Continuing where the previous movie, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) left off, Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) has now taken the place of the United States President (Jonathan Pryce) and has set into motion Cobra Commander's true plan. The only team that can stop them, G.I. Joe? Zartan uses his executive powers, with a little help from Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun) to frame and take out all save handful of members out. Can the surviving Joes stop Cobra Commander's ultimate scheme for world domination?!
SPOILERS YOU'VE BEEN WARNED!!
It's a rarity to enjoy a sequel to a subpar movie. I'll fully confess there were parts to G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra (2009) that I truly enjoyed. I saw a possible good movie amidst the problems with it. I get that the movie was more DiC G.I. Joe cartoon than the more fondly remembered Larry Hama run on G.I. Joe (published at Marvel during that time period, but now currently owned by IDW). However, its sequel is the total reverse. Yes there is an insanity to it, but a Hama-inspired one. You can clearly tell the writers of the movie, Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, and the director, Jon Chu are clearly die hard fans of Hama's run. The movie is a love letter to that series, from the banter of Roadblock (Dwyane “the Rock” Johnson) and Duke (Channing Tatum) to the way Cobra acts in such vile regard yet clearly they just love being evil.
If there are any negatives I have with the film, it's the out of nowhere Arashikage subplot introducing the Blind Master (RZA) and Jinx (Elodie Yung) with no hint of it in the previous film. Also the plot just zips by so quickly, that I kind of wish we got more of Jinx than just the Blind Master providing plot exposition and not having Snake-Eyes' sidekick (literally that's all she is in this). I almost wish we had a scene of her just giving us the exposition more than RZA who delivers it in an almost 70s badly dubbed Kung Fu film way. Though the plot redeems itself after the initial exposition with brief movements from Snake-Eyes (once again played by Ray Park) and Jinx showing a nice tender master/student relationship (the scene before and after the mountain battle were nice little moments between the two).
Then there's the added continuation of the Storm Shadow/Snake-Eyes subplot from the previous movie (which in part is the reason for the Arashikage subplot to begin with). That's when the whole Arashikage subplot really kicks off and just starts to get good as again the movie rips from the pages of Larry Hama's G.I. Joe comic. Then at the end of the movie it's dropped? I don't know Storm Shadow hands Snake-Eyes back his sword and I guess is a Joe now? It's a little bit unclear, but more on that particular issue I had later.
Of course, let's just get to the nitty gritty for people that know me want to know. What did I think of this version of Cobra Commander? Well, they still keep it being Rex from the original movie (and they briefly show that movie's design in both graphics at the movie's beginning and intro scene for the character). Though once he puts that chrome plated mask on (which isn't long after he's introduced), and when we get the full reveal of his new look. Well I couldn't help myself and let out a squee enjoying such a superior representation of the character.
This is pretty much an amalgamation of the three great versions of Cobra Commander. The campy dialogue of the DiC version (voiced by the late great Chris Latta), the absolute cunning and ruthlessness of the G.I. Joe Renegades/Resolute (Charlie Adler being a worthy successor to Latta), and the presence the comic version exudes. The performance is everything as a fan of Cobra Commander I could hope and dream. I even love that Chu knows he's got the perfect design for the character and flaunts it by having the character just power walk knowing he looks like a complete bad ass.
The only thing I wish is we had a bit more finality with the character than him just pulling out and exiting. That's it no final sequence of him cursing G.I. Joe or taking pot shots at the via the helicopter he's on (as shown in the trailer). Nope just him up and leaving. Still, the move was totally Hama's Commander, who always knew when to turn tail. Kudos to both Luke Bracey (the body) and Robert Baker (the voice) for pulling off a perfect representation of the character.
