‘G.I. Joe Retaliation’ Is Stupid, Stupid Fun
2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was a resoundingly stupid movie, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t kind of love it. I’ll readily admit that I’m a sucker for anything that could be classified as “Destro-related media,” but every inexplicable, awful piece of that movie combined into something that was at least inoffensive. It was at this dumb movie sweet spot, and as a result, I had a lot of misgivings about the sequel. If they tried to make it better, I was pretty sure they were going to fail and just make a movie that was bad. If they didn’t, well, an inept toy movie can be fun the first time, but wears out its welcome pretty quick on the second.
Fortunately, the makers of G.I. Joe: Retaliation somehow managed to do the impossible. They made a movie that was even dumber than the first one, and almost as fun.I honestly considered making this review just a numbered list of plot points that were so stupid that I cracked up in the theater, but if I did, it’d actually just end up being the entire screenplay. Still, here’s the top ten, in no particular order. Bail out now if you don’t want spoilers.
1. The movie opens with an assault on an enemy base. There are about three openings, actually, including one that was obviously tacked on in order to get more footage of Channing Tatum as Duke, which would’ve been a better way to open. The first scene has absolutely no impact on the rest of the movie and actually makes things worse; the only thing you really get out of it is that Flint thinks it’s a good idea to run a G.I. Joe logo up the flagpole at the scene of their covert operation. This is the only characterization Flint gets in the entire film, so you’re pretty much stuck thinking that guy’s a complete and total dumbass for the next two hours without anything to contradict it.
2. When the Joes are ambushed and mostly killed after a successful operation, the survivors know immediately, without seeing any evidence or communicating with the rest of the world at all or even actually seeing who it was that attacked them, that it was the President who ordered the strike. They come to this conclusion — which is, of course, correct — in a bit of dialogue that puts “And it happened at sea… C… for Catwoman!” to shame for being cinema’s greatest leap of logic.
3. Speaking of President Zartan (one of the absolute best things about Rise of Cobra), he frames the Joes for turning against America while also announcing his new elite security forces, which he calls Cobra, complete with the familiar Cobra logo. The thing is, this movie is a direct sequel to a movie where Cobra was a terrorist group that straight up vaporized the Eiffel Tower and killed thousands of people. They even talk about it in the opening of the movie under the hilarious heading of “The Nanomite Wars.” This is essentially like the President coming out and announcing the formation of a new elite strike team called the Nazi Terrorists, and nobody mentioning that this is a little weird.
4. Snake Eyes is arrested in Pakistan, then taken to a Secret Underground Prison Playset in Germany. This entire journey and imprisonment happens without anyone thinking to remove his mask or body armor, which is why they’re surprised when it turns out to actually be Storm Shadow. They decide to keep him anyway, because, you know, whatever.
5. I’m 90% sure that Ray Stevenson decided that Firefly should have a Southern accent halfway through a scene that they decided not to do a second take on.
6. In order to hide from Cobra, Roadblock, Lady Jaye and Flint all come back to America and hang out about two streets down from President Zartan. For those of you wondering, they get back in an amazing bit of economical storytelling where Roadblock sees an airstrip in the middle of the desert, says “we’re going home” and then is next seen walking around Washington DC with his friends shouting his real name across the street. I am actually 100% okay with this, since, much like The Dark Knight Rises, I fully believe these characters could get back from foreign lands with no problem and that seeing it would be boring when I could be looking at HISS Tanks. What I’m not fine with is that when they enter their Boxing Gym Hideout Playset, Lady Jaye eyes a box of old-ass computer parts and then is next seen with a three-monitor setup running behavioral analysis software.
6a: Oh man, this behavioral analysis software is hilarious. Lady Jaye determines that President Zartan is, uh, Zartan because he says “kind of” instead of “sort of.” It is magical.
7. At one point, Lady Jaye (a wanted terrorist) cold walks into an event and gets some face-time with President Zartan. One of the security guys runs some facial recognition software that takes forever, even though there are a grand total of four people and only one of them fits the description implicit in the word “Lady.” Also they have their pictures.
8. So the Joes get General Joe Colton to help them out, played by Bruce Willis in a performance so phoned in that I hear Paramount got stuck with roaming charges. When he finally agrees, he starts opening up secret gun passages in his Suburban House Playset, and while the first are hidden behind secret panels and under false drawer bottoms, it gets to the point where he’s just opening cabinets full of guns. It’s amazing, but it does make me wonder a) why some of them are hidden and others are just, you know, in the cabinet, and b) why he bothers hiding them at all when he has an actual tank sitting in his garage.
8a. A tank that they drive from Washington DC to South Carolina without anyone noticing.
9. There’s a bit at the end of the story where Cobra Commander, having read Global Frequency and thoroughly ripped off Warren Ellis’s plot for the first issue, completely destroys London. Like, gone. Off the map. This happens, and then is never discussed, which I imagine is because this movie has a happy ending that’s only happy if you do not think about it at all: One of the world’s major cultural and financial centers has been completely destroyed and the President of the United States is revealed to have been a terrorist imposter for months, if not years!
10. Oh, and the destruction of London? Completely preventable! Storm Shadow, who at that point has been turned by the Joes, is just standing around waiting for “the signal” to leap into action. Everyone’s already in place, so one would think “the immediate death of 8 million people” would be enough to get into action. Fortunately, Cobra Commander’s control for his London Destroying Warren Ellis Machine Satellites has a big red button that permanently destroys them forever.
And that’s just what’s dumb about the plot. There’s genuinely awful dialogue and bad performances throughout — including The RZA as the Hard Master, who’s so awful that he loops back around to being the best thing that has ever happened — and just generally rough filmmaking. Flint and Jinx are non-entities, Roadblock’s a watered-down version of the Rock’s character in Fast Five, and Lady Jaye’s only slightly more than a prop, to the point where she’s used as Pretty Lady Sex Bait in two different scenes, back to back, which (hilariously) leads right into her talking about how she wants to be respected as a sexy, sexy soldier.
It is not a good movie. But all that said, I can’t really say I didn’t like it.
A lot of that’s on me. In my mind, the biggest sin of the first movie wasn’t its bizarre sci-fi action figure goofiness (Delta 6 Accelerator Suits! Nanomites!), but that it screwed up the core of what I like about G.I. Joe: Cobra Commander, Destro, the Baroness and Snake Eyes. Christopher Eccleston did what he could, but those characters were a mess. In this one, even with a lack of Destro and Movie Baroness completely ignored, Cobra Commander is the dude I want to see, who breaks out of an impossible prison and then cooks up a truly insane plot for world domination. Even with Jinx just sort of being there and occasionally clinging to Snake Eyes for dear life because girls, the ninja stuff is great, full of bizarre action and really awesome fight scenes. I mean, it’s not quite the first movie’s five minutes of two nine year-olds beating the hell out of each other, but it’s fun to watch.
Plus, from a purely fannish standpoint, this is a movie where Storm Shadow and Snake-Eyes forge their bond as sword brothers in a battle that, for some reason, happens in my home state of South Carolina. I can’t hate that. It just ain’t in my blood. At long last, I know what you Transformers people felt like when you watched your dumb movie.
So no, it is not a good movie. It’s bad on a number of levels, and is frequently dumber than a bucket of rocks. But is it an enjoyable one? For me it was. I don’t regret seeing it, although I should state that I caught it at a $4 matinee.
Could’ve used about a thousand percent more Destro, though.