As a product of the 80s myself, it should come as no surprise that a brand like G.I. Joe is something that sparks the interest of my inner child. There were few new movies I wanted to see come to light more than G.I. Joe as a kid. And when a live action movie had been teased via live action commercials, comic books and toys, my hopes had been high. As we know how the story goes, it wouldn't be until 2009 when the first live action G.I. Joe film would become a reality. After the success of the 2007 live action treatment of Transformers, it seemed like a no-brainer to bring G.I. Joe to the big screen. Sadly, their first attempt was painfully flawed, with the first mistake having been bringing a director like Stephen Sommers on to helm the film. Sommers had begun to seemingly lose his grip on what makes a good movie following the success of the 1999 The Mummy reboot, and his fingers brought little good to breathing life into the G.I. Joe franchise. After G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was met with a respectable reception in the late summer of 2009, it seemed only right to continue the story in a sequel. It was eventually greenlit, thankfully without Sommers, and G.I. Joe: Retaliation was set for a summer 2012 debut.
Sadly, only a month from its late June 2012 release, G.I. Joe: Retaliation was shelved. Not only was it pushed back from its summer release, but it was delayed nine months to March 29, 2013. The reasons given were that it was to be converted to 3D, while rumors of Channing Tatum's character Duke meeting an untimely end early in the film apparently inspired the addition of a few extra scenes between Duke and Roadblock. But whatever that reason, fans hoping for a better live action treatment of G.I. Joe would indeed have to wait almost another year (which, we all know, would also mean that a possible third movie would also be delayed because of it). But the time has come and G.I. Joe: Retaliation is here; so these questions remain: is it better than the first film? Does Duke really die? Was it all worth the wait?
I'll be completely honest; this review is written by a guy who takes his G.I. Joe to heart. (My older brother and I spent many hours as wee lads playing with armies of G.I. Joes on our living room floor.) After seeing the 2009 film, I revisited the 80s cartoon series, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, and loved it. As I said before, I grew up on the show as a kid, but seeing it as an adult was deliciously nostalgic. The show was cheesy, sure, but it was a great deal of fun too. The 2009 film tried to capture it somewhat, but missed feeling like G.I. Joe at all. And that's the most important thing when you're trying to update something people are already familiar with in some form. You need to at least capture the heart of the show. Nearly every character was drastically changed, while other characters were given relations to each other that not only made no sense, but had nothing to do with the original canon. So, with many fan's complaints about The Rise of Cobra, Retaliation was treated as much as a reboot as it was a sequel. The end result is a tremendous improvement, but its execution is bittersweet in many ways.
The cartoon series often focused on different groups of Joes from episode to episode. For example, one episode would have Duke and Scarlett leading the pack, while another would have Flint and Lady Jaye in the lead. Sometimes all four would be involved in some form, but the constant? Cobra Commander. But in the same way that Duke and Flint would take their turn at the forefront of a given episode, Zartan and Destro (with the Baroness) would also sort of move in and out of the story. [Warning: some minor spoilers ahead] For Retaliation, Destro is dismissed pretty early on (in a way that leaves his fate very ambiguous), while Baroness isn't even mentioned at all (I guess we can chalk that up to her being imprisoned at the end of the first movie). The big unanswered question just might be "How in the heck did Storm Shadow survive being run through by a sword and dropped into freezing cold arctic water?" but they avoid even attempting to explain it and just assume an explanation isn't important and just have him suddenly appear in the film like nothing ever happened (y'know, like death?). Other heroes from the first movie, like Scarlett, Ripcord, General Hawk and Breaker, have a noticeable, unexplained absence here. In many ways, I have to admit that I just didn't miss them, but it's kind of implied that, when most of the Joes are killed in a devastating surprise air strike, that they could have been among the casualties. (Those characters hardly felt like G.I. Joe characters in the first movie, so their absence makes this feel oddly more like G.I. Joe, to me at least.) And finally, to answer everyone's question, Duke does indeed meet his demise fairly early on in the film. Channing Tatum was one of my least favorite cast members in The Rise of Cobra and when I first heard that he got offed in the movie last year, I was pretty excited. I'm not a fan of Tatum, but if you ever saw the original cartoon, it can probably be agreed that Tatum isn't a thing like the original Duke. Oddly enough, Tatum's interpretation of Duke in Retaliation is far more likeable than in Rise of Cobra. He and Dwayne Johnson--who plays Roadblock here--actually do look great on screen together, and they played off each other far better than Tatum did with Marlon Wayans as Ripcord. (Actually, there's no character in this movie that exists solely for comic relief, and I'm quite grateful for that.) However, it seems like a fairly odd choice to make Roadblock--a character who spoke in rhyme and was known for his skills as a chef in the cartoon--the new leader. In fact, Flint is extremely toned down from his chisel-jawed, take-charge animated counterpart here, so it's an odd role reversal. Flint was a leader originally, but he plays second fiddle here. Still, I appreciate the attempt to bring in some chemistry between Lady Jaye and Flint, and it's kept as subtle as it was in the show.
