Sunday, March 31, 2013

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

The first G.I. Joe movie, "Rise of Cobra", was simply a mistaken movie.  I like the original director, Stephen Sommers, even at his worst - and the first G.I. Joe was definitely his worst - he still makes well-intentioned fun action movies.  But "Rise of Cobra" was just so terribly over-produced and ridiculous, it was simply offensive to look at.  I know G.I. Joe was a cartoon, but it was an 80s cartoon, it was about all-American action saving the world.  It wasn't an armada of silly cartoon submarines having a Star Wars-esque space battle at the North Pole, that's going too far.  Stephen Sommers brought something unique to the franchise, but his movie was mistakenly made, and starred horribly annoying people.

I am completely surprised that "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" actually turned out to be a good movie.  First of all, spoilers, but this is really a huge part of the saving grace of this movie for me.  CHANNING TATUM GETS HIS ASS EXPLODED FIFTEEN MINUTES IN AND HE'S DEAD.  DEAD.  DEAD.  DEAD FOR THE REST OF THE MOVIE.  Okay, Channing Tatum, I have nothing against you as a person, I just don't like seeing you in movies.  You're not somebody I want to see.  Lots of people like you, that's fine, I guess, you're allowed to like Channing Tatum, but I can't stand this guy.  He's a good stripper, I suppose.  But if I'm going to have a brainless roller coaster Blockbuster action movie I want it to be starring somebody with actual personality and charisma... like the Rock.  And thank you, Rock, thank you.

"G.I. Joe: Retaliation" is a far smaller movie than "Rise of Cobra" and more grounded one.  Its still completely action fantasy, but it at least feels like a traditional action movie without endless CG models and ridiculous cartoony effects.  Most of the time, its plain old shooting, or plain old katana sword fights, or the occasional bubbly parade of explosions.  This movie feels like the very definition of redundant action fluff, but its still fun.  There are compelling people in this movie, thanks to writing out the entire sorry excuse for a cast "Rise of Cobra" had.  And the fight scenes are very exciting and memorable stuff.  This is a good movie.  Not a piece of art, but a piece of fun.

G.I. Joe, as a film franchise, honestly represents the intellectual bankruptcy that major Hollywood blockbusters have finally reached.  These days, you cannot possibly hope to create an original IP and support it with two hundred million dollars of CG work and an entire circus act of toys, video games, and birthday cards, the risk is simply too high.  A few years ago Hollywood decided to start adapting kids' shows from the 80s, and we got "Transformers", which despite being the very stinking hole of everything that is currently wrong with world culture was massively successful.  So then Hollywood tried G.I. Joe, a real American hero.  Ironically, I think Transformers should have gone to somebody with a real visual style and a sense of fun, like Stephen Sommers, but G.I. Joe would have been perfect for Michael Bay, what with his fetish for the US military, more or less empty characters and explosions, and stupidity.  G.I. Joe is the REAL AMERICAN HERO, its supposed to be a shameless HOO RAW! 'MERICA FUCK YEAH adventure.  Instead G.I. Joe turned into a strange international team of plastic toy people fighting more plastic toys, it was the most nightmarishly toyetic movie since "Batman & Robin".

So "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" really wants nothing to do with that first movie, going out of its way to write-out every single member of that film's cast by the end of this adventure.  I'm pretty sure the only members of the first films' cast that make it to the end are Stormshadow and Snake Eyes - the ninjas, and Cobra Commander, who is now wearing the 80s silver mask instead of that weird scuba gear from the first movie.  Gone without any kind of explanation at all are:  Dennis Quaid, Sienna Miller, Marlon Wayans, and his cute redhead love interest, Rachel Niccols.  Joseph-Gordon Levitt is no longer playing Cobra Commander, though that character has so little screentime you wouldn't even notice.  Channing Tatum is around for the first fifteen minute as Duke, though he's replaced his Black Best Friend with the Rock (clearly a trade-up).  Actually, Channing Tatum and the Rock have a great deal of screen chemistry together, so much so that I suspect their scenes were ad libbed almost without a script*.  In some cases, characters are simply dumped without ceremony, such as Destro, who Cobra Commander leaves to die for no reason**.

