‘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

Follow Kofi Outlaw on Twitter @ppnkof
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  1. Damm !!!

  2. That’s disappointing. I didn’t read the full review because I didn’t want to be spoiled but I was hoping Dwayne Johnson would carry this movie.

  3. :(

  4. With the massive one year delay how could this have not been anymore more han a hack job. Im not surprised. Its a shame, now get he-man away from this guy already.

  5. Definitely a 2. This movie was dumb (more than expected), boring and misused most of its characters. It’s a 15 minute cool short about Storm Shadow, wrapped in another 75 minutes of crap.

    • Curious about all the hoopla last year about them delaying the film to include more/not kill off “Duke”. Did this contributed at all to the seemingly hacked up/disconected plots?

  6. ~sigh~

    This is very disheartening. :~(

  7. So…no go Joe.

  8. I think you might have fallen asleep when watching the movie, either that or you do not like GI Joe period. This one was so many times better then the last one, and this is the film that Joe Fans have been waiting for. You can tell throughout the movie that the director is a die hard Joe fan, and he has many salutes to it throughout the film.

    • I’m a GI Joe fan and this was not the film I have been waiting for. Whole movie was dumb.

  9. I like how whenever there is a lack of creativity or poor plots, its instantly the fault of the studio or network execs. Sorry sometimes writers are sh*te. Sometimes creative ppl are sh*te.

    • @Ben

      You’re just jumping to conclusions you made up in your head.

      I clearly say that in this case there is clear evidence at there having been a deeper story that got cut down to “action bits.”

      We don’t ALWAYS blame studios – many of my own reviews portion fault out to actors, directors, writers and even cinematographers. I call each case like I see it. In THIS case: Tampering is to blame, IMHO.

      • If what your review reads is true… Then I hope snake eyes saves the movie from being unwatchable. Like he did in the first movie.

    • If retracting a movie for almost a year – even though the marketing campaign for an immediate release had already started – and ordering reshoots isn’t proof for tampering by the studio, what is?

      • Proof that the movie was horrible. They did their best to polish a turd.

      • They retracted it mostly to convert it to 3D. They spent one day shooting a single scene. All the extended filming of the Duke/Roadblock friendship was done well before the conversion process decision. The decision was made due to Battleship grossing more money in 3D than in 2D overseas. Most of us here in the U.S. really don’t give a rats @$$ about 3D. So, the 3D decision was a desperate studio money grab and watching the movie, you can tell that Chu directed it as a 2D movie for 2D viewing.

  10. Well there goes my weekend. May be I’ll go see Olympus has Fallen.

  11. Yeah adding washed out used up action stars is always a winning formula. That’s why the expendables has so many oscars. Blargh.

    • I know you meant the comment as a joke, but if someone is looking for a what is considered a “true” action movie and Oscar nominations together, the choices will be pretty few and far between

    • We’re not going for Oscars here in this format, just fun.

  12. No knocks against Rob here for this review….

    It just goes to show people think different things about different movies. IGN Movies gave it a 7.0/10 saying, “FUN, RIDICULOUS AND RIDICULOUSLY FUN.” I think that if someone wants to apply it to the ridiculous nature that was 80’s cartoons (and GI Joe specifically….”Now I know! And knowing is half the battle!”) it CAN be an enjoyable movie.

    • Dude, everyone knows IGN gets paid for every review they do. Its a well know fact.

      • As do just about almost every critic out there. When you get money to do something… its called a job.

        • Yeah but IGN seem to give almost anything a ridiculously high score and enthusiastic review to the point where a lot of people have used the mantra “You can’t spell ‘ignorant’ without ‘IGN'”.

  13. That’s disappointing. I was hoping this would be better than that. 2 stars, even with the Rock? Holy Cow! I’m still going to see it, I have to see what went wrong here.

    • The Rock is what got it the extra star.

      • And Channing Tatum is what took away the other 3 stars. How this hack still gets jobs in Hollywood is incredible.

  14. Great review, but I think you are being a litlle hard on this movie.
    It’s GI JOE and it don’t pretend to be someting else.
    Like Joe Fan says I don’t think you are a fan of Joe and therefore you have not really enjoyed the movie.

    What I want in a Joe movie ? Guns, muscles, characters from the franchise and BOUM BOUM/COMBAT. If the story is good too, it’s a bonus. I mean you say “some people will enjoy it for the brainless popcorn entertainment it is”, well, is it something else ? We all knew GI JOE will not be the next Dark Knight :p

    In my point of view : It’s better than the first, the acting and story are ok, and it gave me what I was expecting. I give it a 3/5 because it’s not THAT great but 2* it’s a bit rough :) But I’m a Joe Fan. :)

    Sorry for my bad english :$ See ya and thanks again for the review

  15. I love G.I. Joe, collected the toys, love the cartoon movie forever. I don’t like this film.

    • I think that’s the problem we have in this day and age Kofi, the whole “you hated it, you can’t be a real fan” mentality.

