You get the G.I. Joes for Christmas. Hooray! You make them cross the demilitarized zone between the china cabinet and the pile of DVDs near the TV to rescue Barbie. *pawft pawft pawft pawft* — enemy fire. *wheeeeeee boom barrrrummmmmph* — you throw rocket grenades at the bad guys. You win!
New toys! Exploding cluster-bomb motorcycle! Ninja Joes! You infiltrate Pakistan, right over that ridge in the backyard, and steal back the nuclear weapons (played by spools of thread stolen from Mommy’s sewing kit) from the bad guys (played by your sister’s Lord of the Rings elf dolls). *rata tata tata tata tat* — machine gun fire. *bang pow wham whoof* — you make the Joes punch the elves. You win!
It’s your birthday — you get the G.I. Joe airboats. New toys! You make the Joes chase the masked guy — who used to be a bad guy but then he was good because he was just totally misunderstood and was betrayed by Cobra Commander and stuff, except then he turned bad again — across the puddle in that pothole in the street. Oh no! You knock over the juice boxes on the curb: Cobra Commander just destroyed London! You win this time, Cobra Commander!
“Get me the G.I. Joes,” you say, but you’re totally doing the voice of the President of the United States…
Forgive me. I’m making G.I. Joe: Retaliation sound like a helluva lot more fun than it is.
It’s nowhere near this coherent, either. Probably the most coherent moment, in fact, is when Jonathan Pryce (Hysteria, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra), as the President of the United States, is required to say — without snickering! that was in his contract — “Get me the G.I. Joes.”
We talk about “live-action cartoons,” but perhaps no movie has ever come nearer to such a state than Retaliation. Because no one else laughs, either, when Pryce says that… although, to be fair, this is a world in which the official Pentagon assessment of a Pakistan in turmoil after its president is assassinated is: “It’s a riot with a zip code.” (Pakistan probably has lots of zip codes, silly!) And this is also a world in which, apparently, everyone lives in fear of a supervillain who calls himself, in all seriousness, “Cobra Commander,” and yet also a world in which the President of the United States can later announce that his new elite fighting force (replacing the Joes, who are on the outs for reasons less plausible than the plot of a backyard military toy campaign) is called Cobra. Oh, and his Secret Service detail are all wearing Cobra lapel pins that are plainly apparent on national television. How did no one catch on that the “President” is actually another dude entirely who’s secretly wearing a nanostuff Jonathan Pryce disguise and is working with Cobra Commander to try to take over the world? I mean, sheesh, people.
Again, I’m making this sound far more entertaining and logically consistent than it is.
Retaliation purports to have been “written,” but that seems unlikely, particularly when credited screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick are previously responsible for the witty Zombieland, which, unlike this film, featured characters and themes and story. The only relatively lucid thing Retaliation has on its side is an “in association with Hasbro” credit, which makes you go, “Ah, they tried to make something with all the pizzazz and credibility of a toy commercial. Pity they failed.” It’s almost as if no one — up to and including the cast — actually read the “script” before they started shooting, or even while they were shooting. In one bit, nominal hero the Rock (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, Fast and Furious 5) intones ominously that there’s only one person whom he and the other two remaining Joes (D.J. Cotrona [Dear John] and Adrianne Palicki [Legion]) can trust, now that the Joes as a fighting force have been betrayed and wiped out, which could only have been ordered at the highest level. Half an hour later in the film, the Rock is mumbling portentously about the “one person I trust,” and it’s someone else entirely. (One of them turns out to be Bruce Willis [A Good Day to Die Hard, The Expendables 2], who looks pained to be here. As well he should.)
It occurs to me that all this “someone else entirely” stuff infecting the film may be evidence of attempts at mass exodus on the part of the cast, who when they finally did read the script saw fit to make a quick escape. It could explain why Channing Tatum (Magic Mike, 21 Jump Street) makes an early exit from the film… in which case we must be thankful for small favors. Retaliation may be powerfully stupid, but it could have been worse: Tatum could have been in all of it.