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Film Review: G.I. Joe Retaliation

David Ives - published on 04/02/13 - updated on 06/07/17

Just keep telling yourself it’s only a movie based on a children’s cartoon

Don’t think about it too much. Just keep telling yourself it’s only a movie based on a children’s cartoon.

Of course, that’s difficult, because hardly anyone in the cartoon ever died, whereas the live action G.I. Joe: Retaliation depicts hundreds of thousands of people being murdered, including the entire city of London and almost all of the G.I. Joes from the previous film. Well, we can’t be too sure about that last bit, because the only returning Joes from part one we actually see are Duke and Snake Eyes (which means Ripcord, Scarlett, Heavy Duty and all the rest either took early retirement before this movie begins or else are killed off-screen). And I don’t really trust the movie on this point, because I’m pretty sure the evil ninja Storm Shadow took a sword straight through the heart in the first film, and yet he’s back running around in part two with no explanation at all as to how he survived. Who knows, maybe he was just mostly dead at the end of the last movie. Or – more likely – Storm Shadow managed to return through the incredible power of merchandising, as he and Snake Eyes are without a doubt the best selling G.I. Joe action figures on the shelves.

Whatever the reason may be, don’t think about it too much. Just keep telling yourself it’s only a movie based on a children’s cartoon.

Anyway, as I was saying, Zartan – that evil minion of Cobra whom you might recall is using nanobots (because nanobots can do ANYTHING) to disguise himself as the President of the United States – convinces the world that the G.I. Joes have turned traitor and authorizes an aerial ambush. Only a handful of Joes are left alive after the attack, most notably Roadblock played by Dwayne Johnson. Roadblock, we learn from a couple of quick setup scenes, is Duke’s best friend and loving father to two adorable kids – very small children who apparently have no problem being left by themselves for weeks while Roadblock goes on missions from which he might never return. Though he has so far resisted promotions, it’s obvious that Roadblock will become the new leader of the Joes, saying things like, “If we’re fighting uphill, we take the hill!” All good leaders must be able to talk this way. In fact, since there’s a couple of scenes where Roadblock actually lectures Duke about the lack of quality in the latter’s quips, it’s entirely possible Duke dies because he didn’t fully master this crucial ability.

There’s also Lady Jaye, a rough and tumble woman of action who is so versatile, she can demand to Bruce Willis’ face that he treat her with the same respect as any man, then in the very next scene blissfully don a pair of short shorts and bend over in front of Zartan’s aide so as to distract him while the men move in for the capture. (Lady Jaye: You’ve come a long way, baby.) Oh, and then there’s Flint, who… um… well, he doesn’t really serve much purpose other than to give Lady Jaye someone to talk to while she’s changing clothes. Because nothing commands someone’s respect like telling them your touching backstory while showing them your backside.

Like I said, it’s best if you don’t think about it too much. Just keep telling yourself it’s only a movie based on a children’s cartoon.

And obviously, the fan favorite silent warrior, Snake Eyes, is still around. Well, sort of, because for the first half of the film he’s off in his own movie somewhere trying to track down the villainous Storm Shadow for the murder of Hard Master, beloved leader of The Arashikage Ninja Clan. This sacred duty of vengeance is given to Snake Eyes by Blind Master, a character inexplicably played by music producer RZA, whose qualifications for being a ninja sensei appear to rest solely on his experience as the leader of the rap group Wu Tang Clan. Fortunately, this silly side of the story pays off in what is easily the best action sequence in the movie, as Snake Eyes and his new lady friend, Jinx, battle a squad of evil ninjas on zip lines strung between two mountain peaks. After Storm Shadow is apprehended, however, it turns out the whole thing was all a case of mistaken identity orchestrated by – you guessed it – Zartan. This revelation leads to Storm Shadow temporarily teaming up with the Joes to stop Cobra, which just goes to show that no one is so evil and murderous that toy sales can’t turn them into a good guy.

Once the ninja contingent rejoins the main movie, everybody heads off to the home of General Joe Colton, the legendary first G.I. Joe, in order to take advantage of the enormous stockpile of weapons he keeps lying around his suburban ranch home (thereby reinforcing the stereotype that every American keeps automatic rifles in their cupboards and tanks in their garage). With everybody properly armed, the Joes are finally ready to head off to Washington, where Zartan and Cobra Commander are holed up in a second rate rip-off of the war room from Dr. Strangelove, attempting to seize control of the entire world by way of a process that takes less than two minutes. That’s right, according to G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the freedom of the entire world can be lost in less time than it takes to boil an egg.

Now, even though G.I Joe: Retaliation is only a movie based on a children’s cartoon, that last part might actually be worth thinking about a little. You see, the old G.I. Joe cartoon always ended with a lesson, so it’s not unreasonable to think the movie should as well. But what lessons could one hope to find in this ridiculous mess of a movie? Well, there’s actually a few.

1. If your first movie was a marginal financial success but a critical bomb, you can probably improve the sequel on both counts by piling on the stupid. And as I think I’ve made clear, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is stupid with a capital STUPID. But that somehow amazingly makes it a more enjoyable film to watch than its predecessor. I’m not sure how that works, but it does.

2. All you girls being forced to watch this movie because your boyfriends refused to go see The Host this weekend, take note. If you’re a woman and you want some respect, keep your clothes on. When Lady Jaye finally gets her Jodie Foster/Silence Of The Lambs moment (you’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it), she’s actually in full dress uniform, and then and only then does Bruce Willis acknowledge her talents.  

3. And finally, even a silly romp like G.I. Joe: Retaliation can contain veins of truth if you’re willing to dig deep for them. (No, I mean really, really deep, because there’s an awful lot of stupid to get through first.) But once you dig deep enough, you just might find that the movie has something to say about the Easter weekend on which it’s being released. As goofy as the premise of Cobra’s plan for a speedy world domination may seem on the surface (One button destroys a country’s entire nuclear stockpile? What if someone makes a keystroke error?), it can serve as a reminder of how one decision on the part of our first parents (and – let’s face it – so many of our own decisions afterward) led to a swift and sure surrender of mankind’s freedom to sin. And just like the Joes had to lay their lives on the line to save the world in the movie, so did God volunteer to do so for us in real life. And as the G.I. Joe organization arises from its supposed death by the time the end credits roll, so too did our Lord rise to victory over death on Easter.

Who knew something as innocuous as G.I. Joe: Retaliation could contain such nuggets of truth. But now you know. And knowing is… well, you know the rest.

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