G.I. Joe: Retaliation ★★

For all its undeniable crappiness I do have a fondness for the original G.I. Joe movie as I warmed to its cheesy charms and Sienna Miller dressed in leather. However, Stephen Sommers’ film was not the runaway success the studio expected and because of this the delayed sequel has seen wholesale changes. With the exception of the odd franchise favourite, most notably Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes, the original cast have been unceremoniously dumped in favour of a new breed of blander Joe.

Although it follows on from the first film, not that anybody can really remember the original’s plot, the GI Joe team are ruthlessly streamlined leaving a core of five Joes against the might of a growing Cobra army. It is a cynical yet bold move but one that ultimately doesn’t succeed because the new recruits are forgettably dull and that even extends to Dwayne Johnson who normally acts as franchise goto guy for any series in need of a quick pick-me-up.

It seems mean to criticise the film’s slapdash plotting when the original film also suffered from a dunderheaded script but the story is incredibly bitty and disjointed this time around. Following a devastating strike that leaves all but three Joes dead (including Channing Tatum) it is up to the remaining members to unearth Cobra’s devilishly silly plot and stop them before they destroy the world.

Of course, nobody ever sits down to watch a film like G.I. Joe: Retaliation for the story. All they want is crunching action, quick-witted quips and dumb spectacle. The film delivers all three, but not particularly well. Jon M. Chu takes up the vacated director’s seat and he struggles to adjust to the action genre. In many ways he should feel right at home having made his name with the dance-centric Step Up franchise as those films also feature a perfunctory plot that is simply used to stitch together a series of visually engaging routines. Unfortunately, the action here rarely shows signs of the same flair.

The film’s centrepiece, a daring mountaintop escape involving ninjas and zip wires, is inventive, smartly staged and features the same rhythmic action associated with the director’s earlier work but it is somewhat of an anomaly when the rest of the set pieces are so flat. With the exception of some mildly fun martial arts training scenes the majority of the action is loud but blandly delivered. From the film’s opening raid to its extended but rather tedious climax, the film simply throws lots of pyrotechnics and inconsistent special-effects at the screen and hopes for the best. Originality, pacing and fun seem like secondary concerns which is rather disappointing when you assemble a cast who typically excel within the action genre.

The lack of fun extends to the character interactions too. Whilst it occasionally strikes the right cheesy tone (Jonathan Pryce has some fun as an imposter President) most of the dialogue fails to sparkle whilst the majority of the cast sleepwalk through their roles. The early exchanges between Johnson and a soon-to-be-dead Tatum possess some energy, even if the bromantic dialogue is forced and clumsy, but as soon as he is out of the picture Johnson loses his mojo. With nobody to spark off he is just a lumbering and permanently sweating exposition delivery machine. At least he still makes a bigger impression than his squad members and a lazy cameo from Bruce Willis.

Whilst it occasionally sparks into life, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a forgettable and flaccid blockbuster.

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