2013 has been a rough year for the movie industry. It has been either feast or famine for the big studios. That is thanks in large part to the glut of sequels churned out by the industry’s major studios. From the upper echelons all the way down to the general movie-goer, those same studios have been lambasted for their increasing reliance on sequels. The latest movie in the G.I. Joe franchise justifies those darts even more. Sure it has lots of flash-bang-boom action sequences and its share of special effects, and an easy to understand storyline, it doesn’t have much else. Some might consider this a good thing for an action movie. But the reality is because of this, it turns out to be one more movie that won’t take long to end up in the discount bins at retail outlets now that it is officially out on DVD and Blu-ray.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation isn’t the worst of the year’s movies. It isn’t the worst of the record thirty-seven sequels that will have hit theaters by the year’s end. But it isn’t one of the year’s best movies, either. The question remains then, what is it about this movie that has left it in movie limbo so to speak? To answer that isn’t easy. But it isn’t impossible, either. The best place to begin with the movie is its writing. The story’s writing is for the most part, relatively simplistic. It is also very predictable. Right from the story’s opening minutes, audiences learn that at the end of the franchise’s first flick, Cobra Commander and Destro had both been captured and placed in special suspended animation tanks of sorts. It is pretty obvious from this point where the story would progress. It doesn’t get much better. From here, audiences are introduced to the story’s secondary plot, the evil twin plot headed by the evil Zartan. Simple math, right? Yes. Two plus two equals four. Yet another world domination plot on the part of Cobra, which at least goes along with the old cartoon series from the 80s and early 90s.
The predictability of the story in G.I. Joe: Retaliation is just one microscopic part of the problem with its writing. Just when one thinks the writing couldn’t get any worse, writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick make the story even more convoluted by adding in a third storyline involving Snake Eyes’ (one of the few remaining Joes after Cobra’s attack on the Joes) hunt for his arch nemesis, Stormshadow. Snake Eyes has to nab Stormshadow and bring him back to answer for the murder of his sensei, of which he was accused of committing as a child. This additional storyline really wasn’t necessary to the overall outcome of the movie. Wernick and Reese must have known this as they tried to justify it by making sure that only Stormshadow would know the full extent of Cobra’s evil plans this time out. They could have still had him be a key player without the extra drama. Had all of this extra fluff been cut, it would have saved a lot of time and maybe even made all of the movie’s over-the-top fight scenes and explosions justified. But no, they couldn’t leave well enough alone. Instead, they left it in. And to make matters even worse, they made the story drag on even more by adding in unnecessary elements of melodrama both on the part of Stormshadow and the remaining Joes. There is the whole aspect of Stormshadow having to come to terms with Zartan being the real killer and tricking him when he was a child. And then there is Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) coming to terms with taking over the Joes after Duke’s (Channing Tatum) death early on. Let us also not forget Lady Jaye’s own drama involving her father issues, too. It’s all extra fat that could have been trimmed from the whole thing to make it at least more bearable.
Had the unnecessary elements noted above been removed from the movie’s final script, that removal would have made G.I. Joe: Retaliation more bearable. Sadly, that didn’t happen. Even the choice of the movie’s title is problematic. The very inclusion of the word “retaliation” in the title hurts the movie even more. It’s an ambiguous subtitle. That’s because in reality, both Cobra and the remaining Joes are retaliating against one another for everything that had happened in the course of the franchise’s first film. More than likely, the intent was for the subtitle to be aimed more at the retaliation of G.I. Joe against Cobra for its actions against its forces. But again, the ambiguity is there; too much of it in fact to make such a subtitle work. And along with the already poor writing, it reduces the movie’s credibility even more.
There is so much that went wrong with G.I. Joe: Retaliation. However, it would be unfair to ignore the only shining rays of hope that this largely forgettable Summer action flick does have. Those rays of hope lie in the movie’s really cool gadgets and its action sequences. Again, had the gadgets and action sequences been left with the predictable writing, the movie would not have been half as bad as it turned out to be. But because that didn’t happen, the action sequences come across as little more than an excuse to try and distract viewers from the poor writing. This is most clearly evident in the ironic fact that the most exciting of the action sequences was one that itself might not have even been necessary. It involves Snake Eyes and his protégé, Jinx, facing a horde of ninjas along a sheer cliff face after having recovered Stormshadow in the aforementioned equally unnecessary extra story line. As impressive as this sequence was, the only way that it (and its companion story line) could be justified is the fact that so many of the cast members from the previous film didn’t return this time out for whatever given reason. So something was needed (in the minds of the writers) to advance the storyline. Thus this sequence and its associated story line were inserted. Had both elements been removed in the end, G.I. Joe: Retaliation still could have survived. Sure it probably would have still ended up being forgotten in the grand scheme of things. But it still would have survived and even taken more seriously. As enchanted as studio heads continue to be with franchises, it would be no surprise if audiences eventually see another sequel or even a franchise reboot already. When either of these scenarios plays out, one can only hope that whoever writes its script will learn from all of this and will make a movie that will return honor to the name and legacy that is G.I. Joe.
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