Stop me if you’ve heard this one. I hate Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise. I made many points as to why they are lowest common denominator fodder and a tried and true example of bad filmmaking alone. But to be honest, I hated it mainly because it was a tactical strike to my nostalgia. I am an 80s baby. Transformers, G.I. Joe, Thundercats, TMNT, He-Man, Voltron, M.A.S.K., DuckTales, TaleSpin, Rescue Rangers, Silverhawks, Gobots, Heathcliff, Centurions, Dino-Riders, Danger Mouse, Count Duckula, and many more shows practically raised me. Yes, looking back at them now, I can see they were cheesy. However, I still love them because they spoke to me. They spoke to a me that I wasn’t fully aware of at the time. They filled in the gaps of love and companionship my family left me to fill when they were not around. They developed my entertainment pallet. They developed my right and wrong meter. They are virtually time portals to my childhood. And if they stayed that way I would be happy with that. So, if you are going to remake them…if you’re going to bring them back to modern day…changing things…changing their DNA to shoehorn them into modern sensibilities…it literally hurts me. Every instance of Michael Bay’s corruption of Transformers makes me feel like Marty McFly looking at that photograph of he and his family and watching himself slowly disappear.
I bring up Bay here because of the financial success of his Bayformers, other studios followed suit seeing as the almighty dollar is their guiding light. Stephen Sommers (A director I can’t believe I used to like) fired another Trident missile into my memories when he brought G.I. Joe to the the big screen. It was almost as if he was copying off of Bay’s test in school. It was predictable, trite, comically bad entertainment. My only hope was that like an ebola virus, the franchise would flare up and die out so fast, it wouldn’t be able to spread. Then, it was announced that a sequel was on the horizon and it would be directed by the guy who did the Step Up films and Justin Bieber’s Never Say Never. I felt like Dustin Hoffman in Outbreak. However, after seeing G.I. Joe: Retaliation I am relieved to say that it is much BETTER than I expected. Understand that I was expecting the EBOLA VIRUS! So to say it is BETTER isn’t saying that it is a great film. It still has logic problems and cheesy moments and lackluster effects. But it more effectively fits the tone a G.I. Joe film should have and offer up enough fan service an old school Joe fan would want in order to be able to walk out of the theater under their own power.
I mentioned this in my last review but it bares repeating. The Expendables works because it acknowledges the performers’ nostalgic roots. It gives the fans of these performers what they want. You want Arnold to say ‘I’ll be back’? Fine. You want someone to say yippee ki yah? There you go. You want a Van Damme spin kick? Here’s two. You want a bloody, bullet riddled, fire fight for ten straight minutes? We’ll give you twenty. It isn’t complicated to make films that are based purely on nostalgia like Transformers and G.I. Joe. This isn’t The Master or Tree of Life. Keep its simple and give the people what they want. Popcorn films like these have longer legs that way. Ask Joss Whedon. Yes, Transformers made money. A crazy amount of money. But does anyone…ANYONE hold it in high regard?
G.I. Joe: Retaliation is burdened by cleaning out the closet of the previous film’s storyline. A terrorist group called Cobra have an operative impersonating The President and reeking havoc on the Joes and the world. A team of surviving Joes must clear their names and take down Cobra before its too late. Simple. Director Jon M. Chu seemed to have done his research on what failed in the first film and done research on the material in general. It shows in the little nuances Joe fans would notice. A faceplate for Cobra Commander, an Uzi for Snake Eyes, an Australian accent for Firefly, a blindfold for Jinx. Its those little things that show me he actually cares about the material and doesn’t just want to use the property as a bridge to show off his directoral talent. It comes across that the Joes in this film seem to actually be capable soldiers with varying skills, the way the show was intended. That as apposed to the bumbling, excelerator suit wearing, dummies in the previous film. Men and women who seemed to be working for Maxwell Smart instead of the United States armed services.
Dwayne Johnson takes the lead in this and does an solid job. Much BETTER than the laughable Marlon Waynes and the cameoing Channing Tatum. The one thing that I thought the first G.I. Joe film got right was Ray Park’s Snake Eyes. Though, Sommers even tried to screw him up too by putting a mouth on a masked man who DOESN’T TALK. But I digress. He is the only thankful carry over from the first film. His action scenes with rival Storm Shadow are worth the price of admission alone. Bruce Willis is trying much more in this than he did in his own tent pole franchise and I really liked Adrianne Palicki’s Lady Jaye. However, the performances aren’t all roses. Jonathan Pryce is still a bit over the top as the faux President/Zartan. The ball was dropped by casting the wooden D.J. Cotrona as Flint. A character who is supposed to be the more charismatic version of Duke merely slinks by unnoticed and unremarkably through this film. And I’m not even going to get into how bad RZA is as Blind Master. I think it is the overall camaraderie of both teams that allow you to be able to dismiss the bad apples.
By the level of improvement this film has made from The Rise Of Cobra, it would take about two more films before I could consider it a must watch franchise. However, I think I’m going to have to settle for the fact that G.I. Joe: Retaliation is just BETTER than expected and breathe a sigh of relief that I haven’t fully disappeared. Be a real American hero…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.