BY AMBER KELLY-ANDERSON
Confession time: I adore over the top, shallow action movies. Although I can’t pinpoint why, if I had to guess, I’d say it’s the codenames. I love a codename and would love to have one of my very own. (But a good one. Lady Jaye? Lame. Storm Shadow? Awesome).
Despite the fact that most of these movies are throwaway bits of testosterone-fueled fluff, I’m game. When that action movie is based on a toy? Well, I’m still on board, but I usually lower my expectations even more. That doesn’t mean these types of films aren’t entertaining; they can certainly while away a few hours in the spirit of gleeful escapism and, for some, childhood nostalgia.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a Happy Meal of a movie. The plot has a cartoon-like simplicity: Cobra is going to take over the world and only the Joes can stop it, despite most of them getting killed during a massive strike early on. Returning from the first film are Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), who is still masquerading as the President (Jonathan Pryce, who is a better actor than this fare), and Storm Shadow (Byung-hu Lee, still sporting Justin Bieber’s haircut from three years ago) on the Cobra side. For the Joes, it’s Duke (Channing Tatum) and Snake Eyes (the always fantastic Ray Park). Both sides introduce new characters, such as villainous Firefly (Ray Stevenson) and alpha male Joe commander Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson). There are a few heavy handed jokes and timely references to North Korea (which may or may not be funny, depending on your point of view). Good triumphs, loud music plays, and all is right in the end.
The fact that Park, behind his expressionless Snake Eyes mask, is one of the most interesting things on screen speaks volumes about the movie’s style. Ditto the lack of explanation as to the disappearance of returning characters — these codenamed action figures are interchangeable plastic pieces who must look good while saying silly lines and throwing around blank stares attempting to pass for intensity. Even the replacement of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Cobra Commander is irrelevant, as the baddie (Luke Bracey) is hidden behind a reflective mask for 99.99 per cent of the film. And in what someone must have seen as a clever bit of stunt casting, Bruce Willis shows up as the original Joe to do yet another spin on his commando retired to the suburbs shtick (The Whole Nine Yards, Red).
It is perhaps the superficial nature of the movie that is its greatest asset. This second installment of the G.I. Joe live action films is no more and no less what you might expect. It’s a glossy, disposable, and has plot holes big enough to house a family of four, but in the end, does any of that really matter? Director Jon M. Chu borrows heavily from the Michael Bay handbook for action movies — endless ammo, big explosions and characters walking toward the camera in slow motion. The movie has nothing original to say, even down to its casting and dialog. However, for some people, such as the massive audience around me in the theater, that might just be enough.