Today, I'm a touch sad because I think the 11-year-old boy in me may be fading away. When I was 11, I would have flat-out loved a movie like "G.I. Joe: Retaliation." It's got big action; some cool stunts and special effects; awesome vehicles and weaponry; upright, heroic good guys, and downright evil bad guys. And, truthfully, the forty-something me DID enjoy all of that. But that guy also needs some decent dialogue, some good acting, and at least a plot twist or two to qualify something like this as worth seeing. "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" has none of that.
The sequel picks up a while after the original. The evil Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey) and Destro are imprisoned. Their Cobra terrorist organization has been seemingly neutralized. Duke (Channing Tatum) still leads the G.I. Joe forces, and Jonathan Pryce is still hiding his British accent as the U.S. President. Only now the character is hiding another big secret.
He's been replaced by Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), Cobra's master of disguises. After a successful opening mission to retrieve a stolen nuke, Zartan thanks the Joes and then goes all Order 66 on them. He declares them enemies of the state and eliminates pretty much all of the elite fighting force except for Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), Flint (D.J. Cotrona), and Snake Eyes (Ray Park).
Once the Joes are effectively neutralized, Cobra Commander is freed from prison by Storm Shadow (Byung-Hun Lee), an ultimate weapon code-named Zeus is deployed into satellite orbit, the American flag is removed from the White House and replaced with the Cobra flag, and … and … Olympus has fallen! Olympus has fallen! Olym-
Er, sorry. Wrong movie.
At any rate, "Retaliation" is a touch confused about what it wants to be. At times, it does play like a big-screen Hasbro toy commercial with characters that are more like action figures than flesh-and-blood human beings. At other times, it's a red-blooded, jingoistic, American war movie. Then, at other times, it's like one of those martial-arts, wire-fu flicks with loads of ninjas flying all over the place.
In addition to an absolutely stunning action sequence involving ninjas fighting on the side of a mountain, the moments where the movie works best for me is when it's attempting to be a sort of "Expendables 2 ½" with Bruce Willis as a trigger-happy general, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson body-slamming guys and firing the kind of guns usually mounted on the side of helicopters, and other minor action heroes like Tatum and Park and Vosloo duking it out for screen time.
There is a ton of death and not-so-accidental dismemberment on display, but the PG-13 rating keeps it noticeably bloodless throughout. That's good and bad for the young boys who will make up this film's core audience. Good in that they won't be subjected to all kinds of gore, but bad in that they'll be given a completely unrealistic portrait of warfare.
But that's kind of what the "G.I. Joe" franchise has always been about … i.e. the building up of the U.S. fighting soldier. Honestly, "Retaliation" is a better ninja movie than American war flick. But at 94 minutes, it's pretty darn lean and certainly never boring. Like I said, if I were 11 (or a severely stunted adult), I would really get into this. Because I am not, I can't rate it any higher than a 4.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)