‘G.I. Joe: Retaliation’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 15th, 2014 at 12:53 am,

G.I. Joe 2 Retaliation Review starring Dwyane Johnson Channing Tatum and Bruce Willis G.I. Joe: Retaliation Review

Even with better characters, a more talented cast of action stars, and a more grounded and faithful approach to the mythos, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is still an overall disappointing film.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation picks up some months after the events of the first film, Rise of Cobra, with Duke (Channing Tatum) now leading the elite peacekeeping Joe force alongside his best buddy Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) and talented squad mates like Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) and Parkour master, Flint (D.J. Cotrona).

Meanwhile, Cobra’s master of disguise, Zartan, is still masquerading as the president of the United States (Jonathan Pryce) – a position of power he exploits in order to ambush and eliminate the ‘Joe squad. With the help of Cobra enforcer Firefly (Ray Stevenson), Zartan frees Cobra Commander and together they launch a scheme of worldly conquest. The remaining Joe members need all the help they can get, so they reunite with Snake Eyes, his protege Jinx (Elodie Yung) and seek out the man who first put the “Joe” in G.I. Joe (Bruce Willis).

Cobra Commander in G.I. Joe 2 G.I. Joe: Retaliation Review

Cobra Commander and Firefly

Even with better characters, a more talented cast of action stars, and a more grounded and faithful approach to the mythos, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is still an overall disappointing film. The cast alone makes it a better viewing experience than the first installment, but a paper-thin narrative and lackluster action sequences ultimately mark it as a half-cooked (or over-cooked) sequel, and a second strike on the franchise’s score card.

Director Jon M. Chu (Step Up 2&3Justin Bieber: Never Say Never) clearly has love for the G.I. Joe franchise, and in many ways nails down the aesthetic of the cartoon series (in terms of costume and vehicle design, characterization, and tone). This film feels more like G.I. Joe translated into live-action than Rise of Cobra’s faux-futuristic tech, bionic suits and weaponry. Our Joe team also looks like a kick-ass military unit filled with elite soldiers, this time around – rather than a “we are the world” assortment of fresh-faced actors who looked somewhat out of place getting dirty in a gun fight.

Channing Tatum and Dwayne Johnson in G.I. Joe Retaliation1 G.I. Joe: Retaliation Review

Channing Tatum and Dwayne Johnson in ‘G.I. Joe: Retaliation’

While the interpretation of the source material is more accurate, Chu’s skills as a blockbuster director are, unfortunately, not on the level needed to realize that interpretation properly on screen. Retaliation stages some pretty ambitious set piece sequences (see: the ninja mountain battle), but on the whole, Chu’s skill with action sequencing tops out at disorienting shots of actors holding big guns shooting in every which direction at unseen foes –  or clearly contrived choreography (see: Flint’s acrobatics or Snake Eye’s martial arts) that doesn’t impress in a post-Raid: Redemption world. For a movie whose biggest sell is action, G.I.: Retaliation is found wanting.

With the exception of a scant few moments (like that aforementioned ninja mountain battle), the 3D upgrade is not worth it. It’s a shame, since Chu is one director who has experience with the format (Step Up 3D and Never Say Never) and can clearly do fun things with it (the mountain battle). But even with a quality post-conversion process (which the film does have), the reality that the film was originally designed for 2D prevents it from doing anything all that revolutionary in three dimensions.

GI Joe Retaliation Clip G.I. Joe: Retaliation Review

On a script level, Rise of Cobra looks positively Shakespearean compared to the story of Retaliation - which is to say the sequel is woefully short on depth, characterization and basic narrative development… even for a G.I. Joe movie. This is especially surprising, considering what a unique (and fun) signature writing duo Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick presented in their script for Zombieland; then again, there are small traces of evidence throughout G.I. Joe 2 that point to the script once having been a fully-realized narrative – rather than the bare-bones, hack-job leftovers we get as a “story.”  