I admit I was pretty terrified upon hearing that Sommers was replaced with director Jon M. Chu. While I knew I was ready to wave goodbye to Sommers and his techniques, Chu's resume doesn't scream "action movie director." If you take a look at Chu's credits, you'll see he's primarily only helmed dance and music-themed films like Step Up 2: The Streets (2008), Step Up 3D (2010), and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (2011). The thought of a man with those credentials taking over an action/adventure franchise isn't exciting in the least (I was half-expecting SnakeEyes and Storm Shadow to have some kind of life-and-death dance-off... Yes, I'm kidding). However, Chu turned in an end product far more in line with what one would expect from a G.I. Joe movie than Sommers did. Gone are shot after shot after shot after shot with mostly green-screened backdrops and gone are those abysmal robo-suits Sommers insisted on putting in the movie just because he wanted them in a movie. But what do we have instead? Chu took many different elements from the Joe lore and lumped it together in an attempt to appease fans while making a sequel and a reboot at the same time. The result is a bit messy, but hardly hopeless. G.I. Joe: Retaliation still has a so-so script and somewhat hyper direction and editing, taking characters from point A to B to C before you even can digest exactly why they're doing what they're doing. However, Chu also keeps the pace moving in a way that keeps you from overthinking these kinds of things. It works for while you're watching it, but if you stop to think about it, you may just wonder how in the world they ever thought it made sense. But if you think about it as a live action cartoon, it's all here: Cobra's attempt at world domination is epic, captured characters make grand escapes, Zartan dupes many into believing he's someone he's not, SnakeEyes versus Storm Shadow, and big battle sequences. (Oh, and can anyone say H.I.S.S. tank?!) Cobra Commander finally sheds the stupid mask from the first movie and gets his signature silver faceplate (no matter how silly it might look in actuality), and we finally get to see the saboteur Firefly in action. But one of the highlights of the film may be the appearance of Bruce Willis as the "original" G.I. Joe, Joe Colton. Colton, in the lore, is meant to be the "G.I. Joe" from 1964, while the character was first given the name Joe Colton in 1989 in the comics (thank you, Wikipedia). Willis is always a fun screen presence and just seeing him join in the fun leant a special dash of nostalgia to the film. In truth, it probably wouldn't be too far off to view G.I. Joe: Retaliation as the kind of story and action that might evolve during an imaginative playtime session between some kids with their G.I. Joe toys. It's silly, amusing, but also quite entertaining--particularly if you are familiar with the characters.
The content for the film does take things a step back from Sommers' treatment. Roadblock says "Mother---" in the opening of the film, but it's cut off before even the start of the rest of the profanity could be used. Unlike Rise of Cobra, there are no uses of the "S" word and no severe uses of blasphemy (there is 1 "Oh my G-d," though). The rest of the language is mostly "h*ll" and several uses of "*ss." There is no significant sexual content, although Lady Jaye wears a small, tight jogging outfit to help distract a target they kidnap and interrogate, and later she's seen in a busty red dress and again while changing out of it, by way of a distorted reflection on a TV screen. The main red flag, for parents to be aware of, is the constant action that seldom gets graphic but is often very, very violent. While Rise of Cobra wasn't afraid to get pretty graphic, Retaliation only shows a little blood on some fallen victims, some burn marks on a character's back (and through its various stages of healing) and a little bit of blood in two instances when characters are shot. Otherwise, there's a great deal of sword-slashing and some stabbings, and lots and lots of gun play. Unfortunately, it's too intense for the younger kids who would probably be the main target audience for a movie like this (heck, there are enough toys for it too).
For the most part, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a leap above its predecessor. While I found The Rise of Cobra to be entertaining upon my first viewing of it, all of its biggest flaws have become painfully difficult to overlook with each time I've seen it since. There's potential for Retaliation to suffer the same fate from repeat viewings, but I found it to be a great deal of fun for this Joe fan with the first watch. It's considerably more faithful to the source material and feels unmistakably more like a G.I. Joe adventure, even if it's evident that the scope of the film had been scaled back tremendously. As anything other than a movie based around a cartoon series and toy line, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is an illogical mess, but for what it is, it's a popcorn movie for fans of popcorn movies and a step in the right direction for the Joes, even if there is a laundry list of improvements that could still be made. I'd still love to see what a strong director and script could mean for this franchise, but until then, we have G.I. Joe: Retaliation.
