark Knight Rises — but the script is just a mess. In a later sequence, for example, the President launches all our ICBM’s at our neighbors, then they retaliate by launching their missiles at the United States. How the sequence plays out is daft, but there was the potential for a great bit of misdirection on the part of Cobra Command, one that would have clearly accomplished the desired goal of the bad guys. But it didn’t occur, alas.
The General Joe recruitment sequence demonstrates both the silly, sophomoric nature of the film and why if you can just get into that teen mindset, it can still be a fun, mindless action adventure film. It’s no surprise, therefore, when Jaye (Palicki) undresses in front of Flint (Cotrona) and all we see is her underwear-clad reflection in a television screen. Real naked women and an actual love scene could have embarrassed the teen audience, so that’s as titillating as it gets. It’s a movie. Stop worrying about if it makes sense and just let the testosterone flow as you cheer the on-screen shenanigans!
That’s really the best way to decide whether you’re going to enjoy the big-screen silliness that is G.I. Joe: Retaliation or whether it’s going to push you to walk out halfway: Can you just enjoy a film for the action sequences? If so, you’ve got a good diversion ahead of you.