You would have to press me really hard in order for me to tell you anything that I could remember about the first live-action G.I. Joe film, which I had to look up again to learn that it was subtitled Rise of Cobra. I only watched it a few months before the sequel, but remembering anything that happened within it is a struggle. The only thing that clearly came to mind was the final reveal right before — or was it during, or after? — the credits, which (spoiler alert!) told us that the President of the United States had been impersonated by a member of Cobra, the bad guys.
Not remembering a whole lot is a theme that I sadly took to the sequel, as even a few moments after G.I. Joe: Retaliation came to a close, I was struggling to remember what had just happened. I only wish I was kidding. This is the kind of film that is moderately exciting in the moment, but if you’re trying to remember any of it afterward, you’re going to struggle. There’s a lot of action and a lot of funnily named characters, but that’s about it.
Given that the lead from the first film is killed in the first few scenes in Retaliation, it almost seems as if the film wants to be more of a reboot, focused on a new team, than a true sequel. Or maybe it thinks we’re heavily invested in Duke (Channing Tatum), so killing him off will have some sort of impact. It didn’t for me, I’m sorry. It took me a few minutes to even remember he was the protagonist of Rise of Cobra. He dies here, along with a bunch of other Joes, after the fake-President orders an airstrike to kill them all.
A few survive, lead by Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), who wasn’t in the last film, as far as I can remember. He, and a couple of others, will try to figure out who was behind the attack, why, and then save the world, because the fate of the world is always at stake in movies like this. As it turns out, it’s Cobra Commander, because as far as I know, that’s the only villain in this series who is actually a threat. Everyone else can be taken down easily by a team of Joes.
Yes, G.I. Joe fans, I’m sure that’s not the case. But for someone whose only investment in the franchise comes from these two movies, that’s all I’ve been lead to believe. Given that the team of Joes is somewhat different this time around, wouldn’t it have made sense to introduce a new significant villain? That’s what I’d hope for. We’ve seen Cobra Commander before, and we don’t need to see him (maybe) defeated again. Give us something new, movie, and then we might have more reason to care.
I’m only somewhat joking. The action is mostly different — from what I can remember — taking a more personal approach. Instead of large-scale action scenes, it’s primarily a small team against another small team. It’s likely this was done to keep the budget down, but it also means we’re not being forced to follow too much at one time. It also makes the sequel have a different feel than its predecessor, and isn’t it kind of nice to see a counter to the “bigger is better” approach to making a sequel?
What does it matter. You’re here for the action and the action is perfectly fine. The last film worked best if you could think like a 12-year-old, and the sequel works much the same way. Is that really a compliment, though? How many 12-year-olds have a well-developed taste in cinema? Aren’t most films — at least, ones with bright lights and near-constant action — better when you’re 12? Regardless, this is the type of brain-off action movie that you have to think in a certain way to appreciate.
There’s one scene in G.I. Joe: Retaliation that I can remember clearly, and it’s the rock climbing ninja fight that featured prominently in the trailers. Granted, I remembered it before even seeing the movie, given that it was the coolest thing about the trailer by far, but seeing it in its entirety actually wound up being a bit of fun. It’s inventive, it has ninjas running along walls and slicing each other up — and even as I describe it I realize that it sounds silly and that I should just be 12 years of age again because wouldn’t that be the “very bestest”?
Here’s what it comes down to. Did you enjoy G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra? If you did, this is more of the same, just with a different team and a smaller scale. If you didn’t, it will continue to offend your intelligence, sensibilities, common sense, and anything else you want to claim it offends. There are an abundance of action scenes, a lacking of plot, character development, and anything remotely resembling depth. It’s well-paced and has at least one good moment, but asking me to remember it even a few hours later is a task with which both you and I are going to struggle.