Pretty much all you need to know to understand the labyrinthine plot of “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is that “Joes” rhymes with “heroes.” Everything else is window dressing. Well, window dressing that explodes, but you know what I mean.
Based on Hasbro’s G.I. Joe toys and comics, “Retaliation” sees the GI Joe squad—Duke (Channing Tatum). Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki)—framed for treason. Shut down by order of the President (Jonathan Pryce) they team with a retired general, Joseph Colton (Bruce Willis), to battle venomous international terrorist organization Cobra and super villain Zartan (Arnold Vosloo).
There are bombastic fireworks galore in “GI Joe: Retaliation,”—which you expect from a movie about G.I. Joes and power hungry madmen—but it isn’t the movie you might expect from the people who wrote “Zombieland.” With that pedigree you’d expect a high laugh to body count ratio; maybe not “Zero Dark Funny” or anything, but every now and again it teases with a line like, “They call it a water board, but I never got bored,” that’ll make you wish for more belly laughs and fewer bullets.
The tone of the film feels skewed. It’s all about the action, although the fighting scenes, while plentiful, are shot so that it is often difficult to tell who was beating the tar out of whom.
There are laughs buried amid the bombs but more often than not the action gets in the way of the giggles and the plot.
It’s not a complicated story, exactly, but the movie makes the assumption that the audience has read the comics and knows the mythology surrounding the Joes (Navy Seals on steroids with an extra dose of attitude), Cobra (the bad guys) and the various ninjas.
That’s where this movie wanders.
You’ll be glad the ninjas are there—there’s a wild ninja chase in the middle of the movie—but their backstory and shifting alliances muddy things up. Remind me again, is Storm Shadow a good guy or a bad guy?
If you are content to sit back and allow explosions to scorch your eyeballs—the little flying bug bombs are cool—and watch The Rock flex his muscles, then “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” may hit the sweet spot for you. But if it’s a good mix of action, laughs and story you’re after, maybe skip this one and cross your fingers that the inevitable sequel finds a better balance.