G.I. Joe Retaliation (A Cultural Counterpoint)

This may be the only sincere, unapologetic positive review you read of G.I. Joe Retaliation.  Such a film is doomed from the start for any positive critical praise.  There are only two generally accepted views on this kind of film:

A) It’s terrible.

B) It’s stupid, but I liked it anyway.

Both opinions are the only type voiced by the general public.  I could dig out my old rebuttal that just because something is fun, it doesn’t make it dumb.  And just because something is boring, that doesn’t mean it’s smart.  I would honestly take a good, honest action-adventure film like Retaliation over a plodding snoozefest like Skyfall anyday.

But this is unfair to either film.  Skyfall isn’t an adventure film.  It’s a character study with an action-adventure shell, and while I might not like the film, I can respect what it’s trying to do.  It seemed to work for most people, even if I find it to be boring, dumb, and thematically inconsistent.  Just one guy’s opinion, right?  Then along comes something like Retaliation, an honest-to-goodness action-adventure film, and everyone either rolls their eyes or defends it by saying it’s stupid but they’re okay with that.

First of all, Retaliation isn’t stupid.  It creates a consistent universe and follows its own rules throughout.  In the universe of G.I. Joe, brave heroes and dastardly villains fight for the fate of the world.  They all have code names and gimmicks, and there is probably a lot more ninjas in this film than you would normally see in a military-inspired fantasy.  But that can only be a good thing.

I love the first G.I. Joe.  I LOVE it.  I don’t love it ironically either.  I think it is an excellent action film, and everything a movie based on a line of toys should be.  It manages to be faithful to the original concept for the most part, and it has some truly inspired action scenes, many of which were unique enough to warrant discussion of their own.  About the only misstep in the whole thing are some choices like making the Baroness sort of a confused bad guy / good guy and too much time devoted to Duke’s backstory.  But these are minor offenses for a film that dares to make adventure fun.

Retaliation isn’t quite as good as the first film.  Probably because it seems to have a noticeably smaller budget.  Also, none of the cast from the original came back (except for Duke who amounts to little more than a cameo).  More importantly, perhaps for the sake of drama and / or budget, neither the Joes or Cobra come across as powerful organizations out to save / conquer the world.  Rather, they seem like a handful of guys fighting over the fate of the world.

Fortunately, the film makes up for this by giving us characters that are genuinely awesome.  The theme of G.I. Joe has always been, to me, the idea of exceptional people (on both sides) working together to achieve their goals.  Both the Joes and Cobra come across as capable, and there is little doubt by the end of the films that Cobra Commander is indeed an evil genius who would require an entire team of specialists devoted to bringing him down.

I’m trying hard not to get into the Skyfall comparisons, but I can guarantee if Cobra Commander wanted M dead and only that depressed loser version of Bond that is played by Daniel Craig stood in Commander’s way, she’d be dead.  For all his creepiness, the latest Bond villain has the danger level of a toothless shark who only succeeds because everyone in his movie is incompetent.  Although he does succeed, so what the hell did James Bond manage to do in that movie anyway?

Off topic.  Sorry.

What really matters, more than anything else, for a film like Retaliation are the set pieces and feeling of adventure.  For me, they’re all winners, but any action scene with Snake Eyes is awesome.  The film’s best adventure piece, hands down, is an epic chase / ninja fight down a mountain as Snake Eyes and Jinx descend a mountain via ziplines and acrobatics while being pursued by a team of enemy ninjas.  The entire thing is sublimely unrealistic and so damned engaging in its creativity and style that if you don’t see it as the thing of beauty it is, I just don’t know how to convince you.

The ending, in comparison, is a bit less awesome, especially since Snake Eyes doesn’t play as big a part.  Still, when Road Block and Firefly have a gun fistfight (there’s really no other way to describe it) for the fate of the world, it is such a well-executed brawl that I found its small scale worked very well.

I could quibble over a few choices.  Bruce Willis’s role is completely superfluous.  Destro and the Baroness should’ve been recast and part of the film.  (It just doesn’t quite feel like Cobra without Destro and the Baroness.)  And I could’ve used more of the science fiction elements of the first film because to me, cool weapons and gizmos are a big part of what any film about a line of toys should have.

But the film works.  It’s fun.  It’s well-paced.  It has a sense of adventure, solid plotting, and cool characters.   Highly recommended.  No apologies.

Keelah Se’lai

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,



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  1. Rodney B
    Posted April 26, 2013 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Please tell me you liked the movie Battleship. Most people won’t give it a chance, but I thought it was great. The biggest argument against it I hear is that it’s a movie based off a board game. But so was Clue, and that was a good movie as well. I can’t wait to see what the heck they are going to do for The Hungry Hungry Hippos and Monopoly films.
    You give a competent writer a simple concept and they can create magical things.

    • A. Lee Martinez
      Posted April 26, 2013 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

      I did enjoy Battleship quite a bit. Actually, one of the more fun and unique science fiction adventures of last year. It was a good movie that took a concept I hadn’t seen a hundred times before (Navy vs. Aliens) and made a darned entertaining ride out of it.

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