Everyone involved in the film looked like they were having the time of their lives filming this. Though he felt uninspired in the original movie, Channing Tatum exudes more care for the character of Duke in the movie than the previous (along with better chemistry with the Rock than Marlon Wayans). In actuality, you the viewer can actually care more when Duke gets blown to pieces (no last minute added coma revival addition to save him). Duke dies and quite horribly, sacrificing himself to save Flint (D.J. Cotrona). The moment does add a nice, "anyone can bite it attitude" the movie carries until the very end. Ray Stevenson (aka Titus Pullo aka still my favorite person who acted as the Punisher, sorry Thomas Jane) as Firefly is perfect as irredeemable slime-ball and fill Storm Shadow's boots as head lackey for Cobra.
For me though the top actors who steal the movie are Jonathan Pryce (Zartan/President of the United States) and Walton Goggins (Warden James). Both actors are obviously having a ball with their roles and do not chew, but eat the entire scenery they're in. They play their roles so over the top you can't help but chuckle at the way they deliver their lines and how they act . My personal favorite parts would be when Pryce's Zartan plays Angry Birds just after he's launched every nuclear missile and awaiting armageddon. For Goggins, it's how he acts when his latest “guest” arrives to his prison. Surprisingly, Pryce pretty much is Zartan throughout the entirety of the movie (Vosloo shows up for brief sequences and a flashback, but doesn't have an actual “vocal” role), which is the only disappointment I felt given I wish they had Zartan just drop the facade and return to his old self during the film's climax.
As for the five heads of the main cast (Johnson, Park, Adrianne Palicki, Byung-hun, and Bruce Willis): The Rock is a VERY charismatic and a great lead actor holding the boat down with the rest of the cast. Park and Byung-hun do what they does best in their portrayals of Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow with total bad assery (the moment with the two of them just owning the Cobra Troopers/Red Ninjas was a great film highlight). Palicki is great as Lady Jaye and is given just enough to make her role all the better than the previous females in the series (and Jinx). As for Bruce Willis, this is kind of what I was hoping he'd be in A Good Day to Die Hard, and honestly I'd rather consider this movie the unofficial fifth sequel than the actual horrific one we got earlier this year. He really isn't given much to do, but his scenes with both the Rock and Palaicki are just nice little moments.
If you're a fan of the Larry Hama-penned comics you're going to love this film. If you're a fan of the animated one-shot film G.I. Joe Resolute, you'll love this film. If you were expecting a crapfest on par with Michael Bay's Transformers movies, you'll probably find yourself surprised at how much better this film is compared to the previous one.
I'm not saying this isn't a perfect movie. There are flaws with it. Again, I just kind of wish Jinx got more scenes and the whole Arashikage subplot intro was handled better. Along with tiny bits, they're so petty and didn't distract me as much. Plus, I wanted to see more of the Jinx/Snake-Eyes sparring match given how much it looked like was cut from the actual sequence given the end credits for the movie and trailer footage we've seen of it. Also surprisingly, for a movie delayed a year, some scenes just felt so rushed or cut. It almost feels to me as if Chu was forced to remove some scenes to appease someone above him. Hopefully we'll get those extended scenes restored in the Blu Ray/DVD extras and not them just being put at the end credits.
Still, given what fans of the 80s have been given thus far, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is just the fix for all the bad adaptations we've been treated these past few and upcoming years (we still have yet another Michael Bay directed Transformers film en route and produced Ninja Turtles to live in fear of next year). Jon Chu did a really suprerb job for a first time action film director. The mountain fight sequence was a real highlight for me. Though I did see some flaws in the climax (I kind of confused just how many times the Rock in that small tank was facing/taking out various HISS tanks), until it became just a one on one match between him and Firefly. Regardless, if you're looking for better brainless fun you can't go wrong with this movie. If you're a fan of Larry Hama's Joe run you'll love this movie. With that much love put forth on the matertial, I can safely put my faith with Chu's future Masters of the Universe adaptation, which is in the works currently. Not only that, but here's hoping that he and the people behind this film continue to steer the franchise in this direction, because they really did a bang up job with it! There's just a love for the material here and that's really what the greatest element this film has going for it. Yo Jo.. no, I won't say that chant. No there's only one worthy catch-phrase to say after this review: COBRA!!!
4 out of 5