G.I. Joe Retaliation (2013) Is More like “Redemption!”
The Joes are under attack and falsely accused of treason by Cobra. With only four of America's Elite Special missions force left, who can they turn to? "Call in G.I. Joe " as in the General Joe Colton, the OG Joe played by Bruce Willis??
Directed by Jon M. Chu and written by Rhett Resse and Paul Wernick, (The two Screenwriters responsible for Deadpool)
Retaliation serves as a soft reboot from the first film, Rise of Cobra and in many ways, it supersedes it, thanks to grounded action scenes, dynamic set pieces and pathos as Duke's demise, whose death was originally intended for 1986's G.I. Joe the Movie but instead, Marvel and Sunbow walked it back! Retaliation is a huge step up from Rise of Cobra. For starters, the sequel was more influenced by Larry Hama's stint from Marvel Comics as opposed to the overblown sci fi elements and weak comedic timing from the 2009 movie. Speaking of which, some actors from "Rise" like Channing Tatum, Ray Park, Arnold Vasloo, Jonathan Pryce and Storm Shadow's Byun Hung Lee reprised their respective roles.
Hama's comic was not the only influence behind Retaliation, there was that animated series G.I. Joe Renegades whose concept ironically inspired by NBC's A-Team was the main premise of the story with the Joes on the lam, for war crimes they did not commit. It begins with a prologue where Duke (Channing Tatum) and the Joes infiltrate the Korean Demilitarized Zone to rescue a North Korean defector. This time, the Joes consist of new teammates featuring fan favorites like Roadblock, (Dwayne Johnson) Flint, (DJ Cortana) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) replacing Scarlett, Breaker, Heavy Duty and Ripcord. While Flint is not shown wearing his signature black beret or carrying his sawed-off shotgun, he does have some rather impressive free running skills.
When the Joes are summoned to recover tactical nukes, they are marked as traitors by Zartan who impersonates the POTUS from Rise of Cobra's cliffhanger. Zartan calls in an air strike via Cobra forces and the Joes are ambushed leading to plenty of casualties. While Duke is killed while trying to save Flint (A subtle nod to G.I. Joe The Movie) the other Joes like Hawk, Ripcord, Scarlett, etc. was not accounted for or even a "KIA" wasn't mentioned and therein lies some minor albeit noticeable inconsistencies. That said, Chu got plenty of things right in Retaliation especially regarding the Extended Cut.
Conrad "Duke" Hauser #RIPLegend
For example, Roadblock's revenge arc is more fleshed out when going on a personal vendetta against Cobra and the President for killing the Joes including Duke, "a good soldier, better friend." In hindsight the reshoots which added more Channing Tatum, paid off content wise. Personally, I liked the camaraderie between Roadblock and Duke as “Bro-Joes” despite the silly Call of Duty scene and Duke’s cringeworthy panties reference. There's that scene in the safehouse where Flint gives a lecture about vengeance when Roadblock had this Punisher mindset as opposed to how he signed up for the Joe team.
As for the cast and standout performances, I must give a shoutout to British actor Jonathan Pryce who also resumes his role or shall I say, "roles" as both the President of the United States and President Zartan. You can tell how much fun Pryce was having with tongue and cheek dialogue such as "I'm the quicker blower upper" "Fair and balanced " an in-joke to FOX News, and "I was never bored" when referencing torture by waterboarding. In the Extended cut, he quietly mutters to his security detail "Zandar" that if the President's son annoys him any further, to take out his "fat ass." In many ways, President Zartan foreshadowed the 45th president of the United States with his unhinged behavior, just not as dangerous.
There’s a hysterical scene where Zartan is playing Angry Birds while calling bluffs as intercontinental nuclear warheads are being launched by rival nations.
Bruce Willis as Joe, channels “Bruce Willis” as in regurgitating some tropes from his previous action filmography but in place of cheesy one-liners, Willis has his share of memorable scenes and dialogue. "Shut up Brenda" came out from nowhere but was palatable nonetheless as was calling Jaye and Flint, "Miley Cyrus and Ryan Seacrest" respectively. Willis wasn't the only celebrity to make a cameo in the film, there's also Rza of Wu Tan Clan as the Blind Master of the Arashikage Ninja clan who was originally from the Marvel comic.
James Carville?? I had no idea “Skeletor" made an appearance in a G.I. Joe movie!
Edioe Yung as Jinx had her share of the spotlight as Snake Eyes' apprentice, who Snake originally dismissed but wins his approval. Thanks in part to a very ambitious dialog-free mountain assault sequence that pays homage to Silent Interlude, and to further borrow from Hama's source material, was Storm Shadow's redemption arc, who was framed for his uncle, the Hard master’s murder. The stunning Adrianne Palicki was cool as Covert Ops specialist Lady Jaye who had an arc of her own. She served out of spite when her father had disdain for any woman within the military. Throughout the movie, she's berated by Joe Colton, but eventually earned his respect for holding her own which includes identifying the bogus President a Cobra operative, Zartan. It’s too bad Jaye and Flint didn’t get to click as the power couple seen in both the cartoons and comics, but then again, it's an action film, not a movie for the Hallmark channel!
