G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013) Movie Review

Dwayne Johnson and Ray Park in G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013) Movie Image

2009’s “GI Joe: Rise of Cobra” is almost universally considered to be a terrible pile of crap. While it definitely isn’t great cinematic art, I definitely enjoyed it way more than most. Despite a critical drubbing, the first installment managed to make money, so we now get the inevitable sequel, “GI Joe: Retaliation.” In many ways part two is a more grounded, realistic action flick, but it is also still pretty damn entertaining. Big, dumb, loud, and completely forgettable, “Retaliation” is good for a couple hours worth of distraction.

You’re going to have to get through some gaping plot holes, and the movie is cheesy and silly at every stage, but if you can look past obvious flaws—and the pace does a nice job of not letting you dawdle—the result is ridiculous and a decent amount of fun. After all, this is a movie where one character keeps grenades in a fruit bowl, and ninjas do battle swinging from ropes high atop a remote mountain range. When Roadblock (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and Firefly (Ray Stevenson) fistfight, both have a gun in each hand. “Retaliation” is a movie that makes the most absurd choice at every juncture. And that is mostly a good time.

Ray Park in G.I. Joe Retaliation (2013) Movie Image

The story is crappy and dumb, which isn’t entirely unexpected. Granted this is a movie based on a cartoon based on a comic book designed to sell toys to kids. If you forgot that fact, the giant, screen-wide Hasbro logo serves as a reminder. But that still doesn’t mean you should be able to get away with lazy writing for idiots. After the GI Joe team is sold out, betrayed by the imposter President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce), and left for dead, only three remain, Roadblock, Flint (D.J. Cotrona), and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki). Snake Eyes (Ray Park) is still alive, too, but he’s got his own side story going on.

When the remnants of the crew set out to clear their names and exact a little revenge against the nefarious international terrorist organization Cobra, things just kind of happen, and a lot is taken for granted. Like the fact that three global fugitives without a friend or resource left in the world can just waltz back to the US from the middle of a Pakistani desert. And apparently it’s no sweat to get face time with high-ranking government officials, like say the Secretary of State, or even the President. You get that these are supposed to be the highest order of badass military operators, but it’s a stretch even for my flexible imagination that you can build a fancy enough computer out of parts found in an abandoned rec center in the ghetto that you can hack in and place yourself on a guest list to a presidential fundraiser. And again, remember that we’re also talking about international fugitives here.

Adrianne Palicki in G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013) Movie Image

Luckily director Jon Chu, most known for his “Step Up” films, doesn’t allow for much down time to consider these sorts of logical leaps and chasms in the script. Johnson has enough screen presence to carry you along. In the early going he and Duke (Channing Tatum) have a nice homoerotic bromance going on—you see Roadblock’s kids, but his wife is nowhere to be seen, and the twin daughters do call him “uncle Duke”—and then later you just want to see him fire a big ass gun in slow motion. And like the first film, the Snake Eyes/Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun) fight is solid. That’s what happens when you have actors who actually know how to fight playing characters that are supposed to know how to fight; the fights actually look like two people fighting. Weird, huh?

In a grander sense, Cobra’s motivation is to control the entire world, a modest goal to be sure. However, in a more realistic sense, their driving force is nothing more than the desire to burn the constitution and blow things up. They do get points for having the balls to annihilate London with a newfangled weapon, and there’s an infectious giddiness as they bring the world to the brink of nuclear apocalypse. When talking about global domination, the bad guys manage to quote both Tears for Fears—“Everybody wants to rule the world”—and Queen—“I want it all”—which is pretty funny.

Luke Bracey and Byung-hun Lee in G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013) Movie Image

“GI Joe: Retaliation” is one of those movies where the scale is grand enough that random famous people just pop in for a little bit to hang out. Walton Goggins has a small, but fantastic turn as the warden of a clandestine East German supermax prison. RZA, the mastermind behind the Wu-Tang Clan and “Man With the Iron Fists,” plays, of all things, a wise old blind sensei. Bruce Willis shows up as the original GI Joe, mostly to toss in smartass quips here and there, collect a paycheck without doing any real work, and shoot a bunch of Cobra guards out of the back of a moving El Camino.