The new movie mainly stars two groups of G.I. Joes, one ninja and one non-ninja.  The non-ninja crew is headed by the Rock, who is supported by two generally nondescript and bland pretty people.  The new redhead girl Adrianne Palicki, who is a woman of such complete ridiculous beauty that its simply unbelievable.  Unfortunately her acting is about just as good as Scarlett Johansson in "The Avengers", which is pretty damn crummy.  The other crew is headed by Snake Eyes, a man in a black suit and biker helmet of unrivaled skill who never speaks a word, in other words the Stig from "Top Gear".  He's supported by some yellow ninja girl and is following the orders of... and this was a very unpleasant surprise for me, the RZA.  Remember RZA?  The guy who directed and very foolishly decided to star in "The Man With the Iron Fists", and thus ruined his own movie?

Also there's Bruce Willis.  All major action movies these days apparently need a Bruce Willis cameo.

All these surviving teams of G.I. Joes must fight Cobra who are "retaliating" after their embarrassing defeat in the first movie, when their "rise" was really more of a "miscarriage".  This time they have Zartan, the master of disguise, who has taken over the role of America's oddly-British President, Jonathan Pryce.  This means - and I probably wouldn't have even liked this movie if this wasn't the case - we have Jonathan Pryce as the villain!  My favorite Bond villain returns!  Basically Jonathan Pryce is awesome the entire time, laying back and cracking jokes.  "They call it waterboarding, but I never get bored."  After using his Presidential powers to get rid of the entire G.I. Joe secret navy and giant base with an ocean inside and Brenden Frasier and whatever ever silly things the first movie had that the sequel doesn't want, President Pryce now moves on his evil plan.  After gathering up all the world leaders of all the nuclear states - even North Korea - even Israel*** - to come together for a nuclear summit in Ft. Sumter(?).  This leads to Jonathan Pryce's most awesome moments, which I won't spoil.  The final battle is a simple rush in, shoot things up, battle with tanks, classic action movie battle.

There are plenty of great actions scenes in "G.I. Joe: Retaliation", including a fantastic ninja mountaineering sword battle.  Most of the characters are reasonably likable and tolerable.  There's nothing particularly wrong with the movie, though many critics seem to have been turned-off by how mindlessly gung-ho the whole film seems to be about violence and an unsubtle theme of America saving the day.  The director of this movie, Jon M. Chu's last project was the Justin Beiber movie, and obviously this is a step-up.  I can't say anything about this film was particularly well-shot, but as dumb action nonsense, its pure and enjoyable.  This is simply a good time at the movies.  Go see this.

* "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" was delayed for almost a year back in March of last year to give the movie a last minute 3D make-over.  During that time, Channing Tatum - somehow - became a huge star because his macho doofus persona apparently is charming to some people, so they filmed more scenes with him and the Rock jsut to give his character a more fitting send-off.  This, I'd say, was a good thing, because it makes the loss of that character far more severe, and it gives us a better introduction to the Rock as the new star.

** I'm guessing this happened because Christopher Eccleston didn't want to come back.  Though, the real reason might be that Destro's CG metal face looked so hilariously bad that the filmmakers decided it simply wasn't worth the trouble - and money - to bring it back.  This does lead to a weird plothole in the franchise, since Cobra Commander went though so much trouble to turn Christopher Eccleston into a metal face freak, even thinking up a name for him as a minion, then as soon as he's freed from prison, he just leaves that creation to die?  What?

*** Israel is rumored pretty strongly to have nuclear weapons, though they would never admit it.  I don't even know if they have nukes, but they've done a great job convincing the entire world that *wink* *wink* they have them. 

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