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Five Things to Know About G.I. Joe: Retaliation

When Paramount initially announced last year that they would be moving G.I. Joe: Retaliation -- the sequel to 2009's sort-of hit The Rise of Cobra (which earned $150 million domestically, but cost close to $200 million to make and market) -- from its mid-summer berth to the following March, the common assumption was that the studio was running from an impending flop. In hindsight though, the move qualifies as a stroke of genius. Facing a packed line-up of back-to-back blockbusters that included The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, Retaliation was in danger of getting lost in the summer shuffle. But now at the end of March -- with A Good Day to Die Hard in the rearview and Iron Man 3 over a month away -- it has the big-budget action movie sequel playing field to itself. So the movie's financial success is seemingly assured. It's creative success? Well... that's a different story. Before you too join the ranks of the millions of moviegoers screaming "Yo, Joe!" this weekend, here are five things to know about Retaliation.

This Ain't No Cartoon... And That's Too Bad
Let's get this out of the way right upfront: The Rise of Cobra was a lousy movie, filled with nonsensical story points, far too much digital clutter and performances that were either as stiff as the high-tech outfits the Joes had to wear (Channing Tatum and Rachel Nichols) or manic and vaguely embarrassed (Marlon Wayans and Joseph Gordon-Levitt). That being said, director Stephen Sommers did approach the material with the right tone of gleeful ridiculousness; he clearly wasn't taking any of this Hasbro-based nonsense seriously -- a welcome change from Michael Bay's absurdly heavy-handed Transformers pictures, which treated the toy line and '80s cartoon series as if they were holy writ -- and didn't think audiences should either. While Retaliation would never be mistaken for a serious drama, the Jon M. Chu-directed sequel abandons Rise's blatant goofiness and chases after more grounded action movie gravitas. Gone are the James Bondian underwater lairs, the Iron Man-like strength-and-speed enhanced armor and the Bourne-on-speed foot chases through the streets of Paris, replaced by more ordinary (and dull) guns and ammo-based set-pieces. (Save for one sequence, which we'll get to in a moment.) The Joes themselves are more ordinary (and, again, dull) as well; in the previous film, they were basically superheroes. Here, they're more or less ordinary grunts with lots of muscle and firepower, but no enhanced abilities. That wouldn't be a problem if they came armed with actual personalities, but these Joes are flat, one-dimensional stick figures trapped in an equally flat, one-dimensional world.

The Story is Beyond Stupid
I know, I know -- who goes to a G.I. Joe movie expecting anything besides mindless action? Fair enough, but even mindless action has to have a baseline amount of mental energy behind it. The "plot" (and I use that term loosely) commences with the assassination of the Pakistani prime minister, which plunges that nuclear-armed nation into chaos. So the President (Jonathan Pryce, whose Commander-in-Chief isn't even given a last name... that's how lazy the movie is) -- who, as you may recall from the closing minutes of the previous movie, isn't the real President, but a Cobra-affiliated imposter -- sends the Joes, led by Tatum's Duke, into the region to recover a missing warhead. Turns out that mission was an elaborate ruse for a large-scale assassination attempt that decimates the entire unit save three: Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki, who -- based on the way the camera leers at her -- was cast solely for her cup size). Going into hiding, the trio attempt to get to the bottom of who was behind the attack, even as Cobra continues to mount their comeback, dispatching freelance ninja Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) to rescue the imprisoned Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey, replacing Gordon-Levitt). All of this nonsense eventually builds to a big showdown at Fort Sumter of all places, where the leaders of the world's nuclear nations (including North Korea for some reason, even though they'd never be welcomed at -- or accept an invitation to -- such a summit) have been assembled and the faux-President reveals his true face... only to be set upon by the Joes, who have welcomed founding member General Colton (Bruce Willis) into their ranks. But honestly, none of these details matter -- they're just another element in the movie's relentless bombardment of sound and noise.

Jon Chu Should Stick to Dance Movies
It was, you might say, an unexpected move on Paramount's part to hand Retaliation off to a director whose previous experience was limited to a pair of Step Up dance extravaganzas (Step Up 2 and Step Up 3D) and one concert film/promotional video (Justin Bieber's Never Say Never). But these kinds of unlikely match-ups can sometimes result in good-to-great movies -- see Sam Mendes's Skyfall as one recent example. Unfortunately, Retaliation is closer to a Quantum of Solace misfire, with Chu displaying as little aptitude for the Joes's heroics as Marc Foster showed choreographing Bond's spy games. Where Sommers at least brought a sense of scale to the original film's spectacle, Retaliation is small, interchangeable potatoes. The entire movie appears to take place within a three-mile radius around the same studio backlot and the interior scenes are so clearly shot on soundstages, it's like a high school production of a G.I. Joe movie. And while Chu might know how to shoot dance movie action, he can't do action movie action. The set-pieces are a blur of quick cuts, amped-up sound effects and blazing guns firing blanks. It's too chaotic to be legitimately exciting.

The Rumors of Reshoots Were Just Rumors
When Retaliation was originally pushed back, speculation ran rampant that the studio was planning major reshoots, either to improve the action sequences or find a way to make room for more Tatum, who was coming off a monster year between 21 Jump Street and Magic Mike. Based on the finished product, however, neither of those things happened. The action still stinks and Tatum still exits the movie early on... and boy, does he look happy about that. The filmmakers didn't even take the opportunity offered by the lengthy delay to at least attempt to clear up some of the more blatant plot holes and inconsistencies. For example (and these will make more sense after you've seen the movie... if you dare), while Roadblock is "dead," who is watching his little girls back at home? What's the deal with General Colton calling Jaye "Brenda" for half the movie? Why is Walton Goggins's prison warden -- who is keeping Cobra Commander under lock and key -- written and performed like a bad guy even though he's supposed to be guarding bad guys? For that matter, why is Walton Goggins in the movie at all?

There Is One Legitimately Awesome Action Sequence
So much of G.I. Joe: Retaliation is painfully generic, it's perhaps no surprise that the movie's single best sequence is also its most outlandish and cartoony. While Roadblock, Flint and Jaye are off doing their thing, their erstwhile colleague Snake Eyes (Ray Park) is starring in what's essentially a completely different movie, one that finds him and his right-hand ninja Jinx (Elodie Yung) tracking down Storm Shadow and return him to their Blind Master (The RZA... yes, you read that right) to answer for a past crime. This mission requires them to infiltrate the mountain temple where ol' Stormy is recuperating and battle an army of sword-wielding baddies while zip-lining from cliff to cliff. Although Chu's direction of this sequence is still on the clunky side, at least he's thinking big for a change. It's the one sequence in the movie that actually fits the size of a theater screen instead of your television. Sadly, not long after this scene ends, Snake Eyes and Jinx join the rest of the team and almost immediately lose their cool factor. If Retaliation's almost guaranteed success paves the way for another Joe feature, here's hoping it's a one-off solo adventure for Snake Eyes.

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