G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 4/21/13
Director: Jon Chu
Visual Effects: Industrial Light & Magic, Digital Domain
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Channing Tatum, Adrianne Palicki, Byung-hun Lee, D.J. Cotrona, Ray Park, Elodie Yung, Jonathan Pryce, cameos by Bruce Willis, Arnold Vosloo, RZA

With Zartan in the White House posing as the President (Jonathan Pryce), he frames the G.I. Joes for treason and exterminates them with extreme prejudice. Only three Joes manage to survive the massacre: Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), and Flint (D.J. Cotrona). Oh, and Snake Eyes (Ray Park). He happened to be MIA for the first half of the film when everything came down. Together, they attempt to free the President and put an end to Cobra Commander's bid for world domination. Amidst of all this chaos, Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) is looking to settle a score with Zartan and forms an uneasy alliance with his life-long rival, Snake Eyes, until the dust settles. The good guys finally triumph, but the cost is high and the collateral damage is astronomical (London gets wiped off the map).

A considerable improvement over "G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra" (2009), with a much more mature and serious treatment. All of the silliness from the original has been jettisoned in favor of more grounded (although still outrageous) action, and the action really delivers. Lots of things blow up real good, and the martial arts combat sequences are nicely executed. Unfortunately, the combination of queasy-cam and quick cutting reduces the impact of the hand-to-hand fight scenes, making them frustrating to watch and hard to follow. Byung-hun Lee delivers a surprisingly strong and effective performance, and his athleticism is mesmerizing to watch. Dwayne Johnson is as charming as ever and his personality is perfect for the role and the franchise. Adrianne Palicki fills the obligatory girl-with-gun/computer-nerd/smoking-hot-sex-bomb role and is convincingly tough. She looks great when she's kicking ass, but her sex appeal plummets when she tries to be sexy and wears WAY too much makeup. Seriously, the ponytail and neutral palette look much, much better than the Whore Of Babylon look.

Helping out Snake Eyes is a female swordswoman named Jinx (Elodie Yung), who is talented and pretty, but sorely underutilized. And then there's Bruce Wills, a retired general who decides to help out Roadblock's team. It's certainly not a stretch for him, but he's delightfully charming and abrasive, and his presence adds a certain amount of old school appeal to the picture. The most laughably inappropriate and out of place casting is rapper RZA as an old ninja master. His scenes just bring the entire production to a screeching halt, leaving you to wonder why the hell he was involved. It's like his scenes were shot for a completely different movie.

Thematically, the film feels misplaced in time, and recalls the action formula of the late 70's and early 80's. It has a bit of a James Bond feel to it, as Cobra and SPECTRE are effectively interchangeable. While the tone is somber and serious, it never becomes as dark and grim as it could, which lightens the dramatic load and allows the film to focus on being an entertaining thrill ride, with exhilarating heroics and good guys vs. bad guys on a grand scale. Definitely better and more fun than I was expecting or hoping for, which left me with a big smile as I left the theater.