The question of studio interference looms large as one watches the fractured narrative – a revolving series of scenes split between the surviving Joe team, the Cobra baddies, and (like an extraneous third arm) a Snake Eyes (Ray Park) / Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) ninja drama. None of these aforementioned plot threads (or characters therein) get any meaningful attention or development; rather, the movie constantly jumps between each thread, ignoring obvious logistical questions (how did we get here? What led us here?) and abandoning virtually all of the character sub-plots that are hinted at early on.

gi joe 2 retaliation adrianne palicki lady jaye 570x361 G.I. Joe: Retaliation Review

Adrianne Palicki in ‘G.I. Joe: Retaliation’

Meanwhile, the script is rife with heavy-handed expositional dialogue and voice-overs, used to establish “context” and/or push the various characters toward their climactic convergence. Red-herrings and foreshadows lead nowhere, the climax is unceremonious and deflated, and there’s ultimately little left at the end to inspire desire for further adventures. In short: it’s a bad sign when one looks back and envies the family drama and hero’s journey arc of the first film.

Speaking of the first film: at least it invested time in its cast of superhero soldiers, their backstories and relationships. After an hour and a half, I feel like I still don’t know Lady Jaye (Palicki) or Flint (Cotrona) all that well, while Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow – and all their ninja history – are more confusing than ever. Johnson definitely steps in to put a choke-hold on the franchise as its best and brightest hope for the future; however, Willis is just there for kicks (and a paycheck, one imagines), with little apparent interest or investment.

G.I. Joe 2 Retaliation 3D starring Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis G.I. Joe: Retaliation Review

Bruce Willis in ‘G.I. Joe: Retaliation’

Ironically enough, Palicki and Cotrona turn out to be two of the strongest elements of the new film – as does Ray Stevenson (Punisher: War Zone) as Firefly. In all three cases, their screen time is whittled down to just the most plot-advancing action (or in Palicki’s case, skin-baring) moments, with the few scenes of actual backstory or serious development left to dangle awkwardly out of place. The same goes for Elodie Yung, who (we’re told) is a serious player in this chess game, but would hardly be missed if she was cut from the story completely – as would the entire ninja storyline (which features a ridiculous cameo by rapper/filmmaker The RZA).

In the end, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is the equivalent of bargain-basement blockbuster entertainment. A pastiche of sequences that never really fulfill their own ambitions, with little narrative connective tissue holding it all loosely together. By the end, the journey feels underwhelming and the only destination we’ve arrived at is indifference. Still, some people will enjoy it for the brainless popcorn entertainment it is, and though this unit should probably be retired from active duty, I, for one, won’t be surprised if they’re given yet another tour.

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Want to discuss SPOILERS without ruining the movie for others? Head over to our G.I. Joe 2 Spoilers Discussion Post. For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check out our G.I. Joe 2 episode of the SR Underground podcast.


G.I. Joe: Retaliation is now in theaters. It is 110 minutes long and is rated Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of combat violence and martial arts action throughout, and for brief sensuality and language.

Our Rating:

2 out of 5

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  1. I’m disappointed for this movie…

    I think Rise of Cobra is better when we talk about the flow of story like the characters backstory and relationships what Retaliation lacked.

    • I totally agree with what you’re saying. I strongly agree that the first movie was better then this one. I didn’t enjoyed watching this one compared to the first one.

    • i agree The Rise of Cobra was a lot better

  2. The Movie was Ok, Better then the first. But this Sequal was carry on the Back of Wrestling Star the Rock and Willis. Action Pack Moive but no Real story.

    • No it’s not. First one is dumb but a lot of fun to watch, the sequel is just dumb and bland. Actors like Willis literally screams pay check and Cotrona is dull as hell!( but at least he’s “affordable”) It’s always a bad idea for any movie to kill the hero of the original( especially the main one) at the beginning of the movie.

      • so right!!!! how do u kill the main character we have seen for the past 2 movies (now 3) and kill him straight away. I thought he survived!!!! but no that wasn’t the case.. I loved the movie as in action wise but as every one has pointed out the movie lacked story.. We do see storm shadows innocence etc, but no emotions could be given to the audience… Also, wheres the black guy and the red hair girl (sorry forgot their name!!!)

        • @luke shin:

          Tatum has only been in 1.5 GI Joe movies, there have only been 2 made.

          Maybe because you saw him in White House Down… or Magic Mike? :)

  3. It was definitely a GI Joe movie and appropriately a 2 star maybe 2 1/2 star movie. I enjoyed it, more so than the previous one…well almost. It’s a step in the right direction and I appreciate Chu’s love for the product because that was really obvious when it came to the characters themselves. I think if there’s a 3rd one, it might be right on the money.

