Serving as both a sequel to 2009's "G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra" and an effective reboot of the property, refocusing the adaptation to embrace its more cartoonish, oversized origins (as a synergistic comic book / toy / Saturday morning cartoon assault), "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" marks the return of a handful of original cast members (Channing Tatum, Ray Park, and Byung-hun Lee) and the addition of a slew of others (Bruce Willis, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and Adrianne Palicki).
The question, of course, is does this deliver in the action department? Jon Chu, most famous for directing the two most profitable entries in the "Step Up" franchise and the 3D Justin Bieber concert movie, is taking over from the venerable Stephen Sommers ("The Mummy"), is an unlikely choice for director. But is a creative shake-up just what the franchise needed?
Read on for the 10 things you need to know about "G.I. Joe: Retaliation." Because knowing is half the battle! (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
1. It Might Not Be a Bad Idea to Watch (or Re-Watch) the First Movie Much of the first half of "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" is spent busily untangling itself from the cumbersome mythology established by the original movie. This includes tying up loose ends, killing off a bunch of characters (and introducing a bunch more) and reestablishing the entire property as the kicky thrill-ride it deserved to be the first time out. The good news is that they mostly succeed; the bad news is that if you haven't seen the original (or instantly forgot it the second you left the theater), you'll probably have a tough time keeping up with what, exactly, is going on.
2. It's Really Funny This Time The first movie made halfhearted attempts at humor (mostly in the form of Marlon Wayans's more-annoying-than-funny comic-relief character), but it was never actually, you know, funny. "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" embraces comedy, with its tongue placed firmly in its cheek and jokes that actually connect. The tone is set early on when Johnson begins a rousing inspirational speech with, "In the immortal words of Jay-Z..." Surprisingly, the humor never deflates the danger or intensity of the action (the script was written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick of "Zombieland" fame).
3. The Action Sequences Are Truly Spectacular There was exactly one memorable action sequence in the first film, which involved the Joes wearing these crazy mechanical suits that made them look kind of like Daft Punk, as they chased a warhead through the streets of quasi-futuristic Paris. There are several memorable set pieces in "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," including one that had me picking my jaws up off the floor (more on that in a minute), and they start right from the beginning with a rescue mission behind enemy lines. Chu might have gotten his start photographing song and dance numbers, but he uses those musical rhythms and a keen knowledge of choreography to make geographically coherent, exciting set pieces. The best of which is, of course...
4. Get Ready to Love "Ninja Mountain" Before I saw "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," I was chatting with a colleague who had already seen it. I asked her what she thought, and her opinion was basically "meh," but then she said, "I loved Ninja Mountain." That was basically all she offered me. But I discovered what she was talking about soon enough: There's a scene where two of the Joes go to retrieve one of the bad guys in a secret mountain monastery, and a sequence breaks out that involves the Joes swinging from the mountain side, with ninjas coming at them from the other direction, all while they slice each other up and fall impossible distances to their deaths. It is, in short, really, really cool. The elevation and level of excitement puts it, comparably, to the Dubai sequence from "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol."
5. The Supporting Cast Is Great What's so great about "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" is that the supporting cast is almost uniformly stellar. Ray Stevenson, who memorably played The Punisher in "The Punisher: War Zone," shows up as bad guy Firefly; Walt Goggins from "Django Unchained" makes a brief appearance as the warden of a futuristic jail; RZA completes his destiny and plays a wizened kung fu master; Joseph Mazzello plays a young Joe named Mouse; and Jonathan Pryce gets to ham it up as an imposter President of the United States.
6. There Are Some Duds, Though, Too As amazing as the cast is, there are some absolute charisma vacuums in there, too, most notably D.J. Cotrona as Joe Flint and Elodie Yung as Jinx. The actors come across as having no personality and are cut from the movie almost entirely, which really does "Retaliation" a disservice because a) they are such prominent roles in the story, and b) everyone else is having such a great time.
7. If You Can, Try to See It in IMAX 3D Yes, it costs more (my midnight ticket cost $16.75 - thanks Moviefone!), but there is really something to be said about seeing "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" in large format 3D. The sound is really amazing (there are all these whooshing metallic noises, like from "Transformers") and the picture looks unbelievable, greatly enhancing sequences like the aforementioned Ninja Mountain bit. There's nothing small about "G.I. Joe: Retaliation." So treat yo self. Go big or go home.
8. Channing Tatum Is the Best When the release date was pushed back, it was assumed that the filmmakers wanted to expand the role of Channing Tatum, who has a much smaller presence in this one. This isn't true (they added an earlier sequence to the movie but left his story unchanged), and even a little bit of Tatum goes a long way. That man is a steam-powered charm machine and you cannot help but love him, no matter the size (or depth) of the role.
9. Even Thought It Was Delayed, the Final Product Is Far From "Troubled" Usually, when a movie is pushed back, it's because someone is panicking. But it turns out that Paramount and MGM probably wanted the time to market it properly and convert it to 3D. Because the end result is an absolute blast, one of the jazziest, wittiest big-budget action movies I have seen in a long, long time. The extra time in post-production, if anything, helped them make it tighter, leaner, and meaner. This thing is all killer, no filler.
10. Don't Expect a Lot From the Female Roles There might be two high-profile "Joes" who happen to be women, but the female roles are achingly underwritten, with Palicki in particular suffering. For anyone who has watched "Friday Night Lights," this role will be even more of a letdown -- she can do a lot more than wear a fancy dress (or, more revealingly, skimpy work-out clothes). Maybe there'll be more girl power in "G.I. Joe 3." Here's hoping.
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