I'm in the minority (or so I've been told) on the first G.I. Joe movie, 2009's Rise of the Cobra. The movie was popcorn movie lunacy, a blockbuster adaptation of every kid's experience squaring hordes of action figures against each other in a giant sandbox battle. Director Stephen Sommers owned the attitude, introduced us to Channing Tatum as action hero who could ground absurdity, and went to town with the toys.
That style didn't work for everyone — including the people behind the film's sequel, G.I. Joe Retaliation. If Rise of the Cobra was about bringing the childhood fantasy of playing with Joe figures to life, Retaliation is grown from the brand's darkest moments.
The world of Joe has an expanded mythology, constructed over decades by comic book writers. Director Jon Chu makes it loud and clear that his fondness for the property is drawn from that character-driven material, grounding Retaliation in reality and only sporadically introducing the Joes' arsenal of futuristic weaponry and vehicles. Having scrapped nearly the entire original cast from the first movie, Chu, working from a script by Zombieland writers Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick, quickly introduces us to the new team, a playful group led by Duke (Tatum) with assistance from newcomer Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson). Between the first movie and Retaliation, Hollywood discovered Tatum and Johnson's comedic abilities, and they're on full display here. In the opening moments, it's made clear the duo can maneuver stealthily, engage in shootouts, and break goons in half. But they can also crack wise. An early scene where the two harass each other while playing Call of Dutyis among the highlights.
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Speed is the name of the game for Retaliation, which relies on a surprising amount of Rise of the Cobraknowledge in order to shift the sequel into high gear. Roadblock and his two underlings Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) and Flint (D.J. Cotrona) are eventually stranded on their own, the Joes division disbanded and hunted down by The President after a mission gone awry. The twist is The President (Jonathan Pryce) is actually COBRA's master of disguise Zartan — a thread picked up from the first movie. Running the nation, Zartan's diabolical plan is to rescue Cobra Commander from jail, integrate his troops in to the U.S. army, and convince the nationals of the world to agree to a nuclear disarmament plan… so that they can eventually be blown away by COBRA.
Retaliation actively works to undo the events of Rise of the Cobra, breaking off various elements into bite size morsels that work on their own. Spliced between Roadblock's mission to prove the Joes' innocence and take down Zartan is the zanier material forced into Rise of the Cobra. On the other side of the globe, mute ninja Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and his sidekick Jinx (Elodie Yung) follow the trail of Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee), hoping to bring the kitana-wielding warrior to justice. The movie's biggest action scene plays out along the face of a cliff, an acrobatic chase between Snake Eyes and COBRA's ninja army. After battling it out with Storm Shadow in the confines of a dojo, Snake Eyes and Jinx swing off a mountain and the dance of swordplay and wire work plays out. It's like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragonwith actual physics — exhilarating.
The movie's biggest issue is that it can't build momentum to bigger and bigger stunts. Cobra Commander goon Firefly (Ray Stevenson) and Roadblock have a number of tussles, the two hulking actors bringing physicality to the franchise for the first time after mostly CG-enhanced battles. They're fun, but few and far between (especially when Stevenson once again chews up every bit of scene he can get his teeth on). Chu, a dancer and the man behind two installments of Step Up, has a clear eye for action choreography, adeptly orchestrating the mayhem of a Joe-style infiltration or a cross-cutting undercover operation (one that recalls the opening scene of De Palma's Mission: Impossible). What Retaliation needs is more: bigger, badder, crazier. The only gripe against the sequel in the action departments is that there isn't enough of it.
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What helps make up for Retaliation's smaller scope are the colorful performances and rather subversive script. The Rock continues his trend of being a watchable badass. Sweet, yet fully capable of punching you into tomorrow; Palicki stands out as an actress who can pull off the physical stunts while breathing life into a part written for arm candy; and Pryce, whose scant appearances in Rise of Cobra teased his talent, is hilariously evil as the Zartan-masked Commander-in-Chief. He rattles off one-liners faster than mini-gun does bullets. "They call it water boarding, but I never get board…" is as priceless as they come. Pryce lays down the poetic punnery alongside some truly nefarious themes. Retaliation manages to raise some serious questions about patriotism, government actions, and how much we can take our leaders at face value. Unless The Rock promises to be around to save our butts, we might be as good as nuked.
There's a middle ground between Retaliation and its predecessor that could make for the perfect Joe movie, one entranced by camaraderie and kicking ass in the name of the U.S.A. and one that completely unleashes his imagination. Bruce Willis' General Joe Colton — the original Joe — ends up embodying that. He's a real life American hero… who keeps a pimped out tank in his garage, complete with missile launchers. That's the movie in a nutshell, all the Joe franchise needs next is a few extra doses of that thinking. Retaliation delivers thrills, but it's the rare case where playing with more toys would have helped.
What do you think? Tell Matt Patches directly on Twitter @misterpatches and read more of his reviews on Rotten Tomatoes!
[Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures]
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To date, the biggest problem I have with Paramount's G.I. Joe sequel is its title. Cobra Strikes? Didn't the evil organization already strike in the 2009 original, when it demolished the Eiffel Tower, the Joe's headquarters and a slew of other locations? Seems kind of redundant to me, but thankfully it is the only element of the follow-up that can be described that way.
Much is different this time around. Jon Chu (Step Up 3, Never Say Never) is taking over directing duties from Stephen Sommers. Most of the original cast (including Rachel Nichols and Marlon Wayans among many others) has been scrapped to make room for new recruits like Dwayne Johnson, RZA, Adrianne Palicki and Elodie Yung, although Channing Tatum, Ray Park and Byung-hun Lee will reprise their roles from the first flick. However, another thing that remains the same is that the franchise's producers wish to give the property the international flair it needs to be a global hit, and that's where Ray Stevenson comes in. The Rome actor, fresh off his turn as an Asgardian warrior in Thor, has just signed up to take a villainous turn in the film. He'll play Firefly, who's described as a saboteur, ninja and explosives expert. Sounds like he'll be keeping the Real American Heroes quite busy.
It won't be the first time Stevenson has walked on the dark side. He recently played bad guys in The Book of Eli and The Other Guys, though he's best known as a heroic type thanks to HBO's fantastic forementioned series, King Arthur and Punisher: WarZone (well, actually let's forget about that last one).
Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, G.I. Joe 2: Cobra Strikes will strike theaters sometime next summer.
The God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.