G.I. Joe: Retaliation
The Rock Versus Bruce Willis (Not Really)
Review written by Tom Bevis
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Channing Tatum
Let me begin by saying that I didn’t see the first GI Joe film way back when (in or around 2009, if my memory serves me), so I have no frame of reference as far as a sequel goes. So, let’s look at this as a kind of experiment, okay? Now, I walk into the auditorium, and yeah, I’m kinda sweating the possibility that I’ll be missing out on some integral plot points only made available to the determined few who saw the first film. The best plot synopsis I can get of the first (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, I believe it was called) is “bad guy tried to take over the world, good guy stops him, we all eat pie”. Okay, sounds like a pretty typical action movie.
Now, don’t get me wrong, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is pretty much a typical action movie. But – based on what little I know about the first one and all the trailers and stuff that I’ve seen for it – it seems like it’s a slightly more grown up typical action movie. Sure, there are silly names abound (Roadblock! Lady Jaye! Blind Master! And my personal favorite – Zartan!) and there’s a certain degree of camp going on here, but get real, it’s based on a line of action figure toys, so I think we can get over it. What you’ve got here is a action movie that isn’t smart, isn’t too stupid, doesn’t rely on its predecessor, and is just fun to watch without being so silly as to have something like mechanized super-suits (y’know, the element from the first film that made everyone think it was actually a Halo movie?).
Dwayne Johnson, The Rock himself, leads the cast and his performance, as always, is spot on – only exactly what it needs to be, no more, no less. Johnson’s main skill seems to be understanding what’s appropriate in a role and what isn’t appropriate, and his performances are always perfectly balanced in that regard, this film is no exception. The rest of the cast (with a few exceptions I’ll mention shortly) performs just barely at par for an action movie marketed at little kids and reminiscent adult men.
Now, we all saw The Man With the Iron Fists, right? And we can all agree that – unless there’s something drastic to watching the film that I’m missing – it pretty much sucks, right? Mostly, we can all absolutely agree that Wu-Tang’s own RZA is a poor actor. I’d like to say he’s got the building blocks of something at least passable, but – well, let me illustrate it for you. Okay, take your cousin. You know, the weird, lanky one. Okay, now, cover him in starch and dry him out so he can’t move. Yeah, he’ll pretty much just stand there, arms to his side. Now, punch him in the head until he has a slight concussion so he gets that vacant expression in his eyes. Now give him a script and make him read it.
Yeah, he’s standing still, it’s hard to tell where his eyes or pointing or who he’s emoting to or even whether he’s emoting at all, and his lines are all read in a flat drawl with no conviction (remember, that concussion is still working). Great Scott, you’ve turned your weird, lanky cousin into RZA (this is RZA on screen, not RZA on stage). Now, don’t get me wrong – I may think Wu-Tang and Wu-Tang fans take themselves way too seriously (I mean, The Tao of the Wu? Really?) but I’ve got nothing but respect for the things they’ve done and RZA by far has been the guy holding that together, so, you know, props. But here’s some free advice, man: stick to your strengths. Record records, produce records, be a general tough-yet-introspective minor badass. But for the love of everything, please don’t act.
Oh, and Bruce Willis. If you blink, you’ll miss him. I’m not kidding. I want to say he’s on screen for maybe around eight-to-ten minutes, and that’s a bummer, cos Willis isn’t always necessarily good, but he is always fun. And he’s fun here (except for the fact that his character and presence turns out to be nothing more than a means of affirmation for one of the main characters), but the film really could have used more of his presence.
Now, I like to boil things down to a single point, especially after going off on weird tangents that almost seem not to be relevant or make sense, so let me put the pot on the stove and get cooking. If you know me, you know I have three nephews, aged roughly four years old, six years old, and eight years old (yeah, I just got off the phone with my sister to confirm these ages) and a niece aged seven years old. So, naturally, the scale I use to measure any movies that aren’t specifically adult-oriented movies are these kids.
While my sister probably wouldn’t like it if I took my nephews to see G.I. Joe: Retaliation (ever since she found God and started homeschooling her kids, the movies I take my nephews to has to be approved by the archdiocese and the deacon of the local church), I know the kids would love it. The niece wouldn’t be all that into it, sure, but the three boys would be all over it, and in movies like this, that’s all that matters.