'G.I. Joe: Retaliation' exemplifies why being loud, fast and action-packed doesn't mean you
can't also be dull
G.I. Joe: Retaliation Paramount Pictures
Director: Jon M. Chu
Screenplay: Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jonathan Pryce, Adrianne Palicki, Byung-hun Lee, Ray Stevenson,
Walton Goggins, Elodie Yung, Channing Tatum and Bruce Willis
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 50 minutes
Opened March 28, 2013
(out of four)
The lazy thing to say about G.I. Joe: Retaliation is that it's boring. I mean, it is boring, but
relying on that kind of oversimplified terminology is cheap film criticism and I know it. So
shame on me.
But allow me to at least explain why that description was one of the first things that popped in
my head while I watched this movie. Keep in mind that among the films I consider the most
boring I have ever seen are Transformers, the second Transformers, and the third Transformers.
So that, for your frame of reference, is where my definition begins - with a certain type of movie
that some may protest could not possibly be boring because there's so much happening.
Retaliation doesn't quite offer the same disengaged sensory bombardment as the aforementioned
trio, but it does spark the same kinds of counter-arguments to my claim. But look! There's so
much action! And explosions! And flying and shooting and stunts! And it's so fast-paced! All of
that is true, and in fact the action is executed with sure-handedness by director Jon M. Chu, who
I can at least admire for his ability to navigate space during certain setpieces, and for his
appreciation of body and camera movement.
But what the movie itself suffers from is a lack of identity, thought or personality. It's little more
than a collection of action scenes and setups molded around a flimsy excuse for a narrative, with
no particular aesthetic to propel it forward. It just sits there killing time for two hours, checking
off plot markers beat by beat, hoping all the noise and action will distract us from the fact that
none of it has any purpose. Be it through the filmmakers' lack of ingenuity or the studio's artistic
control over the property, the film is cooked up in that all-too-familiar teal-and-yellow color
scheme, a tacit admission that it doesn't even want to set itself apart. It's only trying to be this
week's Big Dumb Action Movie; the more anonymous, the better.
But the Big Dumb Action Movie umbrella is a broad one, and includes good and bad movies
alike. The good ones know how to express their Big Dumb Action Movie intentions, and put
them to good use. The bad ones, like G.I. Joe: Retaliation, simply know how to go through the
Consider the "nanomites" - a major plot point of the
first film that is continued in this sequel - which the odious Zartan has injected into his body in
order to take on the physical appearance of the U.S. President (Jonathan Pryce). At the very
least, that's a potentially cool sci-fi idea that a clever filmmaker could have fun with. Or, on that
same note, the very idea that the president is an impostor - that's the kind of cartoonishly silly
concept ripe for cartoonish indulgence. But no; in the hands of Chu and screenwriters Rhett
Reese and Paul Werrick, it's merely a plot point used to get from one action scene to another.
The movie's primary selling point, aside from the reinforcement of the G.I. Joe brand, is Dwayne
Johnson, who takes over as the face of the franchise. Look, I love seeing Dwayne Johnson being
a badass as much as the next guy, but even his presence can't inject any energy into this thing.
He plays Roadblock, the de-facto leader of the three surviving members of the G.I. Joes, who
have been framed for treason and slaughtered by Impostor President Zartan. Together, the three
enlist the help of a retired general (Bruce Willis) to avenge their fallen comrades, redeem the
G.I. Joes' good name, destroy Zartan and the recently escaped Cobra Commander, and stop a
The script plays out like a patchwork job, with scenes seemingly inserted at random in order to
artificially give its characters "motivation" - or, worse, "depth." One particularly egregious
scene introduces the idea that Flint (D.J. Cotrona) has a crush on his fellow Joe, Lady Jaye
(Adrianne Palicki) - a fact that is never again brought up for the rest of the movie. In that same
scene, Jaye gives a, uh, heart-wrenching speech about joining the armed forces in order to make
her disapproving father proud. And just like that, the film thinks it has developed some
characters. Easy, huh?
The truth is a movie with these intentions doesn't need to saddle its characters with superficial
emotional baggage. But, like any other movie that doesn't know quite what it is, Retaliation
hedges its bets. Here's a movie that can't even figure out what to do with the science-fiction
concepts the entire movie is built around, and it still has time to bother with paying lip service to
character motivation? What a complete waste of everyone's time.