Wednesday, April 24, 2013

It Came From The Cineplex: G.I. Joe Retaliation

At long, long last, G.I. Joe Retaliation is here. I honest to god feel like I've seen the trailer for this film every weekend for the past five years. It was originally slated to premiere in June of 2012 but was yanked at the last second in order to convert it to unneeded, unwanted (but profitable!), post-production 3D. Ugh. 

The initial trailer probably started playing around January 2012, so as you can see my suspicion that I've been seeing it forever is not too much of an exaggeration.

The film is definitely an improvement over the first one, although there's still some indefinable something missing. Sure it's a fun movie and it's great seeing the various characters from the cartoon and toy line come to life, but It still just doesn't quite feel like G.I. Joe

Part of the problem may lie with the character selection this time out. Gone are classic Joes like General Hawk, Scarlett, Destro and the Baroness. I have to assume they ditched them because there's only room for so many characters and they want to change the lineup a bit, but... this may not have been the best team to go with.

The problem might also be the lack of the characters' familiar costumes. Apart from Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, most of the characters run around in bland, nondescript army gear or the usual black leather unitards. Black leather costumes have been required by law in all superhero films ever since they first cropped up in the X-Men movie back in 2000. The shadow cast by those outfits is a long one indeed.

For example, Flint doesn't even wear his iconic beret in the film (except at the very end, when everyone's wearing one) and Lady Jaye doesn't wear her army fatigues and baseball cap. Most fans probably had no idea who they were watching.

My totally unsolicited advice to the filmmakers: Go all out for the next one. Stop trying to cater to the widest possible audience and make a G.I. Joe movie for the fans! Dress the characters in their classic cartoon costumes! You're already making a movie about people named Snake Eyes and Zartan, so why hold back? Go for broke and make a live-action version of the cartoon. Use all the ridiculous vehicles and weapons, bring in all the outrageous Cobra villains. In short, have fun with the property. 

The cast is kind of a mixed bag. The Rock looks like he's having a good time and for once I actually didn't mind Channing Tatum (maybe because he's only in the film for fifteen minutes). Jonathan Pryce in particular seems to be having fun playing Zartan/The President. Ray Stevenson chews the scenery with gusto as Cobra agent Firefly.

Byung-hun Lee and Ray Park are back as fan favorites Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes, respectively, and both do a decent job. These two are probably the closest to their cartoon counterparts of anyone in the cast.

D.J. Cotrona plays Flint about as blandly as can be done, and Adrianne Palicki does what she can with the role of Lady Jaye.

Bruce Willis is also on board this time as General Colton. Willis seems to be trying to play the role in the most laid-back mode possible without actually falling asleep.

I'm amused by some of the critical reviews and vehement fan reactions to this film. It's G.I. Joe, for crissakes. People seem genuinely gobsmacked that it doesn't rival Citizen Kane in quality. It's a big dumb stupid (but fun) movie based on a cartoon and a toy line, people! What the hell were you expecting?

The Plot:

Picking up sort of where the first movie left off, President Zartan sets up and attacks the Joes, leaving only three of them-- Roadblock, Flint and Lady Jaye-- alive. They team up with General Colton, the original G.I. Joe, to stop Zartan and Cobra from destroying the world.

• It was nice to finally see Cobra Commander in his full mirrored face mask and helmet, just like in the cartoon. Odd though that they only refer to him as "Commander" (unless my memory's faulty, which is a real possibility). Were the producers afraid that "Cobra Commander" sounded too goofy or campy? It's a G.I. Joe movie! It's too late to worry about goofy now!

• In a similar vein, they finally got Snake-Eyes' costume right. In the first movie his full-head mask inexplicably featured a pair of molded lips, making him look much like a department store mannequin or worse, a guy in a pseudo gimp suit. Someone on the production team wised up and gave him a cartoon-accurate mask.

• I've always been a sucker for "bad guy teams up with the good guys to defeat a common enemy" plots, so it was fun seeing Storm Shadow work alongside the Joes-- even if it was only temporary.

• There were a few fun vehicles in the film, very reminiscent of those in the 1980s toy line.

• Thankfully there were no major changes in the character's relationships in this film, as there was in the first. No "Duke was secretly engaged to the Baroness and was best buds with Cobra Commander" hogwash this time out.

• The destruction of London was spectacularly well done, even if no one ever mentiones it for the rest of the movie.

By the way,the "Project Zeus" that destroys London in the film is based on a real concept called "Project Thor." It was conceived back in the 1950s by sci-fi author Jerry Pournelle. His concept was pretty much like the one in the film; basically firing a telephone pole-sized projectile from orbit toward the Earth's surface at around nine kilometers per second. The impact would reportedly be similar to the destruction caused by a nuclear weapon but without all that pesky radiation. Yikes!

• Why did they bother bringing back Arnold Vosloo as Zartan? His face appears fleetingly (as Zartan reverts back to his normal appearance) for literally three seconds in the film, if that. Did they really bring him back? Or did an animator use an old CGI wireframe of his head that they scanned for the previous film?

Come to think of it Vosloo wasn't in the first film all that much either. He spent the majority of both films disguised as the President, played by Jonathan Pryce.

• No Destro!

• The first movie had some fun references from the cartoon, specifically when Ripcord mentioned "Kung-Fu Grip" and General Hawk said, "And knowing is half the battle!" Sadly, there's nothing like that in this new film. Yeah, there's humor, but it's not Joe related.   

And no one says, "Yo Joe!" Instead the Joes all grunt that "Hoo-AH!" thing or whatever it is that marines always say. Seems like sacrilege to made a G.I. Joe movie without using their battle cry.

• In the cartoon no Joe or Cobra soldier ever died. Even if their plane or tank exploded, FCC regulations required that you'd always see them jump out or parachute to safety at the last possible second. I kind of wish they'd done that here as well, as a fun little nod to the cartoon.

• Unintentionally hilarious moment: In this film as well as the first, Storm Shadow appears to be wearing tear-away clothing. At one point during a sword fight, he reaches up, grabs his jacket with one hand, and quite easily tears off every bit of clothing above his belt, exposing his freshly oiled, glistening torso.

• This movie was yanked a month before its original release date in order to convert it to 3D in a transparent bid to soak the public out of more ticket money. This despite the fact that Paramount had already spent millions of dollars in advertising (even running a commercial during the 2012 Superbowl!) and that several tons of toys were already ready and waiting on store shelves. You could probably run several small countries for a couple of years on the amount of money this brilliant marketing move wasted.

Also, by postponing the film, that left Paramount with only two movies scheduled for the summer of 2012: the execrable The Dictator and Katy Perry: Part Of Me (which is apparently a motion picture of some kind). Awesome decision, guys!

This film takes the recent trend of the "Multiple Character Poster" to a ridiculous extreme. There are a whopping TEN of these character posters (not shown are those for Flint and an alternate one of Lady Jaye) in addition to the regular one shown at the top of the page. 

I have to assume they're doing this for the collector market, as I can't see even the largest cineplex having room to display every one of these.

An improvement over the first installment, but still far from perfect. I give it a B-.

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