A year ago, I encountered a shelf of talking Dwayne Johnson G.I. Joe Retaliation dolls in Toys R Us. The Roadblock doll, named after Johnson’s character and large enough to be considered a doll and not an action figure, uttered macho phrases from the movie after pressing on its chest (or, more specifically, the doll’s replication of Johnson’s awesome pectorals). It was pretty cool and brought me back to the hours of my childhood spent playing G.I. Joe and consuming every episode of the 1980’s animated series. I considered going back the next day and buying the doll, when I learned that A) the film, scheduled for release during the summer of 2012, was delayed nearly an entire year (in order for a 3D conversion) and B) the accompanying toy line was, likewise, being shelved until 2013. I should’ve bought that talking piece of plastic when I had the chance!
In this bigger, louder and far more stupid sequel to the idiotic but enjoyably campy 2009 movie, Johnson’s Roadblock heads a mission that leaves most of his “Joe’s” dead after a vicious ambush by the Cobra. Meanwhile, the U.S. President is being impersonated by a mimic named Zartan, who is played, just barely, by Arnold Vosloo, but we mostly have the gifted Jonathan Pryce playing the good and evil Commander in Chiefs.
Pryce is clearly having fun with his often outrageous dialog. His evil president boasts of how much fun it is hanging out with Bono and how, “it’s called waterboarding, but I never found it boring.” I know we’re not supposed to take any of this seriously, but the movie’s cavalier spoof of an out of control Commander in Chief feels like a North Korean, anti-US propaganda video. Add all the wink-free macho posturing and CGI shots of massive nuclear and military destruction and we’ve got the kind of straight-faced cartoon Team America: World Police skewered so perfectly. Retaliation plays like a lobotomized Zero Dark Thirty, and no, it’s not so-bad-its-good or as unintentionally hilarious as its predecessor.
Logic isn’t a factor in a movie like this, but I couldn’t forgive this bizarre slip-up at the screenplay level: after surviving a massive Cobra strike, Roadblock instructs the other survivors to not inform their loved ones they’re alive and remain under the radar. Two scenes later, they have somehow infiltrated an airport, escaping from the brutal desert heat and walking openly in the ‘hood, not in disguise or seeking shelter from one of Roadblock’s nearest and dearest. What happened to keeping a low profile?!
This movie misuses a cool ensemble cast, with Channing Tatum and Bruce Willis (adding snap to his scenes) only in extended cameos, while Vosloo, as Zartan (an action figure I used to love, as it changed color in the sunlight), has no dialogue. Johnson was a major asset in Fast Five and terrific in Faster but here, is only asked to go through the motions. Joseph Gordon Levitt hasn’t returned from the first movie to reprise The Cobra Commander but, in what may be the year’s strangest cameo appearance, James Carville shows up as himself.
There is one admittedly stunning set piece, in which ninja warriors Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes go toe to toe, in a battle that becomes an epic sword fight with multiple opponents. It’s eye-popping but not enough to save the picture.
Even worse, when I inspected Toys R Us the other day, I couldn’t find the talking Roadblock doll that caught my eye a year ago.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation
Rated PG-13 / 110 Min.