A Cobra member posing as the President has infiltrated the White House. When he orders the obliteration of the G.I. Joes only a few survive and its up to Roadblock (Johnson) and a small team to expose the Cobra conspiracy and save the world.
When you’re making a film based on 4”-tall bits of plastic there’s no duty to produce a piece of lasting cinema or redefine the landscape. Nobody’s comparing anything to any Oscar winners here. It just needs, in keeping with its source, a high degree of simple fun. Mindless as you like, but a feeling of being a little more uplifted on leaving than you were when you arrived. G.I. Joe: Retaliation, more so than its dead-eyed predecessor, wears the lightness of its premise like a lead vest.
It is expected that you were paying attention last time around because this sequel picks up right where the last flopped to a halt. The highest office in the world has been taken over by Cobra, a cabal of badness, with an evil doppelganger replacing the US president. In turn, the G.I. Joes have captured Cobra’s two highest-ranking members, Destro (the one with the silver face) and Cobra Commander (the one with only bits of a face, those bits no longer played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The other Joes we’d come to vaguely remember have been hastily erased, replaced with some equally forgettable sundries and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Johnson is expected to resurrect the series but it’s too much heavy lifting even for his considerable muscle.
Retaliation over-promises and under-delivers. We are introduced to Johnson’s ‘Roadblock’ as he pals around with Channing Tatum, the only major holdover from the first film. They’re given a lot of ugly dialogue to work around but they’re a fun pair; an action buddy comedy with them would pass happily. But Tatum exits quickly and then it’s Johnson alone, being morose. Johnson’s a terrific blockbuster actor, but he needs a foil and he needs laughs. So later we get Bruce Willis as the original Joe and another chance for sparky buddy comedy. And again, Willis spends barely any time on screen. It’s an odd choice to repeatedly remind the audience how much fun things could have been.
Chu’s direction is lifeless. He draws nothing from his cast and his action sequences are confused and flailing. But it’s the lack of joy that’s bizarre. The first film you could at least laugh at. This takes all its silly ingredients and smushes them down flat.
Fast Five was a good example of how applying The Rock to a tired series could bring it back to life. G.I. Joe, by opting for self-seriousness instead of knowing daftness, has squandered its secret weapon.