G.I. Joe is a franchise based upon a collection of Hasbro plastic soldiers. What can we really expect from it? Director Jon M. Chu – whose credits include Step Up 3D and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never – knows exactly what his pre-adolescent audience wants: spectacularly ridiculous histrionics; mutually implausible sci-fi elements; sardonic and inappropriate wise-cracks; a dutiful, good-looking cast to deliver them; and slack consideration for anything that may compromise these things. One of the rare occasions where a sequel is better than the original, the G.I. Joe cycle will never appeal to critics, but at least G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013) never tries to.
It’s expected that you were paying attention to the last film, because this sequel picks up from where the original ran out of bullets. Channing Tatum reprises his role as Duke, but passes on the mantle of squad leader when his elite Joes unit are double-crossed, making way for the equally wide-necked Dwayne Johnson, as Roadblock, to get revenge. The US Government has been infiltrated by sinister terrorist organisation Cobra, who have replaced the US President (Jonathan Pryce) with an evil doppelgänger.
Stuck between The Rock and a hard place is masked kung-fu assassin Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee), who is rescued from captivity by longtime nemesis Snake Eyes (Ray Park), head of the Joe ninja unit. They both indulge their physicality in Retaliation’s most memorable set-piece, a wire-worked, vertiginous sword fight in the Himalayan mountains. Other places that are not America Chu and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick are less fond of: the Joes parachute into Pakistan to deactivate a nuclear warhead; it’s suggested that North Korea be nuked 15 times over “just to be sure”; the entire city of London is blown up.
One of Retaliation’s two female characters is Adrianne Palicki’s G.I Jaye; or rather ‘Lady’ Jaye, as the film titles her, lest we forget that girls are not allowed to play this game. She explains – whilst getting changed, one might add – that she joined the military to spite her sexist father who said “he would never put his life in the hands of a woman”. Her partner, Flint (D.J.Cotrona), who’s as weightless and ineffectual as his name suggests, tells her afterwards, “You look nice”. Like a boy with his toy.