Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Movie Review - GI Joe: Retaliation

To this day I have no problem telling people I that thoroughly enjoyed GI Joe: Rise of COBRA. The only real problem I had with it was the forced and absurd relationships between Duke, the Baroness, and Cobra Commander. I watched it the other day before going to see Retaliation and I still think it’s a fun movie that pays proper tribute to the Real American Hero franchise while updating certain things and telling a compelling story. Plus, COBRA wins at the end. Sure, the Commander and Destro end up captured and their awesome underwater lair is blown to smithereens, but Zartan replaces the President of the United States. Bold move.

I wrote a review of this movie, but I’m afraid it has been lost to the wilds of the internet. The original copy was on a thumb drive that got exploded and unfortunately the review itself was posted on my MySpace blog. I don’t know what’s going on over there. The last time I actually tried to look for an old article on there it was impossible. Now MySpace is some kind of music-oriented thing and I don’t even know if my blog exists anymore. I suppose I’ll check before I post this. Maybe I can recover my review.

Holy shit! I was able to find it, as well as recover a bunch of other stuff - more on that later. Here's my review of Rise of COBRA:

Movie Review:
GI JOE – The Rise of Cobra
By Phantom Troublemaker

I fucking love this movie. The problem is, I can’t do a proper review without some major spoilers. As much as I think Rise of Cobra was more awesome than Shrimp Poboys from Amy’s, there were a couple of things plotwise that I really didn’t like. I just can’t go into those things without going against my no spoiler rule. So I’m just going to give the basics.

(WARNING: There are some slightly spoilery things in this review. If you don’t want to know anything before seeing the movie DO NOT READ IT. I will not, however, give away any major plot points or twists.)

I never wanted to let myself get too excited about GI JOE – The Rise of Cobra. I am far too big a fan of the franchise to be fully satisfied by anything Hollywood does, so I wanted to try and go in expecting the worst and hoping for the best. That didn’t end up working out so well. Between the new toys, Riley’s newfound love of GI Joe, the awesome trailers and the prequel book; I couldn’t help but get fired up for it. Twenty-plus years of anticipation will do that to you.

Thankfully, my cautiously high expectations were exceeded.

The action starts about fifteen seconds in and never, ever lets up. The pace is fast and furious the whole way through, but you never get lost in the melee. This is exactly my kind of movie. There is a sense that Sommers had the whole entire picture in his head every second that he was shooting. There is not a wasted second in two hours, but you also feel like you have gotten the whole story. There aren’t any of those moment s where something happens and you think, “Wait a minute, why did they do that?” or, “When did they get to that point?” It is very self-contained, while still setting up what promises to be an epic story if future installments are warranted (oh, man I hope so).

The first thing I want to say as far as the actors go is that Marlon Wayans is great. After general concern about Hollywood fuckery, my next knee-jerk problem with the movie was Mr. Wayans. Based on his resume of mostly shitty comedies I really wasn’t too happy with him being cast in my Holy Grail of a franchise. I was entirely wrong and I apologize for that. He ended up being my favorite Joe in the movie and was not only a crucial part of the plot, but also displayed the most heroic characteristics of anybody on screen. So, sorry for doubting you, Marlon.

Channing Tatum is another story. As my wife put it, he wasn’t hired for his acting ability. He’s not offensive or anything, but it looks like Stephen Sommers really wanted John Cena for the role of Duke and just couldn’t get him. And I kind of wish he had (yikes). As soon as I heard this twit’s comment about not wanting to be in a movie that glorifies war, I disliked him for the role of Duke. I think I mostly succeeded in putting my feelings aside because I didn’t hate him or anything, I just didn’t really care about his character. Duke has a pretty interesting background in the movie, but Channing is such a bland meathead that you never develop any feelings about him. It doesn’t help that you have Marlon Wayans being consistently awesome not five feet away for most of the movie. 
 
The rest of the cast is great. Here’s a quick rundown:

Christopher Eccleston – James McCullen XXV (Destro) – Awesome. Couldn’t have been cast better and did a great job. Destro has never been more easily understood as a character.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt – Cobra Commander - Gleefully maniacal. I can’t say too much more without giving things away, but this guy did a great job. I am very excited to see him as the Commander in future movies.

The Guy That Played Storm Shadow – I feel bad that I can’t remember his name because he was perfect. He looked exactly like Storm Shadow in the Hama mini-series. His acting was really solid, too; which you don’t necessarily expect out of a masked ninja. I haven’t ever heard of this guy, so I’m pretty sure what happened here is that a wizard mixed a potion up made of a Storm Shadow figure, a drawing from the comic and a Larry Hama script and just made this guy out of it.

Sienna Miller – The Baroness – Yeah, I missed the European accent. Honestly, though, it didn’t really matter because this girl does an awesome job. She looks exactly right in the role and just has a certain delight in the mayhem she causes. This is another case where saying more would spoil things.

