Andy Bockelman: ‘G.I.’ no
April 11, 2013
"G.I. Joe: Retaliation," rated PG-13
Rating: 1.5 out of 4 stars
Run time: 110 minutes
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Bruce Willis, Channing Tatum and Jonathan Pryce
Steamboat Springs — One of the great cartoons of yesteryear made memorable efforts to promote learning among its youthful viewers by coining the phrase "knowing is half the battle" in a series of public service announcements.
Sadly, the modern incarnation of that 1980s fantasy, "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," already has surrendered in the war of wits.
Among the forces protecting America is the special operatives group, the G.I. Joes, a collective of soldiers whose unique skill sets make them the ideal candidates for harrowing missions across the globe. When a team of Joes under the command of Capt. Conrad "Duke" Hauser (Channing Tatum) is sent to Pakistan to retrieve a weapon of mass destruction, its expectations of a typical job are circumvented by a hail of surprise gunfire after which only a few are left standing: Duke's second-in-command, Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson); Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki); and Flint (D.J. Cotrona).
The perpetrator of this heinous ambush is none other than the president of the United States (Jonathan Pryce) — well, actually, the commander in chief has been usurped by a lookalike named Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) as part of a master plan orchestrated by the Joes' nemeses, the Cobras, who have resurfaced in a big way.
With few options and even fewer allies left, the remaining Joes must formulate a way to combat these villains and subsequently save the world.
If "The Rise of Cobra," the preceding film in the series, didn't give you some clue, the majority of the G.I. Joe roles call for actors who might look good as action figures but have personalities about as complex as those little pieces of plastic.
In his third of five — count 'em, five — movies of 2013, Johnson looks the part of the dedicated military man but doesn't offer much as the new headliner, stepping into the sequel with all the grace of a rocket-propelled grenade.
Who would've thought we'd wish the action star was the one getting blown away rather than Tatum?
He isn't the only big name who flounders. Bruce Willis goes through the motions and nothing more as retired general Joseph Colten, the namesake of this elite corps, the only person Roadblock and his team can turn to in their time of need. He might have a huge stash of weaponry all over his house, but you can't depend on him for a single clever comeback.
If it weren't for the opening exposition, you'd barely remember the code names of Palicki and Cotrona's characters, let alone all the Joes blown to bits early on. At least there's the ever-dependable strong, silent member of the team, taciturn ninja Snake Eyes (Ray Park), who's got his own activities going on, tracking his evil counterpart, Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee), whose backstory gets more scrutiny than that of anyone else as he starts to question his loyalty to the newly freed Cobra Commander.
CC's costume may be cooler, but in true Darth Vader style, this baddie-to-the-bone is portrayed by a beefcake young actor (Luke Bracey) only to have a deeper voice (Robert Baker) while in his menacing mask. Good call on Joseph Gordon-Levitt's part to not bother returning.
With a mostly new cast, this feels like a different movie from "The Rise of Cobra," and that's not a compliment. Whatever the failings of the first live-action "G.I. Joe," and there were plenty, it had an undeniable sense of style for something produced by toy manufacturer Hasbro. Gone are the quasi-futuristic set pieces and the easygoing sense of humor, replaced by the trappings of the generic action flick, a change that might not be so bad if not for the painful fact that a movie meant to be exhilarating is terribly boring.
OK, not every scene is a snooze: The prison break of Storm Shadow and Cobra Commander from the ultimate in solitary confinement is kind of thrilling, and Snake Eyes' zip-lining exploits with protege Jinx (Elodie Yung) are more than watchable. Still, are these 10 minutes, at most, worth so much dull filler?
It's one thing for a movie to be dumb, but it should it at least be fun.
The subtitle of "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" seems to be a swipe at those who questioned the need for another toy movie when "The Rise of Cobra" first was released. Quite the assertion: Look, everyone, we can do worse!
Andy Bockelman is a Craig resident, freelance writer and Denver Film Critics Society accredited film fanatic who occasionally reviews movies playing in Steamboat Springs.