‘G.I. Joe’ Is a Losing Battle

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Explosions, guns, ninjas, nukes and global domination. These are several things that adolescent boys are familiar with and, when used together to make up a whole, they absolutely cannot be taken seriously in any way. That whole is none other than “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” a film that is meant to be watched and enjoyed by an audience of adolescent boys, partly because they play with the action figures, but mainly because they are so easily entertained by the most trivial notions. As for everyone else, it is simply a superficial flick that just gets progressively hollow and stupid.

After an unspecified period of time following the events of the film’s predecessor, 2009’s “The Rise of Cobra,” the G.I. Joes, led by Duke (Channing Tatum) and consisting of new faces like Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock), Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), continue to conduct operations across the globe. In the aftermath of another successful mission, the Joes are framed for stealing nuclear warheads from Pakistan and subsequently crippled. With their very existence under jeopardy, the Joes must deal with their mortal enemy, Cobra Command, and threats from within their own government.

Most people can recognize the spirit behind “G.I. Joe,” regardless of whether or not they ever played with the action figures or watched the cartoons. The problem is, while its spirit is recognizable by most, it is certainly not intended for, nor can it satisfy, most people. That said, the purpose of “Retaliation” should be to present the material in a way that should entice its audience into its world. However, this is where the film falls flat for two reasons.

For one, the film’s story is told in a manner that is intolerable and nonsensical for those who can’t bear an assault on the senses. It is apparent from the get-go that the purpose of the film’s narrative is to portray as many action sequences as possible, in addition to getting to those sequences as quickly as possible. Consequently, the exposition scenes lack depth, and characters drop in and out of the story, like RZA as a blind ninja master. Essentially, “Retaliation” is an incredibly action-packed pic with so little glue that holds all of its key elements together, rendering it nearly incomprehensible. Sure, action epitomizes “G.I. Joe,” and the action sequences definitely indicate that, but a slew of those simply ring hollow.

An inadequately developed emotional portal into the world of “G.I. Joe” impairs the film. Roadblock, who is clearly meant to be the main star (which is nothing to complain about since The Rock is goddamn awesome), lacks a solid backstory that the audience can empathize with. Okay, he has two daughters and shares a charismatic camaraderie with his fellow soldiers, but those aspects aren’t explored well and ultimately aren’t enough for viewers to truly root for him, which absolutely cannot happen in an action film. What’s more, this case applies to all the other characters as well.

Indeed, that is where “Retaliation” differs from “The Rise of Cobra” (aside from the absences of good ol’ Marlon Wayans and Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The latter has a solid emotional foundation via a complicated romance, whereas the former doesn’t. In action films, it is that foundation that serves as the glue for the action itself — it is what makes the audience hold their breath during those sequences, as the lives of the characters they care about are placed at stake. In conjunction with the action, “The Rise of Cobra” is a stupidly corny and silly feature, while “Retaliation” is just plain empty and stupid.

Still, there’s no denying that the cast and filmmakers do their best to amplify the film’s “G.I. Joe” spirit. The cast put on plenty of charm for their rather underdeveloped characters and appears to be having fun with their roles, with Jonathan Pryce and Ray Stevenson appropriately chewing scenery for their villainous characters. Director Jon M. Chu captures some very impressive action sequences, with one being a dialogue-free fight between rappelling ninjas running on the sides of snow-covered mountains.

“G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is undoubtedly meant to be watched by a particular group of people in its audience. As for everyone else who isn’t an adolescent boy, it seems to rely on the hope that its spirit can draw them in, a hope which unfortunately backfires.

Not Recommended: The action in this movie comes at the cost of a necessary emotional foundation.