Ray Park – Snake-Eyes – Who else do you get to play a masked ninja? Somehow he managed to infuse a little personality into the character while kicking EVERYBODY’s ass. I loved that they made Snake just as badass and unstoppable as he should be. He also actually had a very emotional scene towards the end of the movie. Weird.
Dennis Quaid – General Hawk – I loved him in this. He is doing his best John Wayne (my pick for Hawk, remember?) impersonation through the whole movie and that is just fine.
Arnold Vosloo – Zartan – I really wish we could have seen more of him. Vosloo played him as a sick puppy, and more interaction between Zartan and Storm Shadow would be welcomed.

The Rest of the JOEs – I hate to lump everybody else in together like this, but that’s kind of how the movie had to work. I’ll give every single member of the GI JOE team credit for putting as much into their performance as they could. Every character who had a name was memorable, and that is a hard thing to accomplish in a movie this dense. When you have a lot of action, a lot of characters and a lot of plot; it has to be a huge challenge to make your secondary character stand out. These folks did extremely well. Akdjembe Awalh-Agad (I’ll bet you couldn’t get his name right without looking it up, either) is a great foundation for the JOE team as Heavy Duty. Rachel Nichols is a very interesting Scarlett. Her character was actually given a little more depth for the movie, and it doesn’t hurt that she looks super-hot in form-fitting body armor. The guy that played Breaker is very likeable. Whoever that guy is that played Sgt. Stone is really good, too. Oh, and Cover Girl had a much smaller role than I expected; but the actress did a good job. Particularly in the last scene she has in the movie.
The plot is tremendous. What is being laid out far exceeded my expectations. There is a huge, grand story here that has the potential to equal the first three episodes of Star Wars for intricacy (that is a compliment coming from me. Your mileage may vary). There is almost nothing I can say about the story without giving things away, so let’s move on.

The effects are very good, but not great. There are definitely quite a few scenes where the CGI is painfully apparent. Only one of those really impacted my enjoyment of the movie, however. You’ll know it when you see it – right at the end. It is also one of the plot points that I was initially disappointed with (but not anymore). Oh, and the accelerator suits didn’t bother me at all. They are in one big action sequence and are by no means a crutch to make GI JOE seem more powerful than they should be. They are simply technology that the JOEs employ, not standard-issue gear.

The score is great, the soundtrack is crap. Alan Silvestri did the score and it is all very solid, fast-paced music that imparts the appropriate sense of action or drama to the scene. The incidental music is crap, but not offensive crap. It is probably the type of poppy garbage that my thirteen year old niece listens to. I wouldn’t have put it in the movie, but it really doesn’t ruin any scenes or anything. I really could have done without the Black-Eyed Peas playing over the end credits, though. Don’t bother sitting through the credits unless you want to see who worked on the movie, by the way. There aren’t any surprises after they roll, and that’s fine. That trick might be a bit overdone at this point.

On the negative side, much like Transformers – Revenge of the Fallen, there was too much foul language. It wasn’t as bad as Transformers and didn’t seem as unnatural and out of place, but it still wasn’t necessary. My two main problems are something that I can’t discuss spoiler-free (one of which I changed my mind about and decided I really liked), so maybe I’ll write a follow-up review after my second viewing. Because I will definitely see this again. And again.

Overall, this is a big, loud, fun movie on a much larger scale than what I was expecting. It really feels like a more mature version of the cartoon. There are plenty of nods to the comics, too – from Storm Shadow’s look to Breaker chewing gum to Heavy Duty yelling a certain catch phrase. I was hoping that the movie would follow the comic a bit more closely than it did, but it turns out it doesn’t matter. They have rebooted the story in a way that I am mostly very satisfied with, and have certainly left the door open to expand on what was done here. I want more. ASAP.

So now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

4 out of 5 Projectiles to the Eye

Until next time, Yo, Joe!
-Phantom

From the minute Rise of COBRA ended I was excited about a sequel. Obviously everything had been set up for another installment and it had been reported that most of the principle actors had been signed for a multi-movie deal. Some made it clear fairly quickly that they would not be returning – Sienna Miller said that she didn’t want to be involved with a franchise that glorified violence, which landed her squarely in my “Hollywood Shithead” file (Channing Tatum had made a similar comment prior to filming Rise of COBRA, but changed his mind when he saw how much he’d be making that it was fantasy violence). Christopher Eccleston – who was an outstanding Destro – apparently actually hates acting because he cites every experience he has as unpleasant. He wasn’t coming back. And Joseph Gordon Levitt – a fantastically over-the-top Cobra Commander - just got too cool for a GI Joe movie after hanging out with Christopher Nolan. But the rest of the cast seemed good to go.

Which makes it mystifying that they weren’t used for this sequel.

I wasn’t excited about Marlon Wayans as Ripcord, but he ended up being my favorite character in the movie. Adewale Adej… um… the guy that played Heavy Duty was great. As were Breaker and Scarlett. Okay, well, Rachel Nichols might have just gotten by because she was a hot redhead who filled out that combat suit so well:


But I honestly don’t get why the creators of Retaliation didn’t want those folks back.

They did, however, hang onto a few key players that managed to provide some continuity between the movies – Arnold Vosloo as Zartan, Ray Park as Snake-Eyes, Lee Byun-hung as Storm Shadow, Jonathan Pryce as the President (and Zartan as the President), and Channing Tatum as Duke.

