G.I. Joe: Retaliation
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
G.I. Joe: The Movie
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
G.I. Joe has never been known to deliver smart cinematic experiences. It has, however, generally delivered fun ones. Now comes G.I. Joe: Retaliation, which is neither smart nor fun. It falls into the trap that of thinking that action and espionage is inherently interesting, regardless of how it is delivered. So, it throws guns, ninjas, and explosions into a frequently nonsensical story, displays everything haphazardly, and waits for its ingredients to somehow enthrall those who watch them.
As is the case with pretty much any story in the G.I. Joe universe, the bad guys want to rule the world. Their attempt to acquire this power involves story elements that remain unbelievable even in a world of ninjas who avoid bullets by slicing them in midair. Though the crux of their plan would be a spoiler to reveal, it involves a certain type of weapon system that is essentially a villain’s deus ex machina, a device that grants uncontestable power. The only catch is that all of the nuclear weapons on Earth must be destroyed to avoid retaliation from the nations of the world. Of course, they have a plan for that.
Instead of presenting a fun, engaging experience, the film tries merely to convince us that it is fun and engaging. Rather than showing us the development of two crucial characters’ friendship, we see them partake in the kind of dumb banter that is meant to imply a bond. When an event occurs that is supposed to be emotionally impactful, we understand what the effect is meant to be because of the tone of the score, not because we feel the emotion. When the Joes go into action, the frantic editing and camerawork suggest outstanding combat abilities. We are rarely offered a clear view of the action in order to see those combat abilities in full.
The latter of these shortcomings is G.I. Joe: Retaliation’s most egregious. There is plenty of action, but only a handful of action scenes are clearly depicted. We see people run, jump, fire guns, and swing swords, and we see bad guys collapse, but camera moves so fast and the edits are so short that the visual components of the action scenes often cannot be put together to form a whole battle. We know that the Joes are elite soldiers not because of what we see but because they’re the ones left standing when the tornadoes of action die down.
Occasionally, the plot reaches levels of stupidity that not even the title G.I. Joe can excuse. At one point, a character gets hit by a car traveling about fifty miles per hour, then gets up, hobbles to his motorcycle, and escapes. In another scene, a character presses a button that makes his motorcycle transform into missiles that launch themselves at a structure. In the most ludicrous scene of the movie, the leaders of the world’s most powerful countries, plus North Korea for some reason, are brought together and, with a certain impetus from the chief protagonist, begin launching nukes at each other. They do so by pressing launch-order buttons in special briefcases they all coincidentally brought to the meeting that they thought was being held for peacekeeping purposes. Apparently the missiles are aimed by being willed at one country or another.
Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time studying art of any medium knows that art is not about what is presented but is about how those things are presented. G.I. Joe: Retaliation has elements that could have constituted a fun action film, but those elements are not used in a fun way.