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 3/29/13)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Over a year after its original theatrical release date (which was pushed back to March 2013), G.I. Joe: Retaliation has finally arrived for home entertainment viewing. The movie released to digital retailers about two weeks in advance, but the film is also now available as a single disc DVD; a 3D Blu-Ray combo pack with a 2D Blu-Ray disc, DVD and Digital Copy; and a 2D Blu-Ray combo pack with a DVD and Digital Copy (Supposedly, Best Buy is offering an exclusive extended cut of the film on Blu-Ray as well). This will be a review of the regular 2D Blu-Ray combo pack. I love that Paramount is still offering digital copies in addition to the DVD and Blu-Ray included, and a code inside of the disc case gives you access to downloading a full copy of the movie from iTunes or other outlets (and includes "iTunes Extras" as well).
Seeing the film a second time on Blu-Ray just confirmed my feelings that Retaliation is by far a more faithful G.I. Joe story. Many viewers and fans were upset with some characters missing or being killed off in this movie, but, personally, I felt that Rise of Cobra was so far away from what made G.I. Joe "G.I. Joe" that starting over here--even if it meant killing off stars from the first movie--was the way to go. I had no emotional attachment to Tatum's Duke--he seemed completely different (and lamer) than the leader my generation grew up with in the cartoons--so it seemed like a minor loss to dismiss his character this time around. The Rock made a decent Roadblock, although I felt Flint and Lady Jaye could have been much stronger characters (D.J. Cotrona seemed like the weakest possible Flint they could have had. Cotrona had a confused look through most of the film). Still, this felt like the G.I. Joe movie my generation has always been waiting for. Ideally, though, I think the best way to really get the franchise right would be to start over yet again, resurrect characters they'd killed off, and approach it the same way director John M. Chu did. However, that's highly unlikely to happen. Retaliation just overall feels like a live action cartoon, and because of that it feels much more like "G.I. Joe" to me. Sure, it's pretty silly and over-the-top, but so was the TV show.
On the Blu-Ray disc itself, you're able to choose your side, G.I. Joe or Cobra, and it gives you a specialized menu for either when you choose them. However, that seems to be the extent of what sets each one apart from the other, as the extras are the same on both menus. There's a feature-length commentary from director Jon M. Chu and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, and the following extras:
Deleted Scenes (3:59) - There are three short deleted scenes that add up to about four minutes. "Pakistani President Assassinated" shows the act of what looks like Snake Eyes killing the Pakistani president, which is something only mentioned in dialog in the final film. "Interns" is a throwaway scene where we see the president (Zartan) walking and talking with staff and being approached by a couple really attractive female interns. It's kind of dumb and seemed more like it was meant for a Michael Bay film than this one. Finally, "Arlington" shows Block, Flint and Jaye visiting Arlington cemetery where they salute their fallen comrades. Some of the dialog here was reused in another scene in the finished movie.
G.I. Joe Declassified (1:12:56) - This is the meat and potatoes of the extras. It's over an hour of behind-the-scenes material about how they conceived and executed the live action G.I. Joe sequel. It's split up into several sections with a Play All option. "Mission Briefing" starts out talking about how director John M. Chu was brought on as director and reveals that Chu grew up a fan of the cartoon show and toys in the 80s. He said he went more for realism and keeping true to the essence of G.I. Joe, as opposed to the grander, more sci-fi first outing. They also address the design and look of this film. "Deployment" covers the military training for the cast and how they did some filming on location at NASA. "Two Ninjas" focuses on Snake Eyes and Jinx and shows how they built the dojo set from scratch. Here we hear from Ray Park about training for and playing Snake Eyes. They also talk about redesigning the (stupid) suit for Snake Eyes from the first film to make it look more faithful to the original design (which I felt they accomplished) (there are 2 uses of "bad*ss" here). "The Desert Attack" talks about how they shot the desert scene in Louisiana, and it talks in depth about Duke's death and how Tatum was on board with the idea. (There's some bleeped and non-bleeped profanity from Tatum while on the set and it sounded like he used "g*dd*mn" at one point.) "Cobra Strikes" addresses the design of the Cobra prison and how Byung-hun Lee wanted Storm Shadow to show more rage and be to be angrier this time around. We also hear from Ray Stevenson about choosing the character's accent for Firefly and the new approach to Cobra Commander (to be more faithful to the source material) (there are 3 uses of "bad*ss" here). They also talk more about filming at NASA and Jonathan Pryce playing Zartan as the president. "The Lone Soldiers" is about the trio of Roadblock, Lady Jaye and Flint minus after the loss of the rest of the Joes. It also focuses on Bruce Willis being cast as the original "Joe," Joe Colton. I was surprised that Bruce actually joined in the documentary to talk about playing Joe. He admitted to being a fan of G.I. Joe and how