Film Review | GI Joe: Retaliation

It’s brash, ridiculous and only sort-of entertaining. But what do you expect from a sequel to a film about toys?

Master and Commander: Channing Tatum and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson team up to save the world once again in the sequel to the 2009 smash.
Master and Commander: Channing Tatum and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson team up to save the world once again in the sequel to the 2009 smash.

As far as films based on toys go, the GI Joe franchise, now enjoying a successful sequel with GI Joe: Retaliation, has had it relatively good - and not just financially.

The 2009 original certainly beat its Hasbro action figure colleague - Transformers - in terms of quality.

Granted, it was as infantile, cheesy and naïve as these kind of PG-rated military action films get. But it hit all the right notes, had a likeable buddy-duo in Channing Tatum and Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, some well-placed twists and inspired casting (most notably that of Sienna Miller as a lead villaness, who was reportedly glad not to have been given yet another drug addict/depressive role).

Delayed by a few months due to a last-minute conversion to 3D - sigh - 'Retaliation' reintroduces us to the characters of Duke (Tatum), Roadblock, Lady Jaye (Adrienne Palicki) and Flint (DJ Cotrona) forming part of the elite military force, the 'Joes', within the American government.

Unbeknownst to them however - and as revealed to the audience in the first film - the American President (Jonathan Pryce) is being kept in captivity, and replaced by an impostor - the shape-shifting international terrorist Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), who intends to join forces with his high-powered evil counterpart Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey).

Imprisoned by the 'Joes' in the last film, Cobra Commander now has only one mission - to wreak his revenge on the world, and Zartan is able and willing to serve as a middle-man for his apocalyptic goals.

Disguised as the President, he frames the GI Joes for a political assassination on foreign soil, leaving them for dead in the Pakistani desert. With no allies - save some of their former enemies who may be coming to see the light - and one man short, the Joes have nothing except their courage to tide them over in their bid to restore their name... and save the world.

Though its genetic kinship may lie with Transformers - due to the fact that GI Joes are also a Hasbro property, if nothing else - it would be more accurate to speak about the GI Joe films in relation to stuff like The Expendables: also a fantasy-military romp, whose sequel also shoehorns in Bruce Willis as an aging action hero 'secret weapon' who swoops in to save the day (seriously: if their names weren't different you'd think Willis is literally playing the same character in both films).

With this in mind, it's not too hard to decide: 'Joe' trumps Sly Stallone et al's nostalgic re-tread of the testosterone-laden blockbusters of yesteryear by virtue of being... well, just that crucial bit more silly.

With its predilection for abrasive violence and tough-guy language, Expendables plays to an adult audience who have seen it all. But based on a toy line and plastered with a far more inclusive 12 rating, 'Retaliation' can afford to be as cartoony and preposterous as it wants to be.

Sometimes, this gets way, way out of hand: watch out for a mountaintop ninja chase that not only defies gravity but shoves a big fat middle finger in its face and proceeds to get all Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (minus any lyrical kung-fu-choreography, naturally). There's also something of a muddle of cinema trends going on. The fashion nowadays is to make everything 'dark' and 'gritty', and the film's initial scenes so closely resemble military exposes like Zero Dark Thirty that it's laughable, particularly when the same film also relies on blatant cartoon pseudo-science (read: basically magic) to keep its plot afloat.

And with all the standard action beats clicking elegantly into place, there also comes a general air of stodginess, and the usual array of unimaginative character flourishes. Director Jon M. Chu may go to great pains to position the hard-as-nails Lady Jaye as just 'one of the boys', but her feminine wiles - complemented, it must be said, by a perfectly toned physique - are employed not once, but twice, to manipulate hapless males into helping the Joes out with their mission.

It's unchallenging. It's inoffensive. It's diverting. Mediocrity has rarely rolled so easily and guiltlessly on the cinema canvas.

More in Film