G.I. Joe: Retaliation
March 29, 2013
This is going to be a lot longer than a movie like this probably deserves. The short version: I liked it, but not as much as the first one. Spoilers ahoy!
So, G.I. Joe the comic has had I think 4-5 publishers over its 30 year history. While each has maintained the essentials of the Hasbro franchise — Joe v. Cobra, characters with colorful code names, outrageous take-over-the-world conspiracies — each publisher has put its own stamp on it in terms of tone and atmosphere. Pretty quickly into this movie I decided to think about it as if the comic had changed publishers. Say, Image instead of Marvel. Like the first movie, this one’s still essentially G.I. Joe, but it’s got a different feel to it. This one cherry picked what continuity it kept — Cobra Commander and Destro are still in custody, but we’re just going to pretend that Hawk and Scarlett and them never existed, m’kay? It’s like they heard what people complained about on the first one — that the Joes were an international squad, the accelerator suits, Baroness’s hideous altered backstory — and just ditched it all in favor of MOAR NINJAS. Fair enough.
The movie had plenty for an old-school fan like me to love: insane gadgets, crazy villains, hyper action, etc. The high-tech prison where CC and Destro are being kept is actually really terrifying — and not just because the warden is played by Walton Goggins, the actor who is now in all movies. They also pretty much just flat out did the famous Silent Issue, a full-length comic with no dialog but lots of ninjas fighting on a mountain side. Pretty cool, no? I earned my own fan cred by ID-ing Firefly five minutes before the movie did. (I started bouncing and my friends had to ask me why I was so excited…)
But there was some not-so-good: There was a plot, and quite a good one I think, but boy howdy did they move through it as fast as they possibly could. I’m torn between admiring the minimalist pacing, and wishing for a little more depth. (Depth in G.I. Joe — I know it’s a lot to ask. But still.) For example, they tried their darndest to shoehorn in the iconic Flint/Lady Jaye romance into exactly one scene. And if they’d bothered to give Flint any characterization at all before that, it might have worked. As it was, it came off as kind of skeevy, with him catching glimpses of her thong panties as she’s changing. Yeah, no, not so much what they were going for I think. Oh, and London gets destroyed. All of it. Kaboom. And it never gets mentioned again. We don’t even get a reaction shot from the British Prime minister, who is sitting in the room when Cobra Commander presses the button. This is just bizarre to me. But I think I can explain it. Which brings me to….
The Channing Tatum thing. So, we all know the movie got delayed for nine months. It was supposed to come out last summer, and the official line is the filmmakers needed more time for the 3D conversion or some crap like that. (I DID NOT see the 3D because conversions SUCK.) The real reason is pretty much an open secret: between filming and release, Tatum became a much bigger star and they decided they needed to capitalize on this, so they brought him back to film additional scenes and make him a bigger part of the movie, to draw in more fans. Whatever. The good news is, this didn’t turn the movie into the unholy mess it could have been, with a shattered plot interrupted with a bunch of random solo Channing Tatum scenes for no apparent reason. The story is pretty much coherent, and Duke still dies in that big explody inciting scene we all saw in the trailers. So what do we see of Tatum in this movie? A bunch of stuff at the beginning with him and Dwayne Johnson, establishing this quite intimate bromance between Duke and Roadblock. Which, you know, okay. Oh, and Roadblock has daughters now (but no Mrs. Roadblock, and who is looking after them when ‘Block is on missions? I don’t think I’m supposed to be asking these questions). Whatever. But when you start thinking about it, it’s really, really easy to see what got added with that extra filming. Some kind of emotional arc, like because we see more of Duke at the beginning we’re supposed to have a greater emotional attachment to the rest of the movie. What they don’t understand is G.I. JOE IS ITS OWN EMOTIONAL REWARD, BITCHES! And I have a feeling that extra 15 minutes of Duke/Roadblock bromance chipped away at whatever depth the rest of the film had. Like a reaction shot from the British Prime Minister, or the entirety of Flint’s characterization.
This is all just my own personal speculation and I don’t know if any of it is true. But I think my hypothesis is born out by the very odd pacing in the film. And the more I think about it, the more annoyed I get. There’s a different version of this movie out there, that was supposed to come out last summer, and I have a feeling that that one’s not just a better movie, but a better G.I. Joe movie. Grrrr.
Oh, and it would have killed them to turn one of those “Hooyas!” into a “Yo, Joe!”? I think not.
And now, for no reason at all, I really want to see the Dreadnoks in the next movie. Including Zarana and Zandar. I don’t know why. I think it would be ridiculously awesome.