All film fans have their guilty pleasures: movies we know fall short of cinematic greatness, but for whatever reason, we still love them anyway. Maybe it’s the over-the-top alien invasion movie “Independence Day” with its endless explosions, or maybe it’s “Armageddon,” featuring Bruce Willis and Co.’s quest to destroy a giant asteroid headed for Earth. For me, one of my favorite film guilty pleasures is 2009’s “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.”
“G.I. Joe” wasn’t fondly received by critics. With only a 30 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a modest $150 million at the box office, it certainly wasn’t the biggest or the most respected film of 2009. But I must confess that I quite thoroughly enjoyed it. I was a fan of the original 1980s cartoon — which was cheesy and campy but never failed to be fun — and for me, the G.I. Joe movie captured that same spirit. I can’t defend it as a great film, but I had a good time watching it in the theater, and I hoped its sequel would be just as much fun.
“G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” released March 28, serves as both a sequel to the original film and a reboot of the franchise. When a mission goes bad, the “G.I. Joes” (a nickname for an elite force of U.S. soldiers) are blamed for the disaster and labeled as traitors. Three “Joes” — Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) and Flint (D.J. Cotrona) — go into hiding and search for a way to clear their names. They figure out the Joes were actually framed for the botched mission by their arch-nemesis, Cobra Commander. They cook up a plan to defeat Cobra Commander’s ultimate plot, which is to convince various international leaders to destroy their cache of nuclear weapons, so it will be easier for him to take control of the world.
I haven’t found many reviewers defending the film, and I do have to admit that most of the reviewers’ criticisms of the film’s plot, dialogue and characterizations are valid. Yet I still enjoyed it (don’t judge me!), 😉 and if you were a fan of the first film, there’s still some fun to be had here.
There isn’t a lot of “down time” in the film, and the movie clips along at a fairly rapid pace. The quality of the special effects has improved since the first film, and there are some nice action set pieces, my favorite being a ninja battle on the side of a snow-capped mountain. It may not be realistic, but it’s impressive and well shot. The best stunt work in the film is done by what are arguably the film’s two coolest characters, the silent G.I. Joe ninja “Snake Eyes” and his villainous counterpart, “Storm Shadow.” The film has some great martial arts style fight scenes between these two characters.
Even though I did enjoy the film, I did have a few issues. By now, most have probably heard the rumor one of the reasons the film was pushed back from its original release date last summer was that the studio wanted to film more scenes with Channing Tatum’s character Duke. Duke was a main character in the first G.I. Joe film but was rumored to have died early on in the original version of the sequel. While I won’t spoil what the film makers may or may not have changed in “Retaliation,” I will say Tatum’s character is still absent for much of the film, and I think this was a mistake. I’m not sure why the studio wanted to get rid of his character originally, especially since Tatum’s Duke and Johnson’s Roadblock play so well off each other. I would have liked Cobra Commander to have appeared more in the film, as well; this time around, he was more of a background character.
I also wish film makers had kept Bruce Willis’ role in the film (he plays one of the original G.I. Joes) more of a secret. His unexpected appearance in the film’s trailer was a fun surprise, but I almost would have preferred if the film makers had waited to reveal that surprise until the actual film. It might have made a better “Wow, what just happened?” moment.
If the first “G.I. Joe” movie wasn’t quite your cup of tea, you probably won’t enjoy the sequel, either. But if you can get past the fact professional soldiers have names like “Roadblock” and “Firefly” and you don’t take the film too seriously, this is a mission you might want to sign up for.