    I wasn’t a fan of Snake Eye’s bulky costume but I appreciated the conclusion of his backstory with Storm Shadow and Storm’s redemption. I wish they’d just make a Snake Eyes/Storm Shadow movie focusing on their stories and friendship in the army, to their training, and we would get to see how connected Snakes, Storm, Firefly, Zartan, and Cobra Commander really are.

    • I think putting Ray Park in such a bulky costume was a bit of a mistake. He’s a pretty stocky white guy, not a slim asian guy that can pull that off. Storm Shadow wears a leather jacket and still manages to look slim and ninja-like.

      • Except, Snake Eye is not asian… so it would be appropriate that does not have an asian build.

        • Yes, I know that. It’s just the costume seemed bulky and looked like it slowed him down. It was a cool costume though.

  4. I just got back from seeing it (in 2D) and I really liked it, but then I liked the first one. It was just as silly as the cartoon and the look/vehicles were great. I know the comics were supposed to be darker and better written, but really, most people are gonna be seeing this based off of the cartoon.

    It’s a saturday morning cartoon based on a toy line come to life. Are people really expecting a serious melodrama, oscar worthy acting and clever intricate plot??

    The only thing I missed was Destro, Scarlett, The Baroness, Duke and more of the silly sc-fi. If anything, all the backstories just get in the way. You just need to know who the good guys are, who the bad guys are and set up an action adventure. That’s all the cartoon ever was.

    I also wish Cobra Commander was a bit more vain with medals, bling and fine blue uniform etc…

    • It wasn’t given “the budget it deserves” due to the amount they spent on the first one, which despite how much it grossed in the theaters, was a bomb. It failed to sell on DVD as well as it did in theaters and the toys pretty much a bombed in the stores.

      I, personally, hated the first one for relying too much on the “cheese factor” of the cartoon and very little of the seriousness from the comics. Not to mention failing to nail the character personalities in the first film. For what it was “Retaliation” was leaps and bounds better than the first… Not perfect… But I will buy this one on DVD.

      • I wonder how much of that budget went in Bruce Willis’ pocket? He’s been doing a lot of movies recently where he seems to be there just for the paycheck. It’s not like he’s Nic Cage and needs any job he can find to pay the tax man.

  5. Is everybody forgetting that a whole country was blown up and everybody forgot it like nothing happened at the end?! a whole country was destroyeed! this movie sucked donky butt.

  6. Upon viewing ‘GI Joe:Retaliation’, one phrase leaps to mind: “What is this?” To tally most reviews, I am apparently the only person who liked and enjoyed ‘Rise of Cobra’ despite the few liberties taken with the main canon. And now this? Killing Duke, THE team member from the ’80′s? Really? And from what I hear, he was killed because Channing Tatum made the producers mad? These Hollywood types need to suck it up and understand they can’t just do stuff like that over a bruised ego.

    When I heard that The Rock was in as Roadblock, I was thrilled, because, or so I thought “Finally! Now for the sequel we’ll have most of the original core team: Duke,, Scarlett Snake Eyes, Gen. Hawk, Breaker, and now Roadblock Flint and Lady Jaye! Awesome! The only one really missing then would be Stalker! But, instead we get this…

    The team doesn’t even ‘unite’ until almost the very end, the tension is not resolved the way it should have been, team members acting completely out of character from the origin source, I mean, not even the musical themes were retained! The list goes on…

    Bottom line, if you’re aiming for the nostalgia market, KEEP the nostalgia, all of it, not just pick and choose. If you want an entirely new target market, then COMPLETELY recreate it. A hybrid movie such as this – well they too often wind up pleasing nobody.

  7. 4 cookies and a banana (awesome movie) saw it twice !!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. It annoys me that Rise of Cobra bombed compared to this… Rise of Cobra had more narrative flow in my opinion, it had a story, it had character arcs… the second just threw all out the window and leaving Destro in his pod after already getting him controlled by the nanobots just is completely idiotic and felt like they were establishing him as a potential villain and/or writing him out of the script because they couldn’t get Christopher eccleston back.

    • Neither movie was all that good and this would have been an improvement had they kept Destro as a relevant villain, but they screwed that up royally, didn’t they? The only way one can say either movie was worth watching is if you compare it to Captain America and that movie made Red Skull into something about as menacing as a Saint Bernard pup piddling on the floor and it had boasted itself as a period piece while having Nazis with LASER GUNS!

