G.I. Joe: Retaliation
is not the toy-line adaptation movie we deserve. A market that allows for studio execs to even bat around the idea of dropping more than $100 million dollars on a consumerist nostalgia cash-in based on a bunch of action figures deserves
the laziest, most incoherent, aesthetically muddled movie that hundreds of millions of dollars can produce. Instead though, Jon M. Chu delivers an extremely well-directed, cheerfully dumb and occasionally dazzling spectacle of explosions, muscles and one-liners. It's a hell of a lot of fun on any big-dumb blockbuster terms, but downright incredible when you consider that we're talking about a movie where the protagonist is named Roadblock (Block for short).
The plot-setup is a lot like the last Mission Impossible
- The G.I. Joe team is sent on a mission in the middle east and most get killed, including Channing Tatum's character Duke, because Tatum's on his way to becoming a serious actor now. The remaining three Joe's, Block (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye and Flint, soon find out things are worse than they thought -- The President of the United States is on National TV telling the nation that the G.I. Joe team are the terrorists!
Only, it's not actually the president, but a villain named Zartan whose apparently a master of disguise. Yep, some shape-shifting villain kidnapped the president, replaced all of his secret service team and took his place. This is the first of many examples of a plot point so absurd that it seems to have come straight from the mind of an eleven year-old -- and in this case, I think that's actually a compliment.
The ensuing story developments continue in this fashion and involve ninjas, hundreds of nuclear weapons, Bruce Willis, an imaginative prison-break, George Patton's pistol (not joking), satellite weaponry, RZA, even more ninjas and of course, guns and tanks. We also meet dozens of characters with funny names like Firefly, Storm Shadow, Snake Eyes and, my favorite, Jinx.
But what really keeps the movie afloat isn't its knowing sense of the absurd, but rather Chu's assured direction. Until now, Chu's only credits are a few Step-Up
sequels and the Justin Bieber movie, which perhaps makes him a surprising choice to take over the franchise. Actually though, as I watched the action scenes unfold in G.I. Joe, it hit me that someone with experience filming complex dance numbers is actually a perfect to helm this type of movie.
Chu knows exactly how to capture the action and sense of space without losing the viewer, and has an deft knack for pacing and editing. He is more visually competent at directing action than almost all the directors currently tackling this sort of thing, and as a result, the stunts and set-pieces are consistently exhilarating even when the stakes aren't clear. One mountain-side sword fight on zip-lines is -- I might as well say it -- breathtaking, and certainly more thrilling than any single scene in either The Avengers
or the Spider Man
reboot. And here, the 3-D conversion actually adds to the spectacle -- not necessarily because of the technical aspects, but rather because Chu's directing and editing are so competent and assured that the result isn't headache-inducing.
As this is a G.I. Joe movie, there is plenty of gun-porn, a plug for Fox News, and even a plot point that (I think) takes a firm stance against
global nuclear disarmament. The dialogue is mostly a mashup of tough-guy banter and weak pop-culture references, but the actors, especially the villains, throw themselves into the roles admirably. Also, one part where a character quips, "I don't know why they call it water-boarding, because I never get bored," made me laugh out loud. Sorry.
As hardcore G.I. Joe fans have probably already guessed, the military action figures played only a peripheral role in my childhood, and I never did see the first film of this series because well, I didn't have to. And so, I can't speak to how the movie functions as a continuation of the first, or about whether it is more faithful to the action figures (whatever that even means). But as far as big, dumb twelve-year old war fantasies go, G.I. Joe: Retaliation
is an effective, sometimes inspired one that caters perfectly to its target audience. And, unlike most films of its ilk, it gets the job done quickly and efficiently, clocking in at just a little more than an hour and a half.