“G.I. Joe: Retaliation” has nothing in common with 2009's “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” an energy drink commercial with explosions and late 1990s special effects. There is even a closing song by the Black Eyed Peas – the lit wick on a perfect bomb.
Jon M. Chu's sequel passes on the high-tech, cartoonish weaponry and the caffeinated action scenes that obliterated the senses and dulled the intellect. Knowing, apparently, is half the battle, especially when creating a solid action movie.
The “let's pretend the first film didn't happen” attitude starts immediately. Say good-bye to Dennis Quaid and Joseph Gordon-Levitt's “Am I getting paid in cash?” line readings, Sienna Miller's manufactured sexiness, and Marlon Wayans' deadly interpretation of comic relief. Channing Tatum is the only star remaining from the first movie. His Duke now leads G.I. Joe, though not for long. The super soldiers are ambushed after successfully retrieving a warhead in Pakistan. The U.S. government says it was retribution for the Joes going rouge. But they were following orders. Something is up.
The evil Cobra – the terrorist group, not the health insurance goons – has secretly infiltrated the White House, so G.I. Joe is history. A few patriots remain, including Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) and Snake Eyes (Ray Park). Their plan to save the world from nuclear disaster involves mounds of casualties, Bruce Willis, and Adrianne Palicki in a lap dancer's idea of workout gear.
Plot isn't why you watch “G.I. Joe: Retaliation.” It's for stars and stunts – and possibly sex. That's why having Johnson and Willis this time around is crucial. No one roots for the FX crew to save the day and these stars have time-tested, likable personalities. Johnson is Schwarzenegger with charisma; Willis has been delivering humor-infused bluster since “Die Hard 2” was announced. They, along with Tatum (who is polishing his self-effacing routine to a high gleam), put a face on the action. And even the mediocre actors here, such as Palicki and D.J. Cotrona, are light years better than the irritants and time-wasters in “Rise of Cobra.” Their presence contributed to that movie's almost clinical feel.
The effort extends to the action scenes. One featuring Jaye (Palicki) getting close to the President (Jonathan Pryce) has beat-the-clock pacing that was missing in the original, which favored an eat-from-the-trough approach of visceral onslaught. Snake Eyes and his accomplice (Elodie Yung) escape goons while zip-lining across the face of a mountain. The slow-motion highlights the gymnastics of Park and the countless, anonymous red-clad ninjas who bounce around the crevices like Super Balls. Chu (who honed his chops on the “Step Up 2” and “Step Up 3D”) realizes that it's OK to take a breath so audiences can follow the excitement.
“G.I. Joe: Retaliation” has its share of issues, namely a few useless characters (like Palicki's, whose sole purpose is to satisfy the “Maxim” crowd) and subplots that serve as padding. What sticks out about “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is that it entertains us without insulting us. It is an indulgence you don't instantly regret.
Rating: W W W
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