Escapist eye candy to the core, I can easily see you adoring or despising this film, depending on your mood and sensibilities. Watching this does feel remarkably like watching an episode of the cartoon, in both good and bad ways. Exactly what you expect, and exactly what trailers make it look like, “GI Joe: Retaliation” is a lot like running around outside, throwing your favorite toys, pretending to be an army man.

Jon Chu (director)/Rhett Weese (writer)/Paul Wernick (writer)
CAST: Dwayne Johnson…Roadblock
Adrianne Palicki…Lady Jaye
D.J. Cotrona…Flint
Jonathan Pryce…President
Ray Park…Snake Eyes
Lee Byung-hun…Storm Shadow
Ray Stevenson…Firefly


Buy G.I. Joe: Retaliation on DVD



About Brent McKnight

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Brent McKnight lives in Seattle with his dogs. He likes beards, movies where things explode, and overcast skies. His three favorite movies are "Rubin and Ed", "A Bittersweet Life", and "Out for Justice". He wishes his knees didn't hurt. On Twitter @BrentMMcKnight

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  • http://www.beyondhollywood.com/ Dedpool

    If you’re even thinking a lil while watching this movie you’re thinking too much. Can’t realism in films like these should only go so far, after all like you said, based on a cartoon, based on a comic, designed to sell toys. I will be seeing this though.

    • http://twitter.com/BrentMMcKnight Brent McKnight

      Funny you mention realism, because, as ridiculous as this is, Retaliation is way more down to Earth than Rise of Cobra.

  • Juggernaut

    Can’t wait to turn the ol’ noggin off for a while and let the bad-assey comence! Hail Cobra!!!

    • http://www.beyondhollywood.com/ Dedpool

      HERE HERE!!!

  • Juggernaut

    As much as I love Storm Shadow’s original, all white look, I’d love to see him in the hooded outfit with the gray highlights that he was sporting when he was on the JOE’s for a brief time. A few other additions for a sequel:
    Crimson Twins (played by Jude Law!)
    Lo-Lite (Michael Beihn!)
    Dreadnoks and B.A.T.S.
    That wopuld be bad-ass!!!

  • ErickKwon

    Surprisingly fun time and the plot would’ve made for a great weeklong mini-series like the 80′s show used to do. This is closer to what I wanted see in the first movie and it undoes some of its mistakes (The Joes in “Retaliation” are clearly American and not “Rises’” multinational force, while the near-future angle is almost completely done away with). I was dreading the 3D but it’s quite good and has enough showoff/comin’ at ya! moments to up the cheese score a hash mark or two. I expected the Snake/Storm Shadow scenes to be the action highlights, but the shootouts were nice and punchy (though bloodless and squibless), Flint unlocking the Parkour Achievement was cool but too short, and Holy Shit, Firefly VS Roadblock in a gun kata showdown! I think this movie proves that “21 Jump Street” was a fluke for Charming poTato because he’s pretty bad, especially side-by-side with someone as charismatic and badass as The Rock, and SPOILER Mouse going down in the Pakistan ambush was a letdown. Would’ve liked to have seen him stick around and chalk up some sniper fatalities during the finale. Bring on the sequel!

  • Juggernaut

    Went to see it Friday and it was a lot of fun. They got a lot of things right with this one. I was glad to see that they tied in the events of the first film while not allowing it to hamper the new direction. The Rock, while many argue is not a true actor, carried the movie. Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow’s relathionship was great,

    • X_p

      i felt what they did to storm shadow was terrible. they killed off any good character traits he had. and considering they killed him in the first one this is even more forced losing triple the amount of points. and the rock just scowled at everyone, including his own joe team. and he only seemed to care so much only for duke it was wack. super wack.

  • x_p

    this movie is kind of a mess. you can tell they didnt have a full story only events written down when they got to filming. youll feel like theres at least 2 different movies going on at the same time. the movie features too much rock, who really cant carry a movie. not enough Cobra Comander, not enough Bruce Willis, not enough given to the the character of jinx who is there just for stunts. RZA is laughable in this every time hes onscreen its forced, and not very amusing. that being said the 3d isnt bad considering it was a treatment and the ninja scenes are pretty much the best fun in the entire 1.5 hours. a solid c- grade. a definate step up from the last one but still leaves very much to be desired.