Paramount was wise to move the release of G.I. Joe: Retaliation (rated PG-13 for combat action, mild language, and one non-nude undressing scene) from June 2012 to early spring 2013, a time when it faced little popcorn competition. Like most warm-weather blockbusters, it’s the sort of explosion-fest that features plenty of macho quips and slow-motion walks through smoking wreckage.
There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. The problem is that even shoot-em-ups (or blow-em-ups) need to make a modicum of sense. And despite some solid performances from Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock), Adrianne Palicki (Friday Night Lights), and Channing Tatum, very little of what happens in Retaliation does.
The film starts out promising enough. Longtime members of the elite Joe team, Duke (Tatum) and Roadblock (Johnson) engage in some good-natured, testosterone-fueled ribbing while successfully carrying out a mission to relieve Palestine of a few nukes. The chemistry between Tatum and Johnson works so well, it would be easy to see the pair in some sort of buddy movie. Unfortunately, that’s not what Retaliation is, so when Tatum’s storyline ends after the first 20 minutes with the Joe unit being attacked by American forces, so does most of the fun.
From there, Roadblock and the other two surviving Joes must try to piece together who in the government framed them and clear their names. With the help of the original Joe (Bruce Willis, who looks like he’d rather be anywhere else), they discover that Cobra commandoes have installed a body-double in the White House. The faux president’s posturing as an anti-nuclear peacenik is a ploy to disarm all Cobra’s enemies so they can threaten the world with an even more destructive weapon system.
This storyline certainly has an interesting peace-through-strength/Manchurian candidate subtext, but it’s lost when the film veers off to a mystical Himalayan ninja temple and is not only completely confusing, but also abominably acted.
None of this has stopped Retaliation from becoming a box-office champ. But the Joes should relish their day in the sun before warmer temperatures bring more worthy competition.