G.I. Joe: Retaliation (Paramount Pictures, PG-13)

film gi-joe_75It’s awful and awesome in equal measures, and as a guilty pleasure, you could do a lot worse.

  

film gi-joe_500

Nobody reading this is on the edge of their seats wondering if G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a good movie or not. I think we all know what’s up here, just like we did when the last film, The Rise of Cobra, came out. The question is whether or not it’s worth seeing. I don’t remember much about The Rise of Cobra. I remember it being as dumb as it looked, but my friends and I had a pretty good time with it. To be fair, it was the second Hasbro movie to come out that summer, and compared to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, anything else looked like Raiders of the Lost Ark. Now we have its sequel, which has added several cast members, including Bruce Willis, making his second appearance of the year. So going in, all this movie had to do was be better than A Good Day to Die Hard.

For about half an hour or so, G.I. Joe: Retaliation was riding that line of just barely better than A Good Day to Die Hard. Then, somewhere along the way, things changed. I could talk about how the plot is incoherent at best, or how the action scenes are absurdly illogical, but you know that. So instead I’m going to focus on the reasons that, when all is said and done, I actually liked this movie.

First off, this movie does almost a complete recast, and I think it’s for the best. Gone is Marlon Wayans; instead, we get Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. I love Dwayne Johnson. He is big and tough enough to believably handle action, and he is funny and charismatic enough that we like him, even when he’s playing a dower soldier. He went off the path for a little while, but I’m glad he’s back in big, cheesy action movies. I’ll say this: He got me to see a Fast and the Furious movie in the theater for the first time ever. I truly believe he’s one of our great current movie stars.

The actors who return are the correct choices. Ray Park is back as Snake Eyes, and his frienemy Storm Shadow is still played by the great Korean actor Byung-hun Lee. Channing Tatum has significantly less screen time, while Jonathan Pryce gets free reign to act like a crazy villain. The movie also has fun supporting turns by Ray Stevenson, Walton Goggins, and RZA. The fact that I like watching these people helps lessen the blow of seeing them in a G.I. Joe movie.

I think an important aspect of this movie is that it has a sense of humor about itself. The Transformers movies had an abundance of humor but none of it was funny, and none of it was at the expense of the characters. Here, no one is taking it too seriously, which is the right choice. Jonathan Pryce, in particular, has some deliciously terrible puns that had me laughing harder than I’ve laughed at just about any other movie this year.

Another thing about Retaliation that makes it fun is the action. The action features some spectacularly bad CGI, but the fact that none of it feels grounded at all kind of helps. The characters take place in their own unique world, and they work on that level. The film was directed by Jon Chu, who made the second and third Step Up movies. I can hear the scoffing already, but if you were to watch those movies, you would see that he has a great talent for shooting and editing dance sequences in a kinetic, exciting way. Those dance scenes are basically action scenes, and he carries over his style into G.I. Joe: Retaliation.

The trailers have done a good job of showing off a sequence in which ninjas swing from ropes high up in the mountains and fight in mid air with swords. The premise of this scene is inherently silly, but if you accept it for what it is, it is done as well as could be expected, and it’s actually a lot of fun. I think it helps to look at these movies as being for kids, which they really should be anyway. No one would watch the action in Kung Fu Panda or The Incredibles and criticize it for not being realistic. This action isn’t trying to be realistic, and it totally works.

Let me be clear: G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a bad movie. It has no hope of existing as a coherent whole. But if I look at it as a collection of elements and make a chart of elements I liked versus elements I didn’t, it’s not even really that close. Both G.I Joe films are immensely superior to the entire Transformers franchise. Both properties should be aimed at eight-year-old boys, but the Transformers movies are a bit too sleazy and crude. If I had an eight-year-old son, I would have no problem showing him G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and it would probably be his favorite movie ever. I think it’s awful and awesome in equal measures, and as a guilty pleasure, you could do a lot worse. | Sean Lass

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