The extended delay in bringing G.I. Joe: Retaliation to theaters opens the the film to all sorts of theories. With trailers that started popping up around this time last year, the comic-book sequel was originally intended for a late summer 2012 release before being shelved for nearly three seasons. Based on the film’s attempts at self-aware humor, one possibility is that its makers wanted to capitalize on Channing Tatum’s sudden comedic prowess, an asset that solidified a year ago with 21 Jump Street. Going for ironic laughs next to its wealth of action set pieces, the film unfortunately has Tatum play off of Dwayne Johnson, and seeing as the former Rock is no Jonah Hill, these intentions come up short.
Still, the very recognition of its players’ abilities and the attempt to do something with them marks Jon M. Chu’s film as a rarity in modern explosion-friendly franchises. That the jokes don’t quite work is another matter, but for pure entertainment the majority of the proceedings do. Following a brief refresher on the purpose of the G.I. Joes, these elite fighting machines go right into action, knocking out bad guys as part of a well-oiled unit. Led by Duke (Tatum) and his second in command Roadblock (Johnson), these muscular, futuristic-weapon-clad soldiers have a simple, captivating appearance yet are some of the film’s more generic figures.
Despite all of the clunky dialogue and ridiculous plotting, what keeps G.I. Joe: Retaliation compelling is its character design. Leading the way is silent, black-helmeted Snake Eyes (Ray Park a.k.a. Darth Maul and Sleepy Hollow’s Headless Horseman), the kind of good guy you want on your side. Mowing down foes with his ninja prowess, he’s a thrill to behold, as is the similarly masked Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey). Freed from his uber-maximum security holdings, the world’s top enemy uses his menacing Darth Vader voice to great effect as he toys with the globe’s nuclear-armed countries.
While the good guys rally against their enemy and an impostor U.S. President (Arnold Vosloo in a digital Jonathan Pryce mask), they recruit General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis, atoning for the latest Die Hard), the man for whom their unit is named. Gearing up for a daring heroic finale sure to set new bullets-per-minute records, the film unexpectedly takes a cartoonish turn and loses nearly all its momentum. Though the level of global danger at hand matches Cobra Commander’s threat, the closing section feels a bit too Austin Powers-ish, outdoing itself with goofiness so that the intended terror is reduced to a farce. That’s a tough closing note for a film with a decent amount going for it, but considering the material at hand, it’s a bit of a miracle that the allure lasts as long as it does.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of combat violence and martial arts action throughout, and for brief sensuality and language.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.