Sunday, March 31, 2013

G I Joe Retaliation (2013) movie review

Overall verdict: 6/10

The Good: Returns to the less juvenile comic book roots of  the G I Joe story, numerous fan references to past franchise, takes itself seriously as an action movie, great cast chemistry,

The Bad: hectic cuts, franticly unclear camerawork during fights, cliched premise, too convenient plot revelations, under developed political themes, has little connection to the previous film

In the near future, a crack unit of anti-terrorism specialists are framed for a crime they did not commit. A few of them promptly escape from a devastating counterattack and flee back to Washington. Still wanted fugitives under the order of the President, the remaining G I Joes must uncover the truth and clear their name. Yes there are similarities to the premise of "The Losers" and "A-Team" but G I Joe Retaliation heaps in that familiar premise with a good dose of comic book action and blockbuster thrills. However, it's loyalty to the G I Joe comic books cannot make us overlook the convoluted narrative, bland characters and overall inappropriate directing style.

Following the events of the previous film "G I Joe: Rise of Cobra", The president of the united states has been replaced with an impostor working for the clandestine terror organisation "Cobra". Working from within the system, he frames the G I Joe unit, engineers the escape of Cobra's leader, Cobra Commander, and disarms the world thus leaving them powerless against Cobra.  The remnants of the devastated G I Joe unit, led by special agent Luke Hobbs.......I mean, "Roadblock" (who is hardly any different from other characters played by Dwayne 'the rock' Johnson) attempt to clear their names by pulling John Mclane out of retirement......I mean "General Joe Coulton" (the original G I Joe played by Bruce Willis) out of retirement. In the meantime, The black power ranger and yellow power ranger go seek out the White Ranger........I mean, the ninja Snake Eyes and his apprentice Jinx seek out Cobra operative Storm Shadow in order to learn Cobra's plans.

If G I Joe: Rise of Cobra captured the spirit of the cheesy 80s era Saturday morning cartoon, G I Joe Retaliation oozes with the feel of the grittier G I Joe comic books written by Larry Hama. The tone from the get go is one of desperation and tension. The stakes are high and there is little chance of the good guys winning, yet they will pull it off somehow. Sadly, that is not necessarily a good thing. Hama was enamoured with his ninja characters and it shows here in the movie. Cutting between the Joes trying to clear their name and the ninjas on their quest to the Himalayas is like cutting between 2 very different movies.

Only the most hardcore of G I Joe comic fans will "get it". The film is littered with references to the comics (such as the Blind Master of Arashikage Clan, the look of Cobra Commander, etc) that will be lost on normal audience. Furthermore, this movie feels less like a sequel and more like a reboot of the franchise. Other than the fact that the President is a Cobra impostor, almost nothing from the previous film is present in this sequel. The G. I Joe team is no longer the Global counter terrorism organisation with a vast underground base full of high tech gizmos. They are now a normal commando unit under America's jurisdiction using conventional weapons and tactics. All these inconsistencies raises baffling questions. How did Cobra turn into this vast underground terror organisation after it was obliterated in the first movie? Why does everyone acknowledge Cobra Commander as supreme leader when in the first movie he only declares himself as "Commander" to one person (who aside from a brief cameo, never has an active role in this movie).

While the story is a bit of a mess, the screenplay by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (writers of Zombieland) is very well written, mixing the occasional humor with down to earth banter that fits each character's personality. Dwayne Johnson works best with their script as his character of Roadblock shares such a marvellous chemistry with Channing Tatum's Duke. Jonathan Pryce shines as well playing both the President and his imposter. Sadly, the rest of the cast do not seem as invested in the story as the main leads. The bad guys seem underwhelming, the new G I Joe members Flint and Lady Jaye are overshadowed by Dwayne Johnson's screen presence and Bruce Willis is barely there. His character could have been played by anyone and it would not have made a difference. All in all, it was a good script handled badly. The narrative suffers the same fate; it has some good underlying political themes about America's international presence, attitude toward foreign intervention and nuclear disarmament. Yet these are only touch and go, never elaborated on or even satired. A little more "brains" in this blockbuster could have scored it more points.
"Step Up" director Jon Chu seems out of his element directing a big action blockbuster. You got some cool visuals here, especially one particular stand out battle between Cobra H.I.S.S tanks and Roadblock driving a rocket loaded "Ripsaw" assault vehicle. Seriously, this is the battle you reenacted countless times with your toys. Jon Chu manages to sap all the thrill from the combat scenes with his camerawork. His scenes are too tight and his camerawork too frantic for any of the action to shine. At least Stephan Sommers had a good grasp on how to showcase big action scenes with a good mix of wide angles and long shots. Chu loses them in blurry close ups of shoulders, elbows, and everything BUT the full action. Could it be a case of a director who is out of his element? He takes the screenplay and gives it such lousy pacing laced with a good measure of exposition. The dialogue heavy scenes seem long and drawn out. Convenient plot twists abound and one particular character has a logic defying switch of allegiance.

Tone wise, the film can never seem to decide if it is going for a more realistic feel or comic book action. You have high flying stunts on a cliff side, bullet time shootouts, over the top villainous plots to blow up cities and rule the world, high octane vehicle combat, but at the same time you have scenes of characters just shooting at each other from cover like soldiers do in real life. The ninjas got this whole "realistic touch" thing the worst. After a spectacular deflect-the-shurikens-with-bullets scene, the ninjas Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow proceed to........wrestle each other. That's right, no kung fu, no high flying kicks or lightning fast fist cuffs.

 In the end, G I Joe Retaliation comes across as an overindulgent piece of fan fiction. The creative team seems more obsessed with sticking as close to the visuals of the comic books than to give a deep, character driven narrative. Whichever "genius" got a director best known for street dancing movies and that Justin Bieber biopic to come and direct a big budget action blockbuster ought to be fired. Fans will no doubt be willing to overlook all the flaws on the single notion that it adheres closely to the source material these fans have come to love.
*****************Review End******************

Go For it: if you want a G I Joe movie adaptation that is most faithful to the famous 1980s G I Joe comic book series written by Larry Hama. Or if you like military sci fi films in general. Oh, and ninjas.
Avoid it: if you like your big budget action showcased in a clear concise manner, your stories to have more substance beneath the narrative or your sequels to at least acknowledge continuity.

Entertainment: B
Story: B-
Acting: B-
Characters: B-
Music: C+
Replay value: B-
"Brains": C-

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