honored he was to play the part. We also hear a little about the history of Joe Colton the character here as well. "The Monastery" focuses on the fight between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow and features Ray and Byung-hun talking about their fight together. They then move to the actual action sequence between Snake Eyes and Jinx and the Red Ninjas as they run across the mountainside, and reveal that the concept for the scene was inspired by issue 60 of the G.I. Joe comic book from years ago. They talk about filming some of the on-location scenery and action in Vancouver, and then show lots of the green screen work used to finish the sequence. Finally, "Fort Sumter" shows the crew shooting at Fort Pike in Louisiana and how they built the war room set from scratch, the vehicles we see (including the classic H.I.S.S. tanks) and the showdown between Roadblock and Firefly (there are 3 uses of "bad*ss" here). Overall, it's a great set of featurettes.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 7/28/13)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: Duke and Roadblock tease each other a bit with some mildly off-color humor. One such example is when Roadblock's two little daughters run out of his living room, where the two Joes were sitting, and Roadblock teases Duke "That isn't the first time you made a girl run screaming out of the room." Duke replies, "That's not the first time I made two girls run screaming out of the room," to which Roadblock jokes that that was inappropriate; Lady Jaye wears a revealing jogging outfit in one scene, with a tight tube top, baring her stomach, and short shorts. She bends over to get the attention of a man they intend to question and he goes over to flirt with her; We see Lady Jaye in a cleavage-revealing red dress. Later, Flint unzips it for her and turns around sheepishly and tries not to watch as she slips out of the dress. We see her undressing by way of her very distorted reflection in a TV screen. We see there that she's wearing black underwear (but it's not that revealing).
Vulgarity/Language: 1 incomplete "mother--", 1 "Oh my G-d," 1 "d*mn," 8 "h*ll," 4 "a" words; Firefly gives two middle fingers to Zartan
Alcohol/Drugs: Some characters may be drinking at a banquet, but it's not focused on.
Blood/Gore: The warden has blood on his face after an explosion; A large explosion singes Storm Shadow's back and we briefly see the burned flesh on his back. Later, we see him getting some kind of treatment for it and we see a layer of white on his back (it's tough to tell if that's burned, dead skin or ointment of some kind on his back); Roadblock has a little blood on his face after fighting Firefly; A man who's been shot in the arm has a little blood on his sleeve; Storm Shadow wipes a little blood from his mouth; We briefly see two bullet holes in a man's clothing when he's shot twice; The president runs a knife across his face and we see, not blood, but his face distort to look like Zartan's and then back to being the president's face; We briefly see Cobra Commander's face looking very scarred from a fire that was shown via flashback in the first movie.
Violence: Extreme action violence: Lots of characters are shot to death; An air strike eliminates a whole platoon of soldiers. One runs to save a downed soldier and is then blown up in an explosion; We see a field littered with charred vehicles and dead bodies; Storm Shadow rams a man's head repeatedly into the glass of a giant test tube; Storm Shadow slices up some guys in a prison with swords and stabs one while he's on the ground (off screen); A motorcyclist sends in tiny explosive bugs that blow up parts of a prison, killing their guards. In one scene, a man investigates one in his hand and it explodes, killing him. The cyclist then leaps off his cycle and it breaks apart and collides with the front of the prison, blowing it open; Small grenades blow up, killing several people. The warden is shot and killed; Another explosion destroys part of the prison and Storm Shadow's bare back is burned; Storm Shadow sees bodies falling past his window and runs out of the room to find SnakeEyes there. The two then fight--first with Storm throwing throwing stars at Snake and Snake just shooting them to pieces--with swords and other martial arts style fighting; Jinx and SnakeEyes knock out Storm Shadow, bag him and carry him away from the mountaintop with a slew of ninjas in pursuit. Some fall to their deaths accidentally, others are cut down by Jinx and Snake. SnakeEyes then causes an avalanche, killing a group of ninjas; Roadblock and Firefly fight with Firefly nearly killing him, but he's hit by a car and scared off; The president is punched repeatedly; Zartan, as the president, drags a blade across his face to reveal his true face to the real president before it changes back; Roadblock jabs a needle with a sedative drug in it into a man's leg; A man is blown up; Colton pops out of the back of a truck with a machine gun and fires on some Cobra troops; Firefly and Roadblock spar with pistols while shooting at each other; Roadblock drives a tank of sorts, blowing up stuff and other tanks along the way; Roadblock wields a gigantic chain gun at one point; We see tons and tons of weapons hidden in Colton's house; Many nuclear warheads are shot into the atmosphere but don't make their targets; Cobra drops a bomb in London, decimating the city; Storm Shadow cuts a bullet in half that is shot at him and then throws his sword into a man's chest, killing him; And lots of other action violence.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.