      In other words most movies, no matter how crappy are good compared to that…. and that’s the only way you can say G.I. Joe was good… if you follow it up with “compared to Captain-freakin-America” ….. just sayin

      • They didn’t even need the original actor for Destro considering they put him behind a mask anyways (just like Cobra Commander).

        I always liked Rise of Cobra even though many panned it. I liked the way they set up the characters (the fact that Duke and CC were best friends and CC’s sister is the Baroness and was Duke’s fiancee was an interesting character twist).

        Even the Storm Shadow/Snake Eyes back story was good.

        Retaliation just didn’t do very good character build-up. The Ripcord/Duke friendship seemed more real than the Roadblock/Duke one.

        Firefly should have been a ninja so that Snake Eyes has a new rival since Storm Shadow isn’t Cobra anymore. Ray Stephenson should have been Major Bludd instead of Firefly.

        Oh well.

        Maybe in GIJoe 3, they can say that Duke’s body disappeared and Ripcord returns to find out what happened and a new actor can play Duke in a different look due to his “revival” process.

        • The love triangle was little more than boring to me and I found no purpose in including it when it kind of screwed over the source material…… however I will give you the fact that the Snake Eyes/Storm Shadow backstory was done very well on film and gave them some depth, but even the deep end of the pool is of little substance when you know you’re just a hop and skip away from the shallow end and about 95% of this movie and its predecessor was “the shallow end of the pool” if you ask me

    • Fantastic? Really? Seriously? The spent way to much time on some aspects while just throwing others in there for show and then ignoring them….. and what they did to the character of Cobra Commander? They took a dump and wiped themselves with him…….. neither movie was worth the paper they were drunkenly scribbled on.

  9. Fail…I grew up playing with Gi Joe’s and recall making up better stories in kindergarten than what they mustard up in this sequel.

  10. Rise of Cobra dumb as it is, is a lot more fun than this turd. Retaliation lack heart and killing the original hero from the first movie is worst crime than X3 and Alien3 ( no matter how miscast Tatum is) His death make most of the potential stories and plot points goes unresolved. Replacing him with an even duller character like D.J. Cotrona’s Flint… bad idea! Bruce Willis sleepwalks throughout the film. What’s up with all the Joes killed in the desert scenario? What about Joe’s homebase( that houses hundreds of Joes) and General Hawk. Despite the nicely done ninjas in the cliff side fight scene, Retaliation is an effing disappointment. Oh yeah there’s no “Yo Joe!” in this one too.

    • I agree 100% Leo… esp. about Aliens3. Such cinematic crimes to humanity are why I wrote “A Call To Arms…. Sort of” on hubpages……. thank god screen rant has no problem with shameless self plugs cause by now, having mentioned it a few hundred times and even posting the link to the danged thing on another post up above… by now I would have been booted by most forums or websites of any sort…. love it!

  11. I am so upset that Duke died, it totally brought down my happiness for the movie. In the 3rd one, they definantly need to bring Duke back, or I don’t even know if I will see it or not. I’m pissed.

  12. Was so disappointed in this movie I was really looking forward to seeing it when the main character died off at the beginning it went downhill from there I give the movie 2 stars first movie qas way better

  13. Reviews blah,blah,blah. It’s just one persons opinion. Nobody likes everything. Everyone has different tastes. So just pay your money or don’t go. People! in case you didn’t know movies aren’t real. Hello! They’re there to take you to a dream world for a couple of hours. Sorry to say then you have to go back out in the real world and most of the time that really sucks. That’s my review.

  14. EPIC FAIL!!!!!!

  15. Isnt Roadblock supposed to be african-american? The rock is awesome but not right for roadblock. Its like depicting robin hood as japanese

  16. And most of you who qq about Dukes death should know that killing one of the main heroes is “success recipe” in many anime and comic franchises (Optimus Prime in Tf, Roy Fokker in Macross/Robotech, IF its done in the right manner. And thats the problem. Duke died for no reason. He could kill him in the middle of the film while sacrificing him for a greater cause or something. Unfortunately Duke was killed by the director the same way kids are getting killed by American drones all over the planet. Cynically and with no reason