I cannot emphasize enough how the humor implemented in Retaliation was clever and not poorly done i.e., Rise of Cobra's dumb lines, "nice shoes" or " he never gives up!"
Ray Stevenson as Firefly was among the most memorable characters, even with his faux Louisiana accent. When he's not blowing shit up, you see “His grand entrance has reminded me of the Metal Gear Solid games and who can forget him giving President Zartan the finger, or punching the real President prior to saying, "That was for the tax hike!
And about baddies, Cobra Commander the head snake was how Joes' biggest adversary should be! It's a joint effort when you have Luke Bracey under the mask while Robert Baker handles the voiceover work.
This time, the “head snake” comes off more menacing, almost like Darth Vader and the writers were smart enough to justify him wearing the signature helmet unlike that silly get-up from you guessed it, “Rise of Cobra!"
Korean Action star Lee Byung-hun, reprises his role as the enigmatic yet dangerous Storm Shadow, whose ulterior motive, regardless of how vicious his actions were, leads to being a foil to Cobra’s big scheme along with clearing his name.
Except for Lady Jaye, Flint, Zandar, and Jinx, the main characters were based on Hasbro’s brilliant 1984 lineup. From Duke, Roadblock, Storm Shadow, Zartan and Firefly. To my disappointment, there was no Spirit or Baroness, who actress Selina Miller was so ashamed of the first movie, that she refused to come back, yet Tatum who equally hated G.I. Joe Rise of Cobra, returned for a few minor shoots. There was a huge body count and surprises during Retaliation. Aside from Duke Hauser's sudden death, we also see how Destro was unceremoniously killed off in the underground prison bunker, since Cobra Commander kicked him "out of the band!" Red Ninjas getting knocked off cliffs, plummeting to their deaths, and how Central London got decimated by a multi bombardment rail satellite called Project Zeus! And who says these toy-based films were made solely for kids??
But of course, our "Real American Heroes" save the day, during an all-out firefight at Fort Sumpter. As for Retaliation's conclusion, all’s well that somewhat ends well.
Jaye also gets promoted to Captain which demonstrates the earnest progression of this sequel prior to female transparency and empowerment, whereas Marvel Studios stalled with making a Black Widow and Captain Marvel film until it was ‘convenient.”
Storm Shadow and Roadblock gets some well deserved payback but unfortunately, Cobra Commander escapes and is still out there perhaps planning his next scheme. Sadly, we'll never get to see what happens next since the other planned sequel is still in development hell, thus wrapping up the franchise for the time being. That is, until the disappointing G.I. Joe Origins: Snake Eyes debuted in 2021.
So far, Ray Park's Snake Eyes, is still the best version of the iconic Ninja Commando, no ifs, ands, or buts!
That said, Retaliation was at least a satisfying send-off toward the film franchise. Jon M. Chu at least had an idea of what the fans of the toyline and comic would like to see and for the most part, he delivered!
There were two plotlines of revenge and redemption intertwined for a tonal conclusion that solidifies Reese and Wernick's script. That said, the “redemption” aspect applies to a sequel that despite a lower budget, outperforms the first film, and the 1986 animated feature. Retaliation has restored my lost faith in a Joe movie after the previous two efforts. But hey, one’s mileage may vary.
While vehicles like the Ripsaw, FANG and HISS were exceptionally well designed, most of the uniforms and costumes were a bit generic. The Joes uniforms are more authentic than the first film, and to be honest, I would have preferred to have their signature unilateral look instead of your basic fatigues. Apart from Snake Eyes, they did not resemble their toy counterparts. There's no Lady Jaye jumpsuit, nor Flint's signature beret, however Roadblock does wear some armored plates on his vest, and would it hurt if the Cobra troopers at least wore a face mask underneath their helmets. I guess most of the costume's budget went to Snake Eyes and Cobra Commander respectively, however, Ray Stevenson put his own money so that the costume designers would make a mask to go with the costume.
Composer Henry Jackman (Captain America: Winter Soldier) does a serviceable job scoring the film that sounds Tom Clancy-esque and the template for Cap films as witnessed in both Civil War and Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Skydance chose the perfect needledrop during the end credits’ action montage, “How You Like Me Now” performed by The Heavy.
I see it as a reference from the very negative reception that came from Rise of Cobra. Retaliation didn’t necessarily boost the careers of the supporting cast, but you can see Edioe Yung appearing as Elektra in the Daredevil series, DJ Cortana as Pedro in SHAZAM, then of course there’s Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who appeared as SHAZAM’s arch nemesis, now antihero Black Adam. Bruce Willis may have given up his acting career due to poor health, but he’ll always be remembered as the G.I. Joe!
Regardless of minor critiques, G.I. Joe Retaliation, was a fun and very ambitious sequel that paid a modicum of respect to the source material i.e., the Marvel comic, especially regarding Snake Eyes, and Storm Shadow’s backstory Regardless of if you're a fan of the franchise or not, you'll enjoy it as a not-so guilty pleasure that action junkies will gravitate to, because of its commonality to the films of old, as in the decade that spawned Hasbro's venerable toyline, the eighties!
G.I.Joe retaliation Extended Cut is now available on Prime Video