G.I. Joe: Retaliation review

No, Joe...

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Harder. Faster. Um, realer. That’s the PR spiel supporting this delayed big screen follow-up.

It’s a sequel few were demanding, but fewer still can ignore, especially with The Rock plastered all over the posters, dangling there like a dumbbell-loving carrot for fanboys who scoffed at Stephen Sommers’ ludicrous G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra .

You don’t cast The Rock for his sentimentality, and sure enough Retaliation has all the emotional range of a lobotomized goldfish. Sweating and straining his way through a dizzying number of scuffles, The Rock mainlines adrenaline for Retaliation ’s rat-a-tat set-pieces, all of them as absurd as those of its predecessor - and, in one city-levelling jaw-dropper, even more so.

Can’t remember much about the 2009 original? No worries; an opening set of Top Trumps deals out the heroes and villains for you. Because, yes, everything in Retaliation is calibrated to snare a 13-year-old’s attention span and the story, such as it is, acts as little more than a limp washing line on which to peg those incendiary set-pieces.

The basics: Channing Tatum-led super-soldiers the G.I. Joes are framed for the assassination of the Pakistani President and outlawed. While evil outfit Cobra is put in its place, the Joes - among them Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) - attempt to put the world to rights.

Naturally, that involves ridiculously-stylish undercover clobber, fist-fights with B-villains Firefly (Ray Stevenson) and Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee), and Lady Jaye going for the jug-ular with a cleavage that could cause a serious injury. Oh, and in a second act upswing, recruiting original G.I. Joe Colton, played by a Bruce Willis…

is an apt subtitle for a franchise fighting to stay afloat despite overwhelming bad will. To his credit, director Jon M. Chu ( Step Up 2: The Streets ) turns in a 3D post-conversion (the official reason for his film’s nine month release bump) that genuinely elevates the material, not least during a heart-in-throat Himalaya scrap that steals the show.

Otherwise, the film’s flatter than a nuked London. The banter lands awkwardly and the action’s all blaze, no bruise. Back-stories are reduced to hurried back-sentences.

And The Rock? He’s easily outshone by this actioner’s surprise golden goose: Jonathan Pryce. As the compromised US President, he’s catty and compelling, playing Angry Birds during a nuclear strike and boasting about hanging out with Bono...

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Josh Winning has worn a lot of hats over the years. Contributing Editor at Total Film, writer for SFX, and senior film writer at the Radio Times. Josh has also penned a novel about mysteries and monsters, is the co-host of a movie podcast, and has a library of pretty phenomenal stories from visiting some of the biggest TV and film sets in the world. He would also like you to know that he "lives for cat videos..." Don't we all, Josh. Don't we all.