Toy giant Hasbro continues its run of films based on its merchandise with G.I. Joe: Retaliation. After continued box office success with the Transformers films, Battleship and its predecessor G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Retaliation removes most of the major characters from the first film and installs a small team lead by action favourite and WWE wrestling star Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, hoping his charisma would salvage the franchise from another critical mauling in the same way he did in Fast & Furious 5.
After the G.I. Joes are framed for stealing nuclear warheads, the only survivors Road Block (The Rock), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) and Flint (D.J. Catrona) go into hiding, hoping to prove their innocence and reveal that the US President (Jonathan Pryce) was behind the plot and is in fact in league with evil terrorist group Cobra. Meanwhile ex-Joe Snake Eyes (Ray Park) is sent on a mission to capture his old nemesis Storm Shadow (Lee Byunh-hun) to pay for the crime of assassinating their former master. As the surviving Joes finally team-up they turn to the original G.I. Joe, Jospeh Colton (Bruce Willis) for help.
Removing the woefully miscast Joseph Gordon-Levitt from the role of Cobra Commander is a smart move, and having his face obscured throughout adds back some of the mystery stripped away in the original. While the new team are entertaining enough, with The Rock adding some much-needed charismatic action kudos to the mix. Unfortunately, other than some fantastic moments with Channing Tatum early in the film, Retaliation begins to take itself far too seriously and these glimpses into the humanity of the characters is removed entirely. Palicki brings some much needed femininity to proceedings, but having stood up for women everywhere by refusing to be a ‘secretary’ to old dog Bruce Willis, she promptly changes into a figure-hugging dress and uses her obvious sexuality to complete a mission. It’s a clear and cynical attempt to bring female viewers on board before sharply placing her in the role of ‘eye candy’ for teenage boys.
Despite these flaws, G.I. Joe Retaliation is ostensibly an action film and it is here were it finds its feet. From an outrageous wall-running ninja fight, to Road Block’s heavy artillery mini-tank, it never fails to deliver. The dodgy special effects of the original are banished and replaced with a far better use of physics and weaponry, and while it is never far from silly the franchise has shed its camp tone for one more of a serious action film. Sadly this proves to be a mistake. As The Rock proved in Fast & Furious 5, when action stars are given room to be a bit silly, the rewards can be enormously entertaining and can make up for any number of plot contrivances. When it takes itself too seriously, it becomes dull and frustrating.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation creates as many problems as it solves from the errors of the past. The Rock and Channing Tatum are completely wasted after some excellent chemistry in the early scenes and it takes itself far too seriously for what is a big, dumb action film.