MOVIE REVIEW: 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation' is nonstop, explosive fun

Get your weekend action fix with the thrilling G.I. Joe sequel.

Photo: Hasbro/Paramount Pictures/Promotional Photo

HONOLULU, March 28, 2013 – When it comes to live action interpretations of popular cartoons and comic books, diehard fans know all too well that in Hollywood truly satisfying silver screen spinoffs are rare.

In the case of the first modern G.I. Joe film The Rise of Cobra (2009) moviegoers had good reason to feel let down over the bizarre cinematic mutation of a series that many GenXers spent an entire Cold War childhood waiting to see a proper live action movie do justice.

Though G.I. Joe has always been a caricatured, tongue-in-cheek hyperbole of U.S. nationalism, its pop culture PSA-rife patriotism of “A Real American Hero” fighting the terrorist organization Cobra has grown on decades of young people as an icon of classic apple pie Americana. The 2009 film got the live action G.I. Joe business off to a trashy start, contaminated with the political zeitgeist of international collective security (“G.I. Joe” being rebooted as an acronym for “Global Integrated Joint Operating Entities”).

With absurdities including an Illuminati-like headquarters in Egypt beneath the pyramids and an excessive emphasis on gaudy wondertech rather than characters or plot, the first film seemed bushleague superficial and dangerously close to direct-to-video level cheese.

It’s generally a rule of thumb these days that “sequels suck” so viewers who agonized under The Rise of Cobra can understandably feel hesitant to watch Retaliation but the second film is an enjoyable romp that fully redeems the G.I. Joe franchise.

With a cast starring action movie must-have Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as well as D.J. Cotrona, Ray Stevenson, Bruce Willis, Adrianne Palicki, Elodie Yung and many more (including even a surprise cameo by my all-time favorite politico and former Clinton campaign operative, James Carville) both the acting capital and the on-screen character dynamics of the G.I. Joe sequel are an exponential leap past the first film.

G.I. Joe for grown ups and D.C. politicos

The plot picks up where Rise of Cobra left off but immediately the viewer is met with a much more serious, less “watch for the vehicles that will be available as licensed products in toy stores” style that immerses the viewer in a more conventional, closer to real world action film.

The viewer knows from the first film that the movie’s fictional President (Jonathan Price) is an impostor sent to undermine American affairs, but was left at the end of Rise of Cobra to guess what misdeeds he would work behind the scenes. Retaliation does not disappoint in its continuation of the story, preying effectively upon the long-running American paranoia that foreign forces could insert a Manchurian candidate and a political fifth column into U.S. government.

If you’ve been paying attention to real world events and listening to some of the exchanges during heated Capitol Hill confirmation hearings, you’ll instantly pick up on the political elements in Retaliation.

Even as the Obama Administration’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s commitment to the Global Zero anti-nuclear “illustration” drew sharp accusations from suspicious legislators as an scheme to disarm the United States while enemies of the West proliferate weapons of mass destruction, Retaliation hits a raw nerve close to current events by portraying one of the goals of the imposter president is to convince the world to abolish nuclear weapons. (I knew the minute the story crossed that line I was going to love the rest of the movie.)

The imposter president of Retaliation has also abused the powers of his office to order devastating attack helicopter raids in Pakistan – again skirting the real life boundaries of President Obama’s drone war in Southwest/Central Asia – and having allowed the G.I. Joe special forces team to perish, the Manchurian POTUS even uses the resources of his high office to attach the Cobra terrorist organization as an affiliate of the U.S. Government, adding to the political intrigue.

Retaliation brings the franchise back towards its all-American hero heritage with Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) who in the film is portrayed as a soldier who grew up out of a tough hood, cleaned up and “joined the Joes to serve.” All of the characters in Retaliation are loveable and add wonderful chemistry that isn’t annoying or detracting, even plot-expendable minor characters like the warden of a secret U.S./German blacksite prison, dynamically portrayed by actor Walton Goggins (Predators, The Bourne Identity, The Shield).

In most action films, minor characters are plot exploitation devices for the movie to show how good a bad guy is at killing or how awful a weapon is and are ruthlessly cut down in senseless, ridiculous ways. Goggins’ character is a perfect example of how enjoyable Retaliation is crafted, as his short-lived character harangues Cobras in stellar fashion all the way to his end.

The movie also incorporates its share of self-depreciating humor and countless references to other action movies and video games, sprinkling the film with Easter eggs as fanservice to the most hardcore fanbois and fangurls. One notable Easter egg comes in the opening scene which portrays a computer generated briefing sequence that sums up the first movie and the story events that followed in-between the films, designed in a flashy blue wireframe style reminiscent of the pre-mission cutscenes from the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series. Moments later, the characters are shown in a living room playing Modern Warfare 3. (As I said, you had to be a fanboi to pick that one out.)

Overall, audiences will thoroughly enjoy the heart-pounding action, stellar special effects and non-stop supply of fun that Retaliation brings. This is the movie that redeems the series and one you won’t want to miss this weekend. “Got to get tough, go Joe” … to the movies!

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Danny de Gracia

Dr. Danny de Gracia is a political scientist and a former senior adviser to the Human Services and International Affairs committees at the Hawaii State Legislature. From 2011-2013 he served as an elected municipal board member in Waipahu. As an expert in international relations theory, military policy, political psychology and economics, Danny has advised numerous policymakers and elected officials and his opinions have been featured worldwide. Now working on his first novel, Danny resides on the island of Oahu.

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