      I was never a GI Joe fan myself back in the day (preferred M.A.S.K. if I’m honest) but I have the cartoon movie and liked the first live action movie as a decent time waster even if it wasn’t that good.

      Personally, I’m gonna take this review as a “save your money, wait til you can catch it for free down the road” suggestion.

  16. I will hold judgement till I have seen the film but this review as well meant as it reads does not leave one feeling optimistic. I can’t help but wonder how badly this film was broken by the studios previous intervention in 2012 delaying it from releasing last Summer to now and all for some excuses that few buy into.

    Based on the bit about the story line seeming like as if it was orginally something good that was then possibly hacked up by studio interfernece leads me to beleive that the reason for last years delay had more to do with studio demanded changes then with post conversion. I bet the orginal story was far better but for some reason raised the ire of some powerful entity that then got the studios to make the changes it did. Before you say thats ridicoous keep in mind that RED DAWN went thru its delays all because China was offended because it was potrayed as the invading army in the orginal version of the remake. It wouldn’t suprise me to find out the same is true with GI joe and our own Fedral governmnet whihch is more and more getting involved with our day to day lives dictating what we can and can’t do.

    A GI Joe film that potrayed the US Government in a negative light, even one where its obvious that the legitimate government has ben taken over by Corba, could be more then the government likes and so they strong arm the studio into making changes. If the original story line followed to closely to how current government agencies are acting towards the us populace (i.e. how the DHS is treating citizens via interior check points and violation sof oour 4th ammendment right) then I can easily see that being enough to get the studios/hollywood (which is in bed with big government) to pull the film and hack it up.

    • Nice conspiracy theory but how ’bout it just being a simple studio money grab?

      3D movies make more money overseas than they do here in the States. “Battleship” bombed here in the States but the 3D version cleaned up overseas. The decision to make the conversion to 3D was made, what 2, 3 days before the scheduled release back in June? That would mean shipments of the 2D version film had to be recalled back to the studio.

      I doubt the Federal Government is going to frown on a story about it being taken over by terrorists and then saved by its National heroes. Goodness, if that was the case then “Olympus Has Fallen” and the upcoming Channing Tatum flick “White House Down” should’ve never had made to movie trailer stage.

  17. Is anyone really surprised that this ended up being bad? I understand if you’re a little bummed but come on???
    The movie was a month away from release last year, previews were made, TV ads were run and the studio yanked it to add more Channing Tatum and to convert the film into 3D.
    When has that happened before and how could it be a good thing???
    I grew up playing with G.I. Joe toys and watching the cartoon. Heck I’m humming the theme song now so I had hoped at some point we’d see a good Joe movie but any hopes I had of that happening were squashed over a year ago.
    So again I ask, is anyone really surprised?

  18. I thought the movie was solid 3. Enjoyable, but not great.
    Three main action sequences in film. 1st was good, 2nd (mountain) was great, last needed some work.
    Treatment of Duke was poor. Flint’s “CHARACTER” was not well defined.

  19. There is one thing that this movie does not have that immediately makes it better than the first:

    Brendan Fraser on a three wheeler.

  20. Can’t say this is a surprise at all.

  21. Knowing is half the battle, the other half is forgetting.

  22. Planning on going this weekend…hopefully I can handle the cheesiness.

  23. Planning on going this weekend…hopefully I can handle the cheesiness.

  24. I went to a special screening of this movie and I must say it’s okay. It’s better than the first one but that’s about it. It’s pretty obvious though that there was a deeper story to the movie but was yanked for the action which surprisingly reminded me a lot of the Expendables. Did I ever think this movie would be the best of the year? Not at all. I think the movie is not bad. It’s better than Total Recall 2012 but worse than TASM. It’s just average and would be better to just wait for the DVD

    • I just hope the blu-ray release has an extended cut. It’s great to be able to see this sort of stuff later on. It’s just a matter if the filmmaker takes to time to release that cut.

  25. Wait wasn’t Ripcord Duke best bud in the first? They just swap out Ripcord for roadblock? Were they brothers in the cartoon?

    • Ripcord was originally a white man in the cartoons, comics and toy line. So, no… They weren’t brothers.

      Now, Heavy-Duty in the first film was, originally, Roadblock’s younger cousin in the cartoon and comics and wasn’t a member of the British Royal Marines as portrayed in the first film.

  26. honestly, i’m not expecting anything oscar worthy here. but then, i’m one of the few who thought the first film was a lot of fun. (shrugs), i’ll still see this one.

  27. N theaters!Ripcord wasn’t well known character on the cartoon and will still be going to see this!

    • Ripcord made his first appearance in the 2nd cartoon mini-series “Revenge of Cobra”, 4th episode. The character appears in a few episodes here and there and was featured in one of the famous P.S.A.s… “Get your eyes checked” baseball P.S.A. lol

  28. But- But- Harry from AICN liked it!