One of my heroes, legendary movie critic Roger Ebert, died last week. While I was watching “G.I. Joe: Retaliation”, I thought about something Ebert once wrote. This is how he opened his review of Ridley Scott's totally unnecessary 2010 remake of “Robin Hood”: “Little by little, title by title, innocence and joy is being drained out of the movies.”
He was right, and I think one of the reasons why that is happening is because movies have become so expensive to produce that studios aren't willing to take any risks. They want recognizable brands with built-in appeal, which is why we get movies like “G.I. Joe: Retaliation”, a sequel to a movie based on a popular line of toys manufactured by Hasbro. I guess we shouldn't be surprised when the results are uninspired.
“G.I. Joe: Retaliation” was supposed to have come out almost a year ago, which is usually a good indication the movie we'll eventually see is a turkey. (A rare exception is “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”, which also got delayed but is terrific.) Another bad sign: Channing Tatum, the star of the first “G.I. Joe”, exits the new movie after about 15 minutes. When a major actor disappears from a sequel that fast, it usually means he's unhappy about his involvement and is probably contractually obligated to make an appearance.
Tatum spends most of those 15 minutes blowing stuff up real good and kidding around with an old army buddy, the aptly named Roadblock (played by the wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne Johnson). These guys aren't exactly the world's greatest comedy duo; giving them all the jokes is kind of like when Ed Wood gave all the dialogue in “Plan 9 from Outer Space” to the unintelligible Tor Johnson.
The first “G.I Joe” is no masterpiece. In fact, it's about the most poorly written franchise starter I can think of (every other scene is a flashback). But director Stephen Sommers (the “Mummy” movies) proved he knows how to fill the screen with excitement. The director of “G.I. Joe Retaliation”, Jon M. Chu, has mostly made music- and dance-oriented movies like “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never”, “Step Up 2: The Streets” and “Step Up 3D”. He fails to bring much rhythm to the action scenes here, though I enjoyed a scene that shows ninjas zip lining from one snowy mountain to the next.
The original also had a pretty cool performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Cobra Commander, but he apparently wanted even less to do with the sequel than Tatum did; the part has been recast and reduced to a walk-on. Losing Gordon-Levitt and gaining Bruce Willis isn't a bad trade, but Willis, playing “the original G.I. Joe,” has been given precious little do here. In the movie's sole attempt at a character arc, he's portrayed as an old-school sexist who changes his mind about women in combat when he fights alongside a covert ops specialist named Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki). But his character's growth has been so thinly conceived it barely registers.
Page 2 of 2 - As a child of the '80s who spent a lot of time creating elaborate battles between my Star Wars and G.I. Joe figures, I'm certainly not opposed to the idea of a G.I. Joe movie, even one with one-dimensional characters and hackneyed dialogue. (Those same qualities didn't keep me from being an avid viewer of the cartoon series that played from 1985 to '86.) But don't audiences want more from movies than the same old titles and situations recycled over and over? “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” ends basically the same way the original “Star Wars” did, with parallel action scenes cut together and medals being handed out to the victors. As the late, great Ebert noted, what's missing this time around is the joy.
“G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is playing this weekend at the Augusta Historic Theatre, 523 State Street. Showtime is 7:30pm on Saturday and 2pm on Sunday. Tickets are $6.
Stephen is an AHS graduate who studied film and journalism in college. His favorite G.I. Joe toy was Destro. He lives in Wichita.