Friday, 12 April 2013

G.I. Joe: Retaliation Review (Spoiler Alert)

Nobody has been in the gym for years yet the power works.  That pretty much sums up the inconsistencies and nagging little questions that this movie has.  If you can get past those, you may enjoy it.

Many people (especially purists) did not like the first G.I. Joe movie.  And I'm guessing that many will not like this one for the same reasons.  It strays a bit from the canon of the franchise.  But, look at it this way.  If you made a G.I. Joe movie that was true to the campy 80s toy/comic book/cartoon franchise, it would flop completely.  G.I. Joe always had technology and weapons that were just out of reach of the time it was made.  They've actually done a very good job of doing the same thing and bringing it into the 21st century.  They have updated the uniforms, technology, and weapons to fit with the not-too-distant future feel that the original franchise had.  Anyone who says they need to stick to the character-specific uniforms and physically impossible vehicles needs to accept that these are movies, not comic books, toys, or cartoons.  As kids, we were able to accept and even embrace every outrageous aspect of the fantasy military world Hasbro thrust upon us.  But now, we are grown up and part of the disposable income masses.  As grown ups, most of us have left our puritanism behind and demand some sense of believe-ability and realism while still being to accept that it is an unlikely fiction.  When you look at it in that light, the G.I. Joe movies are actually quality updates to the franchise.  They upgraded the technology but kept the over the top cheesiness and camp that made G.I. Joe so enthralling for us as kids.  They've also kept the Snake Eyes vs. Storm Shadow story which was a very compelling aspect of the comics.

This is first, and foremost, an action movie.  Writing, acting, continuity, and story is secondary.  In the action elements of effects, makeup, etc., Retaliation gets an A+.  All of the action sequences are top notch and edited perfectly.  It also turned out to be a good thing to delay it so they could add the 3D.  Not only does a lot of stuff fly around and make you move, it really gave the rest of the movie a depth that was well done.  Sadly, as for the rest of the technical aspects, this movie is actually quite poor.  The film is mainly buildup to the plot and very little actual plot happens.  With the exception of Dwayne Johnson, the acting is quite poor.  Johnson was a great choice for Roadblock.  But the rest of the cast goes from phoning it in to downright hard to watch (RZA - who should never be on screen again).  The overall story seems pretty weak but it is actually something Cobra would have tried so I could actually embrace it.

But, the action outweighs the crappy acting so I give it a see recommendation.  If you don't want spoilers, stop reading.  But now I will address their use of characters.

G.I. Joe is very character driven.  It's a unit made up of very specific and unique soldiers.  I was and am a huge fan of the franchise and, as a result, have my own favourites.  I am disappointed in how the movies have used them.  They have killed off some of the most important characters in the franchise.  Duke, Hawk, and Zartan (especially Zartan) are some vital characters and they have all been killed.  Duke and Hawk are the leaders.  Roadblock, while important, is not a Joe leader.  (But Johnson makes a better leading man than Channing Tatum so I see what they were doing.)  (I also lament that Firefly is gone but that's just because I liked him.  He's not overly important.)  But what is worse is that they declined to use the Baroness and Destro for Cobra and Scarlet for the Joes.  In the overall story of G.I. Joe, these are vital characters that need to be included.  Scarlet has a calming effect on Snake Eyes that Jinx just cannot fulfill.  Destro is Cobra Commander's Starscream in the fact that they have the same goals yet hate each other.  The Baroness is a fantastic right hand for Cobra and they killed off the Commander's other two (Firefly and Zartan) in this one.  If they go with the idiotic Mindbender in the next one I may write a nasty letter (an probably not send it).

So I had to take a step back and realize that this is a film franchise and not a comic book that can go on indefinitely.  As a film franchise, it has a life of one (maybe two) more installments.  Then it may get a reboot a la Spiderman where they can go in a different direction and resurrect all of these characters.  If they keep this franchise as a contained story like that, they have to do something with these characters like kill them off or write them out.  There's only so much screen time to go around and in a franchise where everyone is a compelling star character in his or her own right, some difficult choices have to be made.  It's not like we have one hero with multiple villains.  We have a group of heroes fighting one group of villains and an insatiable demand from the audience to see all of their favourite characters.  The biggest problem is that same audience will also demand some sort of resolution in the story and we can't just leave a character in the background and bring him back 10 issues later when the comic book story allows for it.  So, the characters' shelf life falls dramatically.  Once I saw it as a smaller, finite story and not a video version of the action figures that I could play with over and over with new plots, I was able to accept the death of Zartan (and Firefly).

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