Channing Tatum, who beyond a shadow of a doubt was the worst actor in the first movie with his weird wigger accent and complete lack of emoting. But ol’ Channing has seen some success and growth in the last four years and has become quite the Hot Hollywood Commodity. Even I have to admit that he was hilarious in 21 Jump Street. I haven’t seen Magic Mike – nor do I intend to – but I hear he’s great in that as well. As a matter of fact, Tatum’s name value has increased so much that when Retaliation’s release got pushed back nine months at the last minute, the first speculation was that it was to add more Tatum.

***SPOILER ZONE***

I can verify that is not the case. From here on out, spoilers may happen.

Paramount claimed that the movie was being delayed for a last-minute 3D conversion. Because of that, I decided I had to see the movie in 3D and I will address that first.

I’m not going into my whole 3D story again. I’ll just say that I absolutely fucking love 3D movies when they are done well and I support people shooting movies in 3D one hundred percent. I am , however, one hundred percent against conversions and GI Joe: Retaliation cemented that feeling for me.

A movie that is shot in 3D has a depth and a look that is fascinating and that becomes a part of the narrative experience. You forget that you have the glasses on, you don’t think about the process, and you just enjoy the movie more. A movie that has been converted to 3D is not an immersive experience. It is distracting and gimmicky and the few shots that actually work only serve to jerk you out of the narrative by making you surprised that they actually did work. Everything else is blurry and/or irritating.

This was the case in Retaliation. Anything in the foreground was blurry and horrendously distracting. There were parts where the movie looked great and the 3D worked – these were mostly action scenes or scenes with heavy CGI – but anytime the narrative slowed down the 3D effects were there poking you in the eye. The bad far outweighed the good.

So before I say anything else, if you go see this movie, go see the 2D version.

Okay, now onto the story.

Things pick up not too long after the end of Rise of COBRA. The US President – who is actually Zartan – is nearing the end of his second term and is really active for an outgoing leader, involving the country in many overseas situations. Cobra Commander and Destro are prisoners in an undisclosed location and Storm Shadow and Zartan are whereabouts unknown. The GI Joe team – now led by Duke – seems to be overseen by the United States now rather than being the global taskforce they were in the first movie. They also don’t wear those form-fitting black combat suits anymore.

On the one hand I was disappointed by that, as Adrienne Palicki would have filled one of those things out very nicely. On the other hand, I appreciated the more reasonable military garb the team wore. It might have been nice if each Joe had a little more individuality, but it worked. This movie was much more grounded in reality than the last while still being very reminiscent of the 80s cartoon.

Speaking of Adrienne Palicki, the core Joe team now consists of Duke, Roadblock, Flint, Lady Jaye, Snake-Eyes, and Mouse. And while I would have liked to see more returning faces, even the comics and cartoon featured rotating rosters. Duke and Scarlett were basically replaced by Flint and Lady Jaye by the second miniseries.

The movie opens with the Joe team on a mission to retrieve a political prisoner from some shithole desert country. They do their thing and do it well and in the process we get to know a little bit about the new guys. Roadblock and Duke are brosephs, Flint is a wily renegade who does things his own way, Mouse is a smart and skilled sniper, and Lady Jaye is a hot babe who is good at shooting things. The opening sequence is exciting and competent and the team has a good chemistry. So far, so good.

Next we get a scene of Duke and Roadblock hanging out playing video games at Roadblock’s house with his daughters. I didn’t like this at all and it wasn’t necessary. I didn’t like it because GI Joes don’t have families. They are selected for special service because of not only their individual talents but also because of their lack of ties to the outside world. Joes don’t go home for downtime. They hang out in the Pit. Even in the admittedly silly 80s cartoon the Joes would only visit parents or other extended family. They didn’t have wives and kids. The setting and family wasn’t necessary because it didn’t accomplish anything that couldn’t have been done with the same scene occurring in the Pit. The whole point was to show that Duke and Roadblock were close and to set up a later scene where the two make a bet about babysitting Roadblock’s kids. But there could have been other, equally funny stakes.

Side Note: I will mention a lot of nitpicky little problems I have with this movie throughout the review. It’s because I love GI Joe. If I see something that could have been done better or in a different way to fit the franchise’s established history, I’m going to mention it because it bothered me. But none of these things ruined the movie for me. They’re just little bits and pieces that I feel should have been handled differently and had no good narrative reason to be done the way that they were. I can accept changes that are necessary to serve the story, but when I can’t see the sense in deviating from the mythology it bugs me.

Duke and Roadblock’s fun is interrupted when they see a news report about some other dirtbag desert nation obtaining nuclear warheads. Claiming no other alternative, the newly-proactive President orders the Joe team in to handle the situation.

Next time we see the Joes they’re gearing up for battle in the belly of a cargo plane. There’s some more banter that identifies these characters as interesting people with relationships to one another. We get to know that Mouse is only 18 and a prodigal sharpshooter. Then Roadblock quotes something from Jay-Z and it actually comes off better than that sounds. Then everybody says, “Hell, yeah!” which bothered me because they should have said, “Yo, Joe!” Not only did they have a perfect opportunity for one of those nods to the franchise, they inserted profanity where it was entirely unnecessary. And yeah – I know it’s only “hell” and not “fuck” or something, but there was no need for it. Later in the film they say “Hoo rah” (I apologize if that’s misspelled), which I know is a Marine thing but again – why not “Yo, Joe”? That bothered me too.

