G.I. Joe: Retaliation Film Review (Spoiler Free)

I must admit I was very pleasently surprised when I received an e-mail from Paramount offering me a spot in an advanced screening for the G.I. Joe: Retaliation film in New York City. That was very cool, and I was quite excited to go... until real life intervened, and an important work meeting stood in the way.

However, as I dilligently hit Fandango on a daily basis (well, multiple times a day), suddenly a new date popped up. It was the same day as the advanced screening in New York, but instead, was at a Regal Cinema in Concord, NH! What madness was this? Needless to say I jumped at this chance. I'd be able to leave work after my meeting and just make the 7:00pm start time. It almost seemed too good.

I happily handed over my Fandango receipt and was told by the theater worker that I had "first dibs" on some exclusive posters... and the posters were fantastic! Very cool retro artwork that took the movie look and characters, yet also included some great classic components, too.

But you're not here to look at pictures of my poster. You're here to read about the film itself. Understanding that many folks won't get a chance to see this until the 27th or 28th, I wanted to get a "spoiler free" review posted first. Granted, a lot of us who have been following the film online know the basic outline of the movie, but I want to play this safe.

I will say right off the bat that Jon Chu and the other folks involved in this film really understand "G.I. Joe". It's obvious right from the start that they know what makes G.I. Joe tick, and they have the concept down for how to balance real world military and Cobra outlandishness. I'm not sure how Chu gets it, but he absolutely gets it. The first sequence in the film is a great, down-to-Earth military action sequence, but the soldiers are wearing futuristic body armor. This leads into another sequence of much the same type, where a clearly technically and tactically advanced G.I. Joe team drops into a foreign country with a mission in mind, and is pretty much able to achieve that mission in the most direct and efficient way possible, using some next generation technology that their opponent clearly doesn't have. There is a ton going on in this scene, yet it's easily followed. There are some hard core real world military weapons, there are enemy combatants being taken out, yet the violence is relatively bloodless.

As people likely have guessed, things go south quickly, in an especially brutal and blunt method, and Roadblock, Flint, and Lady Jaye end up on their own, with a large job ahead of them.

The film manages to travel the scope of the world from Korea to the desert of Pakistan to the Himalayan mountains to the White House and the action is extremely fast paced. The plot is as well...some might say it's a little too fast paced, appearing almost frenetic at times as you jump from one scene to the next. It's obvious just by watching the trailers that there was some footage removed here and there, and I think you can kind of feel the effects of that. During an interview with Jon Chu, it was mentioned some things needs to be trimmed for a PG-13 rating, but I suspect they even went a little bit further to make the film even more accessible for a younger crowd. An entire scene seems to have been removed, which is kind of odd to me, yet if you're marketing this film for a wider, younger audience, I can see why they might want to trim that out. I won't go into any other detail than that.

While there are clearly separate stories here with the Arashikage Ninjas and the Cobra influence in Washington, the writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick are able to bring things back around into a more central, cohesive mission objective, and it was pretty cool seeing the team scattered to the winds, but then come back together to face the monumental threat. I really enjoyed the final operation as each group had their distinct objectives (which matched their distinct specialties) and it all fell into place nicely. Some might say just a little bit too nicely, but in a 110 minute film, sometimes that happens.

The star of the show was absolutely Cobra Commander. He owned absolutely every single scene he was in. Every one. Jon Chu knew precisely how to use the character, and the way he shot his scenes was simply perfect. He was clearly the focal character that everyone bowed down to, and even with the absolute ludicrous image of Cobra Commander surrounded by ninjas and just walking calming into a UN assembly...it just worked. Because that's how the G.I. Joe universe works. It doesn't have to make sense, it doesn't have to function in the real world, it just is. And that's okay.

I will say, amazingly even to myself, one of the strongest bonds I felt in the film was to Duke. Channing Tatum seems like a whole different guy and a whole different actor in this film, and his relationship with Roadblock felt real.

Flint and Lady Jaye are effective in their own right, though I really wish Flint had been allowed to do a little more. He really started to come into his own in that final battle, but by the time he seemed to really get his feet under him, the film was ending. So much potential for future installments in the franchise.

I almost feel like I have to talk about the mountain sequence out of necessity, just because it's so obviously the main set piece of the film, and it works brilliantly that way. I will tell everyone right up front, no matter how much footage of this battle you've seen, there is more to it...it hasn't all been shown, don't worry! It's a fantastic action-packed series of battles that really comes together nicely. I think this entire ninja showdown is really where the film gels. I will admit with some of the missing footage and the disjointed nature of the first part of the movie, I was feeling a bit worried about how it would all come together. Once the ninja mountain battle occurred though, everything just started falling into place, and the final half of the film was exceptional, more than making up for some herky jerkiness at the start.

Is G.I. Joe: Retaliation a perfect film? No...nobody is expecting it to be. There are some story flow problems, I'm disappointed with some of the cut footage, and it took a little while to find its feet. However, once it does find its feet, it quickly turns into a fast-paced roller coaster of ninja swords, automatic weapons, and outlandish characters, yet the screen writers and director are able to take this pile of stuff and blend it into something coherent, colorful, and completely enjoyable. That takes a lot more talent than folks might think. Any time someone can make Cobra HISS Tanks look natural rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue? I give them credit for that. Speaking of which, the vehicular combat in this film was very nice as well. Getting some real down and dirty vehicle against vehicle explosions is something we didn't necessarily see much of in the first film, but is a very important piece of the G.I. Joe mythology.

G.I. Joe fans are going to see this film regardless of what I say, but please believe me when I say it is worth your time and worth the $10 - $15 for a theater ticket. I saw it in 3D, and I'll say up front I wasn't blown away by it, but I'm not usually all that impressed by 3D, so that doesn't surprise me. As long as the conversion brings in 300 million more dollars overseas, it's all gravy.

I sincerely hope this film lays the ground work for something... and that the people involved (especially Jon Chu) are allowed an opportunity to build off the world that was created here. It's a shame that some effort had to be spent kind of erasing some of the mistakes of the past film, because I believe this film would have been a fantastic introductory effort, but regardless, let us all hope some serious box office impact is felt here, and this lays a foundation for future success. If we can get this creative team, with these actors, and these characters, and build out a whole G.I. Joe vs. Cobra universe... I get goose bumps just thinking about it.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation officially hits theaters March 28th, 2013. Go see it. Enjoy it. Joe fans deserve it.