The greatest American Heroes are back and much different from the first film. G.I. Joe: Retaliation takes a swath to the characters from the original, then restarts with new leads and a plot as plastic as the action figures of my youth. Some parts had me scratching my head, but others were entertaining and very much in vein of the classic cartoon. The biggest surprise was the two strongest performances. Jonathan Pryce (The President) and Byung-hun Lee (Storm Shadow) steal the film from the muscled stars without firing a bullet. I found their scenes and storylines interesting. It provides a back thread that makes up for the frivolity of the overall plot, and the lack of real menace from Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey).
The film opens with the Joe's betrayed and on the run. Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), and Flint (D.J. Cotrona) go to the one man they know they can trust, the solider that gave the Joe's their nickname, retired General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis). They believe that the President (Pryce) has been copied by Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) and is now running the US government with diabolical intentions. Halfway around the world, Snake Eyes (Ray Parks) and Jinx (Elodie Yung), seek their former ninja brother, Storm Shadow (Lee). He was injured freeing Cobra Commander (Bracey) from his underground prison. As the President calls a world summit of nuclear armed countries, the Joe's uncover Cobra Commander's plan and break out the heavy machinery to stop him. They are joined by an unlikely ally, who seeks revenge for a life-altering betrayal.
If you like ninjas, you're going to like this movie. Ray Parks and Byung-hun Lee are lethal here. Their fight scenes are awesome. Parks is the king of the no-dialogue, butt-kicking character. His Snake Eyes isn't quite as bad-assed as Darth Maul, but the Storm Shadow versus Snake Eyes duels are thrilling. The fight choreography is far superior to any gun battle in the film. Martial arts fans will certainly get a kick, or more aptly a slice from the ninja subplot.
Dwayne Johnson is the lead character here as Roadblock, but he's not nearly good as Jonathan Pryce as the villainous President. We probably have five minutes of screen time with Arnold Vosloo as Zartan. Pryce is the chief antagonist in G.I. Joe: Retaliation. He's a tremendous character actor who's made dozens of films. He's smarmy, evil, and even a bit of a dirty old man. Then you have the dual performance as the real President, kidnapped and tortured by Cobra. His performance is the only one with range. The Joe's suffer from bad dialogue and somewhat poor chemistry. I never got a real buddy vibe between the three main Joe's, but then there's several stories that run concurrently. It may be that the Storm Shadow plot is just better.
My chief gripe is Cobra Commander and his lack of anything to do in this film. I wish the filmmakers had made his character more interesting. He doesn't have much screen time, and apart from a few demands, doesn't say anything. Cobra Commander in the comics and cartoon had an intriguing personality. He was a shrill egomaniac, cutthroat and a somewhat diva. Here he's like a puddle of goo, lifeless and bland. Pryce hams it up so much, I was literally waiting for Cobra Commander to jump in and start getting some gleeful badness in. It doesn't happen and that's a bummer.
I didn't despise the first film like everyone else seems to, so Hasbro and Paramount didn't have to make up too much ground for me in G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Its got great fighting scenes that elevate the gunplay. The plot has interesting points that certainly don't hold up to scrutiny; but then so does every movie based off action figures and cartoons. G.I. Joe: Retaliation moves quickly with the requisite PG-13 action, so you shouldn't be bored. I'd guess the more hardcore fans of the cartoon and comics probably wanted a more lucid film. Action and martial arts fans will enjoy it more as a straight popcorn flick. Quick note of honesty, Storm Shadow was one of my favorite toys growing up. As long as he's cool, then I'm pretty much happy with G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Ninjas everywhere have no fear; Byung-hun Lee represents you well:)