After Roadblock’s speech everybody tethers themselves to the roof of the plane, the belly opens up, and we get an awesome shot of the Joes dropping to the roof of the facility where the bad guys have the warhead. And the bad guys are hilariously Bad Guys. They are total cartoon versions of terrorists with turbans and scarves and all of that. This whole next sequence is totally awesome, with all of the Joes – and there are more than just our core group; the rest are simply unnamed – doing their thing. Flint does a bunch of stuff that is almost parkour but looks too cool to be called that. The point here is that the team is a machine, they all work together, and they are the best in the world. They kill all the bad guys and secure the warhead and go back to camp.

Afterward there’s a scene where Zartan – disguised as the President – visits the President where he is being held. I must have missed something because at some point there is discussion about how the Joes got too close to Mount Olympus and Zartan decides they have to be eliminated. Also, he tortures the President to find out where Cobra Commander and Destro are being held. This leads to a darkly hilarious joke later where Zartan says “I don’t know why they call it waterboarding; I never got bored.”

If you’ve seen more than one trailer for Retaliation then you’ve already seen the next scene where all of the Joes except for Roadblock, Flint, and Lady Jaye get killed. COBRA attacks the Joe camp and those three manage to get to a well and survive. And surprise! – Duke is not going to be okay. Duke got blown up saving Flint’s life. Mouse dies too and I don’t think he even got a death scene. The three survivors climb out of the well and Roadblock delivers the only truly awful dialogue in the movie – “We’re going to find the man that did this and we’re going to kill him.” Really? It didn’t sound good and – more importantly – I think The Rock knew it didn’t sound good because he delivered it flat as heck. Not that I wanted “We’re gonna find the jabroni that did this, we’re gonna take a HISS tank, shine it up real good, turn that sumbitch sideways, and stick it straight up their candy ass!”, but that line could have been better. I have another HUGE problem with that line. I’ll get to that later.

Back in the USA the President is saying that the GI Joe team are enemies of the state and have been eliminated. You’ve seen this as well. It’s weird because there’s never any explanation that the GI Joe team is now a public entity and it’s even weirder because I’m pretty sure he mentions Snake-Eyes by name in a way that suggests John Q. Public would be all like, “Oh, that guy that wears black and doesn’t talk.”

Meanwhile, across the world at some underground prison with a German name because everything sounds more menacing in German, guards are escorting a captured Snake-Eyes inside. My mind raced through all kinds of things at this point. Here’s the sequence of thoughts:

This is stupid. Nobody could capture Snake-Eyes.

Oh, I guess he allowed himself to be captured.

That doesn’t make any sense. Why would Snake-Eyes need to get into the prison where Cobra Commander and Destro are being held?

Oh, that must be Storm Shadow.

Wait – Storm Shadow is wanted too. Why would he need to disguise himself as Snake-Eyes?

And why the fuck does anybody even know who Snake-Eyes is?

I am a genius because this is exactly what was going on. And it all occurred to me before Walton Goggins even showed up. Goggins plays the warden of Der Einsentorturen (or whatever the prison was called) and he was awesome. He is tickled pink to have Snake-Eyes as one of his prisoners and spends a good six or seven minutes taunting the ninja about how he’s never going to escape. He goes on to explain the overly-elaborate method of incarceration that is being used on the Commander and Destro and that Snake-Eyes is about to undergo. Then Snake-Eyes says something and I was like “Yep. I was right.” 
Goggins pulls Snake-Eyes mask off and before I get to the big reveal I’d just like to mention that Snake-Eyes’ Retaliation mask is 1000% better than his mask in Rise of COBRA. Not only does it not have that creepy-ass mouth, the design makes sense. It actually looks like something a commando might wear regardless of any ninja affiliation or facial scarring. The visor is pretty much the same, but the lower portion of the front is a mesh fabric over a grill. It looks very cool.

Seriously, man – what was up with that fucking mouth?

Anyway, Goggins sees Storm Shadow’s face and rather cool realizes that it is not Snake-Eyes he has, but Storm Shadow. I do not know how anybody knows what Storm Shadow looks like, let alone some admittedly high-level prison warden, but whatever. Goggins is just as pleased to have Storm Shadow as he would’ve been to have his sword brother and they go right ahead and seal him up in one of the prison tubes.

Obviously there is no prison that can hold a ninja – let alone Tommy Arashikage – and Storm Shadow escapes pretty quickly. He kills a bunch of guards and frees Cobra Commander. We actually get a good long look at his burned, Vader-like head before he gets his breathing apparatus on. I was a little surprised at that. The actor was in heavy makeup, so it’s not like it was going to be obvious it wasn’t Gordon-Levitt, but it was still neat to see basically the same head we saw at the end of the last movie. Another nice little bit of linking continuity before the Commander donned his real uniform.

Once he’s collected himself, Cobra Commander looks over at Destro and tells him he’s out of the band. I was afraid at this point Destro was going to die, but thankfully they just left him in the tube. Of course, most of the prison got blown up shortly thereafter, but we didn’t actually see Destro die so I’m thinking he didn’t.

