Film review: G.I. Joe 2: Retaliation
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis
Director: Jon M. Chu
When some gamblers lose, they double-down and make an even bigger bet. This appears to be the case for toymaker Hasbro and its Hollywood partners (MGM and Paramount) with this action figure movie sequel.
2009's G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra returned approximately US$150 million on an investment of US$175 million in the US (and around US$300 million in international box-office terms is still a bomb). But a Transformers-type franchise can't be built on just one film so the Joes are back for a second tour of duty at US$185 million.
Using the same template exploited for Hasbro's other property about warring autobots, this overblown blockbuster tries to outdo director Michael Bay at his own formula. G.I. Joe 2's primary mission is to be bigger, and not to worry if none of it is credible. That means pay no heed to story logic, visual coherence or crafting characters less plastic than the 12-inch action figures on which they are based. Just stuff more explosions and flying ninjas into 110 minutes.
Replacing Stephen Sommers at the helm is Asian-American Jon M. Chu, who is a curious choice because his résumé doesn't exactly inspire confidence for big action, seeing as his previous directorial efforts include Step Up 2, Step Up 3 and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never.
Chu's game plan is to just throw everything into the pot. Like Bay's Transformers movies, this sequel begins with a clunky voice-over to set up the proceedings. It's a lazy device for sure, but there's a lot of laziness all over the movie. At the start, the Joes - led by Duke (Channing Tatum) and his new buddy Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson, above right) - enter North Korea to rescue a defector at the DMZ. How do they get in? Just cut a hole in the fence. Easy!
Next, they are sent on a zero dark ugly mission to Pakistan to take over the country's "at risk" nukes. After stealing the arsenal, they are framed, betrayed and attacked. Their nemesis, the Cobras, manage not only to compromise the leadership in Washington, but decimate much of the Joe team and invade a secret prison to free the Cobra Commander (not Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who wisely opted out, but Luke Bracey).
Bruce Willis arrives midway through the movie as the original G.I. Joe, coming out of retirement to lend a hand to the besieged new recruits.
Like the first G.I. Joe film, there's a schizophrenic divide between the musclebound army Joes who enjoy macho gunplay and their masked ninja brethren who partake in disciplined samurai training in zen Japanese gardens. G.I. Joe 2: Retaliation never resolves the weird dynamic but just keeps adding more characters. Then again, not all the leads make it to the climax.
Carrying much of the load are Johnson, Adrianne Palicki (as the token hot female soldier) and Korean star Lee Byung-hun (reprising the role of Storm Shadow). Lee's main showcase are his sculpted abs, while Johnson, Tatum and Willis resemble walking penises in muscle shirts.
A lot of plot events make no sense, but at least they are not as loopy as the movie's ideology. G.I. Joe 2: Retaliation offers a typical dumb action movie world with Fox News wisecracks but serves as one long promotional video for the pro-gun lobby.
That's right kids, nuclear bombs may be bad but the liberal stockpiling and shooting of large artillery assault weapons is fun!
Well, what else do you expect from a movie less believable than alien robots turning into yellow Camaros?
GI Joe 2: Retaliation opens today