It shouldn’t be a surprise G.I. Joe: Retaliation is far worse than the movie that kick-started the franchise. Postponed nine months to improve the quality of the 3-D (and to shoot extra scenes con the suddenly ubiquitous Channing Tatum), this sequel is built using spare parts, ringers and a singularly mediocre one-size-fits-all script.
Unbeknownst to the entire world, the President of the U.S. (Jonathan Pryce) has been replaced by Cobra operative Zartan. Since the Joes are the only ones likely to uncover the hoax, the Commander in Chief orders their annihilation. A few survive: Fan favorite Snake Eyes and new faces Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) and Lady Jane (Adrianne Palicki). With a target on their backs, the trio appeals to the founder of the Joes (Bruce Willis) to concoct a senseless plan to thwart Cobra’s world domination plot.
The alleged 3-D improvement is barely noticeable (it’s a conversion), but that’s not the film’s biggest problem. It says tons that barely anybody from the first G.I. Joe returns for the follow up. From Joseph Gordon-Levitt to Marlon Wayans, the original cast couldn’t even be coerced for a cameo. The villains –Zartan and Firefly– are third rate: Destro is quickly dispatched and Cobra Commander remains mostly in the background.
Of the ones that actually return, Tatum’s screen time barely justifies his name on the poster. He does better than Jonathan Pryce though, who is saddled with terrible lines like “You are from Fox News? That’s why you look so fair and balanced.”
Gone is the funky weaponry that made the original tolerable. Now it’s all about guns, to the delight of the NRA. In what feels like a separate -not much better- movie, Snake Eyes supervises the training of his protegee Jinx while fending off his nemesis Storm Shadow. This entire storyline develops separately from the main plot until late in the film, when is shoehorned into it. Hardcore fans will find it extremely irritating, as it steps all over one of the rivalries that sustain the G.I. Joe universe.
Director Jon M. Chu (Step Up 2 and 3) is like a lesser Michael Bay (imagine that): His action sequences are choppy and nonsensical, and let’s not even mention his incapacity to extract a performance from anyone in the cast. The only practical use I imagine for G.I. Joe: Retaliation is as a disaster that could force a reboot. One trigger-happy prairie dog.