I don’t understand why they left Destro. It wasn’t a casting issue because he has a metal head and they could have stuck anybody under a mask or CGI or whatever. And it’s not like Cobra Commander had to worry about betrayal because the very thing that left Destro with that metal head – the Nanites from the first movie – placed him under the Commander’s control. I just need an explanation here. There were a few holes like this, and I think I’m going to have to pick up the novelization and hope that they’re explained. Both the prequel book for and the novelization of the first movie were excellent, so I’m hoping for the same for Retaliation.

So Storm Shadow and Cobra Commander are free, but still inside the prison. Goggins’ character spent a good amount of time explaining how impenetrable the prison was, so the audience knows they’re going to need help. Luckily, COBRA employs the most awesome character ever to appear in a movie ever:

FIREFLY.

You just don’t even know how big a deal it was to me that Firefly was actually going to be featured in GI Joe: Retaliation and even more, how important it was to me that Firefly was handled right. And he so totally was. Not only was Ray Stevenson absolutely fantastic – stealing every scene he was in and almost stealing the whole movie – the character was handled well. He was as enthusiastic for explosions and destruction as Tom Cruise is about Scientology. And his uniform was so fucking rad. If I had the time and money I would definitely be investing in a replica of the Firefly costume. I mean, it was mostly just the jacket, but it looked amazing. Firefly was perfect. I couldn’t have been happier with every single aspect of how he was handled. Stevenson even had some burn makeup on the left side of his face that looked awesome.

Okay, so Firefly is outside of the prison and you’ve seen a little bit of this scene. You’ve seen the motorcycle that turns into rockets. What you didn’t see is all the stuff he blows up before that. He has these little robot fireflies that swarm all over the exterior of the prison and then blow up all of the guards and stuff. Then he shoots down the outer gate, then he blows up the inner gate, then he rides his rocket motorcycle inside and uses it to blow up the whole front of the prison, at which point he goes inside and kills the remaining guards and helps the Commander and Storm Shadow escape.

This is the COBRA I’ve always wanted to see. Two badass motherfuckers is all it takes to wipe out a facility full of trained men. These are the kind of men who could realistically be bent on world domination.

As the bad guys make their way outside, Snake-Eyes is arriving on the scene. This is actually the first you see of him. Roadblock mentioned before his rousing recitation of Jay-Z lyrics that he knew Snake-Eyes and that if Snake wasn’t around he had a damn good reason. It seems that he’s been hunting Storm Shadow, but you just kind of pick that up from the events. The movie doesn’t beat you over the head with it.

So Snake-Eyes arrives just in time to see the bad guys loading into a badass COBRA helicopter, but not soon enough to do anything about it.

Back in the desert Roadblock, Flint and Lady Cleavage are talking and walking. Then they find an airport and fly home. That sequence was exactly as exciting as it sounds. I do think that’s the part where they decided to stay under the radar and came to the conclusion that the President of the United States of America must have ordered the air strike that killed all of the Joes. I am extremely dubious of this particular train of logic, but I’m not in the military. Maybe that is a reasonable conclusion.

I don’t know how to describe the next sequence. It was equal parts awesome, hilarious, and completely and utterly disjointed. All of a sudden with no explanation the movie is in an extremely Asian house with an indoor garden and everything and Snake-Eyes is sparring with Jinx while the Worst Line Reading In A Movie Ever is going on.

When I heard that RZA was cast as the Blind Master I thought that was pretty cool. I assumed it would be a bit part and that RZA’s relative lack of acting experience wouldn’t matter. I had no idea he would be delivering the most lengthy and crucial exposition of the entire movie. It’s crucial because it’s all the ninja shit that the movie really doesn’t have time to explain but is important because it’s a big part of the GI Joe mythology. It’s lengthy because it is a huge part of the movie and wouldn’t make a bit of fucking sense if somebody weren’t literally explaining it.

I do not know if RZA is actually a bad actor. I’ve only seen him in bit parts in a couple of things. But if I only had GI Joe: Retaliation to go on I would think that RZA was the worst actor in the history of acting. It was like listening to the jock kid read from the textbook in seventh grade, only without the stuttering.

What is explained here is basically that the Arashikage Clan is ashamed of what a dickweed Storm Shadow is and of all the bad stuff that he’s done and need to capture him and bring him to justice to make everything right. RZA says something about Snake-eyes not trusting Jinx. It didn’t really make sense and was never brought up again, so I suggest you just ignore it. Once Snake-Eyes and Jinx are done showing off sparring, RZA gives Snake a special Arashikage sword and then tells him he must take Storm Shadow alive. Which is kind of a mixed message, if you ask me.

Meanwhile, Roadblock, Flint, and Lady Cleavage are in The Hood. You can tell it’s The Hood because the place is covered in graffiti and black people and Roadblock is perfectly comfortable and knuckle-bumping everybody and Flint and Lady Jaye can’t wait to be anywhere but there. We spend about ten minutes proving that The Rock is Down With The People and then move on to an abandoned gym that Roadblock says will have to be their new Pit.

