Back in the old days, movies were made first, and kid-friendly action figures followed. The opposite was true in 2009 with G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, the big-screen incarnation of the venerable military toys that date back more than a generation.
Now we get G.I. Joe: Retaliation, a big-budget follow-up with a mostly new cast and a fresh idea, perhaps to distance itself from its loud and dumb predecessor.
This high-octane installment is a slight improvement but still primarily about gunfights and special effects, with a ridiculous script about world domination that takes itself way too seriously.
This adventure for the elite team of special operations forces, led by best friends Duke (Channing Tatum) and Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) finds them tangling with famed enemy Cobra in a political corruption plot with world peace in the balance. Specifically, the Joes must fight to regain their name after the office of the U.S. president (Jonathan Pryce) is seized by the enemy, leading to the disbanding of their unit and putting the world on the brink of nuclear war.
At the height of its popularity, G.I. Joe spawned a series of comic books and an animated television show aimed at children. The two movies, however, can’t decide on a tone or a target audience.
Much of it is cartoonish in nature, including an over-the-top plot courtesy of screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Zombieland) and an unbelievable barrage of weaponry that might provide a nostalgic kick for all ages. Yet the intense action scenes suggest a film aimed more at adults instead of a new generation of youngsters.
Director Jon Chu (Step Up 3D) demonstrates some visual flair with a handful of nicely choreographed action sequences, including countless shootouts and explosions. A highlight is an extended scene involving ninjas fighting while hanging on a cliff. How could that not be cool?
Despite a charismatic lead performance by Johnson, however, the film isn’t likely to generate much of a rooting interest among moviegoers. It also doesn’t benefit from post-production tinkering that included a late conversion of original 2D footage to 3D, which is more disorienting than dazzling.
More than anything, the purpose of Retaliation is to keep the franchise chugging along while adjusting its tone slightly toward more of a straightforward flag-waving macho action flick. Consider that mission accomplished, however misguided it might be.
Rated PG-13, 110 minutes.