G.I. Joe Retaliation Review
By Bret Dorman
GI Joe breaks the most fundamental and important rule of action movies in a very heartbreaking way. Whether its a popcorn action flick or a serious action film, the most important thing is the action. Everything, EVERYTHING, must work in service of the action. With GI Joe, everything is indeed working for the action, in a very silly and fun way. Problem is, once the action starts, it just becomes a mess of close ups, shaky cam, and quick edits. What’s the point of making an action movie, especially one as ridiculous and silly as this one, if you’re not going to have fun with the scenes that the movie is designed for, instead treating them like a chore and approaching them with no enthusiasm?The Story: The Cobras take over The White House in a very stealthy way. They set their sights on the G.I. Joes. In the end they all fight each other and there is a mega weapon called Zeus that must be stopped. Also, there’s a side plot of ninjas doing ninja things.
GI Joe has a very eclectic cast. From up-and-coming nobodies starring in major roles like Adrianne Palicki and D.J. Cotrona to heavy hitters like Jonathan Pryce and Bruce Willis to people you never see like (stuntman/hidden actor extraordinaire) Ray Park and Luke Bracey to weird cameos like Walton Goggins and the guy who plays the Blind Ninja Master (I don’t want to ruin that one). But really there’s only one thing that matters… The Rock is in this movie. And The Rock is so incredibly good he brings a charisma to the screen that takes everything up a couple of notches. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger before him, he’s got that perfect blend of serious badass, silly fun, and playful cheesiness. In fact, at one point in this movie he even says the word “terminated” and I literally laughed and clapped out loud. This man needs to be a Terminator more than GI Joe needs another movie.In addition to The Rock is action would-be superstar Ray “The Punisher: Warzone” Stevenson. This man has more potential than Hollywood clearly knows what to do with, seeing as they keep giving him bad movies or mediocre movies. In fact, at one point Ray Stevenson and The Rock actually start to fight! During a pretty tense moment of the movie too, out of nowhere Stevenson ambushes The Rock and the two start to have a punch-fest in an alley. But instead of looking like the “Rowdy” Roddy Piper/Keith David beatdown in John Carpenter’s They Live it looks like the cerebral palsy cameraman is also having an epileptic seizure while on rollerskates with the floor covered in marbles during an earthquake. YOU CAN’T TELL WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING! It must be harder to shoot a crazy scene and actively try to mess it up rather than just let the two fake punch each other. I don’t understand this mentality of modern action directors.
I take that back. I do get it. Action directors think that by masking the actors inability to do such complex choreographies like those in The Raid, they can just compensate by shaking the camera. Let’s get one thing clear, I don’t expect every movie to have The Raid level fights. But shaking your camera around vigoursly is a stylistic choice, not a solution. When Michael Bay does it, the camera has a sense of personality as chaos explodes all around it. When Paul Greengrass did it, there was still a sense of urgency. I’m not a fan of this style, but in context of the movie it fits and there are still some “money shots” that pay off. Check out this crazy hectic battle from The Bourne Ultimatum:
Now compare that to this fight scene, as two ninjas go head to head, which is shot almost entirely of close ups and no shot lasting longer than a second or two:
The Bourne Movie managed to make it cool for you to not really know what was happening, but that movie’s hand to hand combat is different than that of GI Joe’s. In Bourne, its supposed to be lightening fast and chaotic, because these spies and sleeper-spies are all well trained in close quarters combat. The movie’s tone fits the hectic fights. But GI Joe is about power and style. Its about having fun, not urgency and real danger. And I came into this movie WANTING to have fun. My cartoons of choice growing up were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Ghostbusters, not GI Joe. I don’t know anything about the damn series, even after seeing the first movie only once back in theaters. But if I’m going to see the movie I’m going be willing to meet it more than halfway on its own terms. Dutch and Roadblock are friends, so their silly banter, although not the greatest example of comedic wit, got some chuckles out of me. Two ninjas about to face off? Cool, I’ll pump myself up, even if the movie puts this scene in a weird place with weird set up that seems to completely diverge from the main story for no reason. There are nano-machines, new characters being introduced every 15 minutes, dudes shirts getting torn off mid battle for no reason other than to show muscles, underground super prisons, and a space weapon that can destroy the entire world. All of this is extremely ludicrous. But I signed up for it when I sat down to enjoy a movie called G.I. Joe Retaliation.
This was not one of my most anticipated movies of the year. In fact, its not even my most anticpated movie starring The Rock this year (Fast & Furious 6! Woot woot!). But to enter just wanting to have some silly fun and then being bombarded with a bunch of non-sensical camera movements at the time where I should be having the most fun makes me frustrated beyond belief. I even liked how the movie focused more on the men and women, standing still shooting at things, blowing things up (there are a lot of explosions), and basically remaining invincible. But when it comes to the actual fight scenes I can’t help but fidget with frustration due to everyone involved with the movie agreeing this is the way the action SHOULD BE and NEEDS TO BE shot.
In Conclusion, everything about G.I. Joe Retaliation is designed for silly fun and good times. It all moves steadily from action set piece to action set piece and knows exactly what kind of movie it needs to be… except when the action actually starts. I’m sure most people will take the shaky cam in stride seeing as there are more than enough explosions to go around. But I can not promote this kind of lazy action filmmaking. I enjoyed my one viewing of this as much as I could and I am slightly disappointed I won’t be revisiting it again. There’s no point.
Final Grade: D+
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