Oh, I forgot to mention that Storm Shadow got blown up while rescuing Cobra Commander. He did. And he is now recovering on Mount Ninja. Some old lady is using Ninja Magic and technology to heal his burns. Snake-Eyes and Jinx are on their way to Mount Ninja to capture Storm Shadow when they receive an encoded transmission – “This channel is for GI Joes only!” – from Lady Jaye telling them where she is.

It is not within my abilities to describe the awesomeness that is the Battle of Mount Ninja. It is everything you could have ever wanted from a GI Joe Ninja Fight and quite frankly I am concerned it has rendered future Ninja Fights unnecessary. You’ve seen a little bit of it in the trailers BUT THAT IS NOTHING. All by itself, the Battle of Mount Ninja is worth the price of admission to GI Joe: Retaliation. And quite frankly pretty much everything after it is pretty great, too. But man – this is the Best Ninja Fight Ever. Dozens of Red Ninjas must have dies for real during the filming of this sequence. I don’t see any other way around it.

Naturally our heroes end up capturing Storm Shadow and taking him to the Blind Master’s indoor garden of ninjitsu. I am not at all clear on which ninjas are on what side and it really doesn’t matter because the next scene is so implausible.

Rise of COBRA established the lifelong rivalry between Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow. It showed how the Hard Master was murdered and how Storm Shadow got chased out of Ninjavana. Retaliation, through the magic of talking and flashback, attempts to make it reasonable that twenty (or whatever) years later everybody realizes that Zartan is really the one that killed the Hard Master. It is a stretch and a fucking half. I wonder how somebody who isn’t familiar with that whole backstory from the comics reacted to that little sequence. But in all honesty I have to say I really appreciated that nod to the old continuity. The story itself isn’t implausible, just the way that everybody realized it. Oh, and RZA delivered some more cringe-worthy exposition. Storm Shadow realized he’s been played like a harp from Hell (™ Penguin) and tells the good guys he’ll help stop COBRA. But they’re still not buddies because they all turned on him back in the day without a moment’s hesitation. He has a point.

Side Note: Lee Byun-hung is so fucking great as Storm Shadow. I would love to see him in a Storm Shadow movie based on the miniseries Larry Hama did for IDW a few years ago. That was a great story and Byun-hung is basically playing that version of Tommy Arashikage. It would be awesome.

While all that Ninja craziness was happening, Lady Jaye figured out that the President was an impostor. And the movie treats that exactly as ridiculous as it sounds. Nobody wants to believe it and they require a lot of proof to do so. It’s not just, “Well, Lady Jaye said it so it must be true,” and I give the creators a lot of credit for that. They go to great pains to show that it is reasonable that it could happen and be figured out in the universe the movie inhabits. And even more, they don’t just go and kidnap him or something. It’s kind of like, “Well, now we know, but that’s only half the battle.”

The Joes decide they can’t trust anybody and you’ve seen that scene too because it’s the part in the trailer where Bruce Willis shows up.

Bruce Willis plays Joe Colton – the first GI Joe and the namesake of the team. And you know what? He does a great job. I was afraid he’d just call it in, and while I’m not saying this is the finest performance of Bruce Willis’ career, this is definitely good Bruce Willis. He delivers.

I wouldn’t even mention the next scene because it’s just a device to get to the following scene, but it features Adrienne Palicki in extremely tight short shorts and an extremely tight sports bra. Jogging. I’m a little fuzzy on the rest because Ms. Palicki looks extremely good in extremely tight clothing, but she ends up with an invitation to a party the President is attending. This gives her the opportunity to wear an extremely tight red dress and also to have red hair, at which point GI Joe: Retaliation becomes near-pornographic. Watching that lady walk up stairs made my pants tight.

I might have gotten a little carried away there. All I’m trying to say is that Ms. Palicki is a nice-looking lady and adding red hair and that red dress was extra double nice.

Lady Jaye tracks down the President and asks for a quote. Her cover is that she’s a FOX News reporter, to which Zartan (the President) says, “That explains why you’re so fair and balanced.”

Let me take a second to acknowledge Jonathan Pryce’s performance as Zartan as the President. He is awesome. He gets some of the best and most sinister lines in the movie and you can tell Pryce is just reveling in it. It’s like watching an old Doctor Who where one of the BBC-employed guests is hamming it up because they’re getting the chance to play a villain. And it’s even more impressive because there are a couple of occasions where he plays opposite himself in a scene where Zartan is talking to the actual President and as the President he is very concerned and serious. So kudos to Jonathan Pryce for nailing it. He was so good as Zartan that I almost didn’t miss Arnold Vosloo (but I still did – he was only in the movie for about ten seconds).

It’s during one of these scenes that President Zartan runs a knife down his face, but rather than slicing his flesh open it merely reveals good ol’ Arnold Vosloo. I guess it stands to reason that nanomites that allow you to transform your appearance also make the flesh malleable and repairable to damage. Remember that.

Lady Jaye manages to get a hair off of the President’s jacket and because a DNA scanner shaped like lipstick is definitely something you’d have stashed in your field kit is able to very quickly find out that the President is an impostor. As a matter of fact, the little display even says “Zartan”, which is maybe a little silly. While she’s doing this, her own identity is being compromised by COBRA agents who have replaced the President’s regular Secret Service.

