In the aftermath of Cobra Commander’s defeat, and unbeknownst to the Joes, Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) has taken the place of the US President (Jonathan Pryce). Cobra has sworn to destroy their enemy, and the Joe’s find themselves fighting their mortal enemy and a threat to the entire planet.
It is almost universally agreed that GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra was not a great film, but there was something about the cheesiness and the over the top tech that was reminiscent of old Bond films, and had a certain charm. Sadly, director Jon M. Chu – the man behind Justin Bieber: Never Say Never – has stripped the second instalment in the franchise right back to the minimum.
Gone is the over the top technology and character’s tendencies to enter and exit in the most dramatic way possible, and instead the Joe’s world is more like the one we live in. The problem is this does not mesh with the over the top nature of the villains of the piece, so the tone of the film ends up feeling uneven.
The story is actually fairly simple; Cobra carry on their plan for world domination from the first film after freeing Cobra Commander from an underground prison. The Joes are attacked and some of their number killed – bye, Channing Tatum! – and when they figure out they are on the ‘President’s’ kill list, they retreat to New Orleans to lick their wounds and plan their next move. Where we learn that Bruce Willis has a non-functioning kitchen and Adrianne Palicki looks good in red. Anything that was remotely fun from the first film seems to have been removed, although Jonathan Pryce did not seem to get the memo, as he camps it up wonderfully throughout.
Director Jon M. Chu relishes the set pieces and action scenes, but lets the ball drop on the rest of the film, and the same goes for Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s script. Chu may be a G.I. Joe fan – and reshoots allowed some humour and camaraderie – to be added into the film, but fandom does not a good director make. Risks are definitely not taken here and, with the focus on the action, characters are not allowed to be anything more than clichéd and bland.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation had a chance to improve on the first film, but somehow manages to take anything that was good away from the franchise and leave the audience with a bloated and unimaginative film. Ultimately, the film suffers from the same issues plaguing action films this year; too much focus on spectacle, underdeveloped characters and a seeming inability to do anything new or exciting.