Sunday, April 7, 2013


The sequel “G.I. Joe: The Retaliation” (**1/2 out of ****) scraps half of everything in “G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra.”  Basically, if you missed the first “Joe,” then this splendid looking sequel may not make a whole lot of sense, particularly the Presidential hostage scenes.  Unless you’ve seen “G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra,” you won’t know Zartan had been tweaking his impersonation of the U.S. President. Despite a sturdy cast and stupendous production values, this futuristic actioneer could have retained several elements that made its predecessor entertaining.  The first mistake Paramount and Hasbro made was eliminating everybody but Zartan, the President, and Storm Shadow.  Ripcord, General Hawk, Scarlett, Ana, and Destro are A.W.O.L.  Well, Destro has a cameo, but we never get a glimpse of him or Christopher Eccleston.  Arnold Voslow appears briefly as Zartan, but you could miss him if you blinked your eyes.   When the sequel isn’t sacrificing top tier cast members, it is rewriting the first film and rehabilitating a villain.  Not only is Storm Shadow no longer wicked, but we also learn he had been framed in the first film.

Meantime, “Step Up 3-D” director Jon M. Chu and “Zombieland” scribes Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick introduce several new characters, including Dwayne Johnson as a massive sergeant major, Adrianne Palicki as sexy Lady Jaye, D.J. Cotrona, and Bruce Willis as General Joe Colton.  Presumably, the producers brought Bruce Willis on board to beef up things, but he shows up for only a handful of scenes.  When he enters combat, he doesn't even have to duck bullets.  Bruce takes our heroes on a tour of his armory-like residence, rides in the back of an El Camino with an assault rifle, and later passes out medals. As a character nicknamed ‘Roadblock,’ Dwayne Johnson saves the day after Channing Tatum makes an early departure about a half-hour into the melee.  Chu and his scenarists must have seen “The Expendables 2” because “G.I. Joe: The Retaliation” strikes me more about revenge rather than retaliation.  Other things missing are the outlandish Delta 6 accelerator suits that our heroes donned for the Paris sequence of “G.I. Joe” and those nasty nanomites that gnaw through armor as if it were candy.  As comely as both Adrianne Palicki and Elodie Yung are, they’re no match for Sienna Miller and Rachel Nichols.  The second “Joe” comes up light on villains, too.  Nobody here can compete with either Christopher Eccleston or Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

“G.I. Joe: The Retaliation” picks up where the first film concluded.  The villainous Zartan has completed his masquerade as the President and has managed to fool everybody.  Next, he sets out to locate Cobra Commander.  As it turns out, Cobra Commander and Destro are imprisoned in a European poky at the bottom of an old East German mine shaft.  Warden Nigel James (Walton Goggins) provides Storm Shadow with an expository laden tour of his maximum security facility when he arrives with an escort.  Meantime, the President dispatches Captain Duke Hauser (Channing Tatum of “Magic Mike”) and the G.I. Joes on a secret mission to Pakistan to retrieve some nukes.  Initially, our heroes encounter little difficulty and wind up in the Hindus Valley waiting for an extraction team.  Suddenly, the worse thing imaginable happens.  They are blown to smithereens by their own people.  The President (Jonathan Pryce) orders their deaths because he is in reality Zartan.  Meantime, Zartan appears on national television and reveals that the G.I. Joes tried to appropriate the atomic bomb for their own use.  Fortunately, Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson of “Snitch”), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki of “Red Dawn”), and Flint (D. J. Controna of “Dear John”) survive the sneak attack.  Actually, Duke saved Flint but died in the process.  The three hide in a convenient well when the mop-up crew arrive.  As usual, the villains are too lazy to mop up well enough.  They check out the well and fire a couple of shots into it that miss all three crouching just below the surface.  A hand grenade would have done nicely, but the heroes have to survive.  This is the first mistake that Reese and Wernick made when they let the heroes off too easily.  The trio make it back to America and establish a secret base with the help of one of Roadblock’s old ghetto friends.  

Eventually, our discredited heroes contact retired U.S. General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis of “Die Hard”) who was one of the original Joes.  Colton furnishes them with an incredible arsenal and agrees to join them.  You can tell this scene was lensed before the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting because it made the final cut.  Colton leads our heroes on a tour of his residence.  Every drawer and cabinet conceals automatic pistols and assault weapons.  While Roadblock and company are acquiring weapons, Snake Eyes (Ray Park of “X-Men”) and Jinx (Elodie Yung of “District 13: Ultimatum”) are on the other side of the world.  They are scaling the Himalayas mountain to nab Storm Shadow where he is recuperating in a temple.  Storm suffered horrible burns on the back when an ex-Joe (Ray Stevenson of “Punisher: War Zone”) rescued both Cobra Commander and he from the prison.  Chu stages the mountain side scene with ninjas tangling on the slopes with some finesse.   

Paramount Pictures shelved “G.I. Joe: The Retaliation” for a year to add 3-D.  I’ve seen both versions, and the 2-D surpasses the 3-D.  Furthermore, the 3-D contributes nothing to the action because—like most 3-D movies now-- nothing flies at you.  Polished production values, top-notch cinematography, and first-class CGI work, except in Bruce Willis’ El Camino scene, distinguish this complicated combat caper with too many characters.  The finale with our heroes struggling to prevent the Zeus satellites from destroying Earth generates a palatable amount of suspense.  Of course, Cobra Commander eludes everybody, and General Joe hands Roadblock one of General Patton’s pistols to bring him back.

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