'G.I. Joe: Retaliation' blows 'em up real good!
By Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
I cannot tell a lie: Of all of the comic book-based or -derived movies I have ever seen, "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" comes the closest to providing an actual comic book experience. (And, yes, I know that strictly speaking the "G.I. Joe" movies, of which this is the second, are toy-derived, not comic-book derived, but bear with me if you will.) An important distinction is that I mean the kind of comic books I, a 53-year-old man, grew up reading, not the fancy, mature-themed, contemplative or self-reflexive graphic-novel thingies of today. No, the most noteworthy features of "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" are big 3-D frames packed with ridiculous action, ridiculously buffed-up guys, ridiculous characters who address each other as "Cobra Commander" and "Snake Eyes" with straight faces and ridiculous florid dialogue. And a ridiculous world domination plot that lifts one of its central hooks from "In Like Flint," a spy movie spoof that, yes, I grew up enjoying.
All that being the case, I cannot tell another lie: I had pretty damn good time with this movie. It helped that I didn't/couldn't take it seriously for a second. The opportunism of its fantasy geopolitics to its gonzo Act III destruction of a major world city is little more than an efficient machine for setting up any number of elaborate gags and action sequences. As when the sole female of the "Joe" team, who's called Lady Jaye (I rather doubt the handle is a tribute to the late performance artist of the same name), dresses in athletic stripper gear to grab the attention of the secretary of state, whom the Joes have to kidnap to expose Cobra's evil plot. "If only my father could see me now," Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) reflects shortly thereafter. It's not what you think.
Carrying all of this ridiculousness on his formidably broad shoulders is Dwayne Johnson, whom circumstances force to take the "promotion" that fellow Joe Channing Tatum threatens him with early on. Byung-hun Lee and Ray Park (you may remember him as Darth Maul in those weird "Star Wars" prequels) bring the martial arts noise. Ray Stevenson's Firefly has bulk, malevolence and a ridiculous accent, and RZA, playing Blind Master, gives some of the worst line readings you'll ever hear in a movie. Bruce Willis turns up in the second half to act as the most laid-back motivational speaker this military team ever needed, and to deliver a pretty good variation on the old "Are you comfortable?" "I make a living" joke. (It's in the trailer, but it wears well.) Director Jon M. Chu has a solid if predictably frenetic feel for in-depth kinetics. The best eye-candy bang-for-your-buck dedication he brought to the equally silly "Step Up" movies he directed is here in force, and now he's got mega-explosions to work with! When it comes to big and loud, this is the movie to beat for at least this week. What makes it entertaining is its unabashed wallow in these qualities, so enthusiastic you could almost mistake it for innocent.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.