Okay, I have to nitpick again. Within the universe that this movie inhabits, nobody outside of COBRA knows Zartan exists. Therefore, his name coming up on the DNA scan is silly. And unnecessary. It could have simply confirmed that the DNA was not the President’s. On a similar note, as I mentioned before none of the Joes exist. Now, clearly in this movie not only do they but they are mentioned by name by the President during a press conference. But I think they could have easily kept the Joes a secret and when the COBRA agents were scanning Lady Jaye’s face it could have come up as “Unknown”. This would have been just as much of a red flag for a guest at a Presidential function.

I also have a little bit of a problem with the Joe’s follow-up to discovering that the President is an impostor – Roadblock is standing in an alley behind the building waiting to shoot him. This is extremely silly. Not only is it a terrible plan because all it’s going to do is make it look like the President was right about the Joes being traitors, it’s also stupid because really? You think you’re just going to shoot the leader of the free world with a pistol from across the street? Especially considering these aren’t even regular Secret Service dudes protecting him, these are specially trained COBRA agents.

But Roadblock never gets the opportunity to shoot Zartan because FIREFLY.

This fight scene would have been great if not for the fact that the director or cinematographer or whoever resorted to a lot of shaky cam. And I fucking hate shaky cam. The greatest fight scene in the history of cinema – Roddy Piper versus David Keith (or Keith David – I can never remember) – did not use one second of shaky cam. But it was still an entertaining, hard-hitting fight. Firefly is totally whooping Roadblock’s ass. He tells him that he wants to see his face and what it must have looked like when Firefly murdered all of his Joe buddies. Cold. Firefly pulls out a pistol and is about to execute the People’s Champ when Flint shows up in a van. And just when I thought the movie was going to piss me off and have Flint kill Firefly with a van, the bad guy got away. Awesome.

Next we get a scene that features the reflection of Adrienne Palicki undressing. Even blurred on an old TV screen you can tell she has a sweet can. My only gripe with this scene is that she puts pajamas on over her thong panties and push-up bra. Ask any lady – they do not sleep in thong panties and a push-up bra. This scene stretched my suspension of disbelief nearly to breaking.

The next day Snake-Eyes and Jinx show up with Storm Shadow – who is not with them, but not against them, which I liked – and the band is back together and ready to stop Cobra Commander’s nefarious plan.

I don’t remember exactly where this happened, but there was a scene where Cobra Commander met up with Firefly and President Zartan to check out Project Zeus – the big superweapon of choice for this movie. And believe me I really thought it was going to be the Weather Dominator when I heard that name. It isn’t. We don’t find out what it is until later on.

Storm Shadow tells the Joes that President Zartan is going to hold a meeting of world leaders demanding complete nuclear disarmament. Obviously this is where whatever is going to happen is going to happen, so it’s time to Joe up. They return to Joe Colton’s house for help and in a very amusing scene Colton reveals that pretty much every square inch of his suburban home is cover for the biggest armory ever. So the Joes load up with gear and head for Fort Sumter where the meeting is while Colton and Lady Jaye head for the Presidential retreat to rescue the real President. I don’t remember how they knew he was there, but whatever.

Colton was a little misogynistic towards Lady Jaye in their first couple of encounters and it was pretty funny. They did the whole reconciliation thing and there was a whole other plot point with her father and approval or something. But Willis and Palicki had a good chemistry and were fun to watch. They successfully raided the Presidential retreat and rescued the President.

At Fort Sumter, President Zartan has laid down his plea for unilateral disarmament and the other world leaders have poo-pood his proposal. Especially the guy from North Korea. In response, President Zartan launches all of the United States’ warheads. Again, Jonathan Pryce is wonderful. He plays this scene with such a self-possessed lunacy. It’s fascinating to watch. You can tell the whole time that he knows exactly what is going on and the desired outcome and he’s having the very best time ever fucking with the most powerful men in the world.

The other world leaders can’t allow President Zartan’s actions to go unanswered, so they all launch all of their warheads. It’s pretty insane, but rather than coming off as goofy, it feels like a commentary on the madness of mutually-assured destruction. At the last minute, President Zartan changes his mind and initiates the self-destruct on the US’s warheads. The other world leaders follow suit (with North Korea taking the longest – lots of jokes on North Korea in this movie) with the result being that all of the nuclear weapons have been destroyed and President Zartan got what he wanted in the first place. Which means now it’s time to unleash Project Zeus on a world incapable of defending itself from superweapons.

Holy shit. Not only does movie Cobra Commander have good plans – they fucking work.

Project Zeus is basically a giant space pistol that drops some kind of metal rods on Earth. The result of these rods impacting from a space drop is total destruction with no fallout. And President Zartan demonstrates by dropping a rod on London. The scene that follows is actually pretty brutal, as all of the familiar landscapes of London are shown to be destroyed. It’s a shockingly ruthless display and is affecting despite the fact that it comes at the climax of what is essentially a fantasy movie based on children’s toys.

This is when Cobra Commander dramatically enters the room and demands that the whole world swear fealty to him. And again – his plan worked. If it weren’t for the Joes, he would be the Emperor of the World. Seriously.

