Those of you who saw GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, take heart. Don’t be afraid. That sorry excuse of a movie based on a beloved Hasbro toy is in no way, shape or form related to GI Joe: Retaliation, except for the fact that the prequel’s conclusion, in which the U.S. president (Jonathan Pryce) is kidnapped and cloned, is integral to the current flick’s premise. GI Joe: Retaliation is pure fun, with a bit of stealth patriotism woven into its red, white and blue schematic.
The Joes, the world’s elite fighting unit, are sent into Pakistan following the rogue assassination of that country’s prime minister, in order to secure nuclear warheads. The mission is a success, until the Joes, led by Commander Duke (Channing Tatum), come under sneak attack and are obliterated, with the exception of Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) and Flint (D.J. Cotrona). They grieve briefly for their fallen comrades before switching gears to exact revenge—and figure out why their own government apparently ordered the hit. The pseudo-president (also Pryce) is actually Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), associate to a Cobra commander (Luke Bracey) bent on world domination. (For those who can’t read and chew gum at the same time: GI Joes = good; Cobra = very very bad.) Pryce has a field day playing a very familiar type of politician who enjoys immense popularity even as he undermines the very democratic principles he’s supposed to be upholding; screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick nicely underscore the duality of this public-private persona. Enlisting the help of retired Col. Joseph Coleton (Bruce Willis, clearly having a good time), whose pantry is more Top Assassin than Top Chef, our scrappy band of patriots seek to infiltrate the Oval Office before it’s too late to save vast portions of the planet.
GI Joe: Retaliation has the requisite crash-and-burn scenes, and while they’re gripping, the top award for spine tingling chills is a duel between good and evil Ninja warriors rappelling from gargantuan vertical slabs of Himalayan rock. What makes this movie tick, however, isn’t so much the bang-bang quality of the action sequences, but the demonstrable human element. The relationship between Roadblock and Duke is beautifully, if understandably briefly, limned to make us understand that the term brothers-in-arms means so much more than belonging to the same unit. We get enough of a sense of the human element, of families and neighborhoods left behind, not to mention a persistent belief in our country’s promise, to make the final showdown that much more meaningful. And that makes GI Joe: Retaliation a bit more than the old fashioned matinee actioner it appears to be.