28 March 2013

Movie Review G.I Joe: Retaliation


G.I Joe: Retaliation 
2013, 110mins, 12
Director: Jon Chu 
Writer (s): Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick 
Cast includes: Dwayne Johnson, Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis, Ray Park, Adrienne Palicki, Jonathan Pryce, Luke Bracey, RZA 
UK Release Date: 27th March 2013

In 2009 “G.I Joe: The Rise of Cobra” was a minor summertime surprise. The picture had been plagued by negative buzz; chatter of backroom disputes and ghastly test screenings scarring its already dubious odds of blockbusting relevance. When it was finally unleashed the picture played enjoyably dumb, a cartoonish blast of Hollywood excess, and one that was tolerable if audiences were willing to accept its tongue in cheek tonality. Now in 2013 we have a sequel in the form of “G.I Joe: Retaliation”, picture that has endured a similarly rough passage to multiplexes worldwide.  The curse of the rancid test screening once again reared its head, but more cutting was the bizarre and never fully articulated 9 month delay forced upon the feature. “Retaliation” was originally set for release last summer, before Paramount pulled the plug and reset the affair for a less competitive spring debut. Unfortunately this time the bad omens pay dividends, “Retaliation” amounting to a noisy, mirthless viewing experience. Directed with zero personality and working from a half-baked script, the picture is probably the loudest sedative on the market. It may very well be the worst movie associated with a Hasbro toyline yet. I’ll let you recall 2009’s “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and allow that last statement to sink in a little.

The plot is a mystifying mishmash of action clich├ęs. “The Joes” now led by Duke (Channing Tatum) and Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) are framed for intent to commit international terrorist activity, and attacked by their own government. Ostracized and alone, the survivors decide to unearth the conspiracy and swear vengeance on the perpetrators, which naturally leads them back to a newly freed Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey) and his immediate underling Zartan. Zartan has captured the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce) and has stolen his likeness using futuristic technology, providing the baddies with substantial political footing. Commander and Zartan plan on combining their new power and a scheme heavily dependent on nuclear weaponry to assume global control, but the heroes are determined to halt them, bringing in old friend General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis) to help stop the rot.

The original film was helmed by Stephen Sommers, hardly a supreme craftsman, but a director keenly aware of how to enable an aura of bamboozling fun. Sommers’ soft touch supplied the initial foray with an endearing ridiculousness, the film-maker wisely refusing to take anything seriously. Newcomer Jon Chu goes a different way with “Retaliation”, desperately trying to make the sequel a more grounded actioner, which is of course given the cheesy concept, a very silly manoeuvre. Stripping the franchise of the deliberately ludicrous set-pieces and intentionally corny humour only leads “Retaliation” to become tedious very fast, a fact accelerated by Chu’s lack of directorial personality. The film-maker has studied the Michael Bay handbook very carefully, and this shows in his competent technical arrangements and agreeable use of 3D, but unfortunately he can’t polish an action sequence or build momentum like his “Transformers” idol. Chu nabs all of Bay’s worst instincts as a director (casual sexism, languorous pacing) without indulging in the inspiring razzle-dazzle that characterizes his stronger works.  This leaves “Retaliation” with several very large, but also extremely boring instances of fire-fighting and explosions, not one of the film’s oversized set-pieces lingering in the memory. It’s a soulless beast, akin to a 9-year old blowing up plastic soldiers on his parents’ camcorder. In fact had the budget been reduced by $135 million, I’m pretty sure that’s what “Retaliation” would be.

Clearly Paramount were keen to pretend “The Rise of Cobra” never really happened, instigating a huge recasting of the principals (except for a returning Tatum and masked Ray Park) to help jazz the formula up. The new characters by screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick don’t amount to much, and the thespians brought into portray them only pollute the cocktail further. I’m generally a fan of Dwayne Johnson, as clearly is Chu, but apparently for different reasons. I enjoy the athlete’s warm screen presence, comedic deftness and legitimate tough-guy demeanour in action scenes. Chu seems to prefer having Johnson spit out horrendous one-liners, bellowing masculine catch-phrases and flexing his considerable frame, leading to a disappointingly vanilla turn from a usually game performer. TV’s Adrienne Palicki is brought in as the token totty, rocking several sexualised outfits commendably (and bravely without expressing any offense), but sans any of the joy or broad sass that Sienna Miller infused the first “GI Joe” outing with. Then there’s Bruce Willis. Sigh. The once celebrated action star is on autopilot here, looking as physically bored and unmoved as any Hollywood star in recent memory. Moving through the awful last act, Willis looks like a ghost of his former self, awkwardly trying to appear invigorated, yet failing on absolutely every conceivable level. To those who nit-picked his work in last month’s “A Good Day to Die Hard” - you ain't seen nothing yet.

The movie boasts a slick visual finish but as with the action, it lacks any semblance of identity. Chu uses 3D without bothering the audience too much, but his cinematography and sets are extraordinarily bland, professionally pitched but devoid of imagination or impish impulses. The pacing of the feature is also a major issue, at 110 minutes the thing feels like it’ll never end. An entire section concerning two ninjas (Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow) feels reheated and unnecessary (although it provides RZA with a wonderful Razzie gambit for next year as a Kung-Fu master), whilst the middle-act waddles along for much too long, introducing a bevy of faceless heavies and cruddy character building moments. Even the musical score courtesy of Henry Jackman is infuriatingly stillborn, allowing the CGI booms to dominate the feature’s aggressive soundscape completely.

“Retaliation” is senseless empty-calorie trash, a burning example of contemporary Hollywood’s hedonistic production values and too regularly sighted lack of creative ambition. It’s a dreadful debacle, unexciting and pieced together with so little skill or emotion, existing purely to ape videogames and sporadically amuse tweens with short attention spans. It made me wish I was sitting through a “Transformers” sequel, or better yet, having a long nap. Anybody looking to engage an iota of thought on their entertainment should avoid this without hesitation, and even for those like me, who revel in the odd slab of numb-skulled frivolity, “G.I Joe: Retaliation” simply isn't good enough.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013


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