While all of this is going on, the Joes are mounting an assault on Fort Sumter, which is protected by HISS tanks and, unless I am mistaken, (that laser cannon thing). And these are legit HISS tanks. A few years ago Hasbro redesigned the HISS tank for Rise of COBRA (even though they weren’t in the movie) and what is in this movie looks and functions exactly like those toys. What’s weird is that the assault vehicle Roadblock uses to attack the HISS tanks is basically a HISS tank without a turret. But it kind of doesn’t matter because watching that thing tear around the landscape is awesome, even if The Rock is over-grimacing a little bit throughout.

Eventually the Joes make it into the place where the world leaders are and shit hits the fan. Cobra Commander takes off – naturally – and tells Firefly to protect the briefcase that controls Project Zeus. While the Commander makes a clean and badass escape via another one of those COBRA helicopters – while hanging out the side door, no less – Roadblock chases down Firefly. It starts with Roadblock blowing up Firefly’s motorcycle, then chasing him across the water in what is basically a Killer WHALE, then an absolutely amazing gunfight. I don’t know who choreographed the close quarters handgun fight scene that ensued, but they are a genius. There was a bit of shaky cam during this fight, but it wasn’t too bad. Eventually Roadblock subdued Firefly and at the last possible second was able to hit the “Abort” button, which strangely completely blew up all of the Project Zeus satellites. That’s a weird thing to build into your superweapon, but it so goes along with basically every supervillain cliché ever. So I’m okay with it.

As Roadblock is tidying up, Firefly reaches into his pocket and pulls out one of his trusty exploding fireflies. But when he goes for the detonator he comes up empty handed. Because Roadblock has it. Oops.

While the movie was pretty good about not killing off bad guys unnecessarily, I was pissed that Firefly had to die. Not just because he’s my favorite character from the GI Joe mythos, but because Ray Stevenson did such an amazing job playing him. And because of that one stupid fucking line from earlier in the movie – “We’re going to find the man that did this and we’re going to kill him.” – Firefly did have to die. If not for that line, Roadblock could have simply subdued him. But because that line had been uttered and Firefly had admitted to leading the assault that destroyed the Joe team the narrative was backed into a corner. But at least he went out with a bang.

Speaking of dead bad guys, Storm Shadow hunts down President Zartan and throws a sword through him.

However.

As we saw earlier, Zartan does not respond to damage like other folks do. It is entirely possible that he is not dead. I will hold out hope that GI Joe Part 3 will give us Dreadnoks.

So the Joe team cleared their names and saved the day and they have a big ceremony to honor the survivors and a memorial to the fallen team members. The good guys got beat up pretty bad, but in the end they won.

However.

Once again Cobra Commander sort of won. While he didn’t actually take over the world, he did reach his goal of unilateral disarmament. The nations of the world still don’t have any nuclear weapons and are still quite vulnerable to whatever his next scheme may be. And if the GI Joe movie universe has established anything, it’s that this Cobra Commander is a long-range planner.

Oh, and there’s nothing after the credits.

***END OF SPOILER ZONE***

I totally dug this movie. The nitpicky problems I had were just that – nitpicky. Overall it was a heck of a good time and just as effective a narrative as its predecessor. Jon Chu has proven himself to be a competent director, even if he did fall back on some lame tricks a couple of times. And the creative team definitely knew how to handle GI Joe. Rise of COBRA had a lot more fan service and overall felt like it had stronger ties to the Joe mythology, but Retaliation had a stronger overall story and cohesiveness. Plus, there was no single thing that struck me as completely horrible with this one like the relationship between Duke, the Baroness, and Cobra Commander did in the last one.

Well, except for RZA’s acting.

4 out of 5


I also feel compelled to mention that this one didn’t seem as gratuitously violent as the first. That one was chock full of eye-stabbing and exploding heads. This one definitely featured more cartoon-like violence.

I can’t wait to see it again.

-Phantom

4 comments:

  1. I think the reason they ditched Destro is 'cause, reality-wise, that chrome head cost a lot of money to render in CGI, which doesn't make much sense if you think about it. Why is chrome more expensive to render than, say, blue or red? Maybe it has to do with how light would reflect off it, but if that were the case, I'd have preferred they just go with a tarnished metal look that would'nt be so shiny.

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    1. I've seen that speculated elsewhere. It apparently would have cost a fortune to do a full CGI head like that. Not in comparison to any other color of CGI head, but just as an amount of money they were not willing to spend. I hope they can find a way around it for the next one.

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  2. Nice review. While it’s the better of the two movies, I would not rush to see in theaters that quickly, possibly give it a week or two before seeing it and if you can, see it in 2D and keep your expectations at a minimum.

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  3. Very good review. I thought this movie was a lot of fun, and loved that it was just like watching a G.I. Joe comic come to life. Although sleeping in a strapless push up bra is pretty dumb, my wife sleeps in thong panties pretty much every night, so that's not out of the realm of possibilities.

    SPOILER:

    I will say that I thought have the zeus explode was really stupid. The whole point of the weapon was that the satellite simply has to release a rod and gravity does the rest. Well damn, now that the satellites have blown up I guess we have 50 of these rods making their way into orbit now and will commence to destroy the world.

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