Despite not getting enough sleep for several days, I decided to stay up late and watch G.I.Joe: Retaliation last night. Huge mistake.
But I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was wrong with it, until now.
tons of spoilers follow. but i think this is a movie that probably benefits from spoilers? you aren’t in it for the plot surprises? it’s all about the visual thrills, and nostalgia?
There were quite a few charming actors. The Rock was massively charming, as usual. Jonathan Pryce and Byung-hun lee were both mesmerizing. Was thoroughly thrilled at the bizarre left-field nature of Rza’s blind-sensei appearance. I actually realized it was Ray park in the Snake Eyes suit, just by the way he carried himself, and pulled off awesome stunts, despite his total lack of lines. Walton Goggins rocked, as usual. I even dug Ray Stevenson, for maybe the first time EVER.
Kind of hated everyone else in the movie. Bruce Willis was especially awful, as some kind of phoned in aged-patriot joke.
But the lion share of the movie featured the great performances noted above. So it the acting wasn’t what let the movie down.
Nope, it was super sleek and sexy. Nothing stood out as incompetent. No complaints.
Well some of the ninja mountainside stuff look shitty and fake, I guess. But it was in the middle of an outrageous ninja mountain climbing fight that was probably the best sequence of the movie.
The story was definitely weak. It felt like the result of a million rewrites. But I can’t tell if it actually was a badly written movie in the end, or a sly tribute to how shitty the G.I.Joe cartoons were.
I didn’t watch a lot of the cartoons.
I mentioned to my wife that the whole ninja part of the movie felt like some random separate movie with little connection to the main plot. She noted that this was how it often worked on the cartoon. huh.
Should also probably slap the writers around a bit for trying to appeal to both military veteran patriotism AND trying to sneak in some lefty liberal political jabs.
But I enjoyed the first G.I.Joe movie a lot, despite many similar complaints. I don’t think writing is what ruined it.
Guns and Murder?
I did find it a little weird that they were shooting such a wide variety of real guns. Weird when the Rock tore a giant gun off a vehicle, then we cut to dainty lady shooting little pistols. Was also thrown when Bruce Willis noted that he had Patton’s gun. Patton is a complicated real world military figure, not at all in line with the goofy nature of the G.I.Joe toyverse. And was totally thrown that they ended the movie with The Rock picking up Patton’s gun and randomly firing it into the air. was this meant to be an impromptu gun salute top off his military ceremony? wtf? this was literally the last image of the movie, and it totally confused me.
Was also pretty thrown when The Rock said they were going to “find the people who did this, and KILL them.” Shouldn’t that be “bring them to justice” or something?
This was definitely part of the problem. I guess it’s a tonal issue. but my first thought as the credits started was “they should have called this G.I.Joe: Yay Murder!”
mayyyybe. but I listened to some of the commentary, and Jon M. Chue seemed like a cool guy, genuinely excited to work in tons of nods for the fans. Caught some of his pride in the ninja sequence offering over 9 minutes of dialogue free action, just like some obscure wordless comic book that apparently defined G.I.Joe comics as their own force to be reckoned with. ok. good for him!
But there were a lot of weird tonal shifts. Jumping from goofy, to tear jerking patriotism, to dead serious revenge murder vows, to soulless gun shots and running, to confused politics. And there were some bits that seemed to want to evoke classic genre movies, but didn’t know how. Like the bizarre scene where they “go to the hood.” Which seemed to be some street in LA where yuppie dudes smile a lot. Anywho, it didn’t feel like the hood. not remotely genuine. it was weird.
And I keep thinking back to a sequence where they exhaustively show how 3 Joes climbed out of this well. I would have been fine with them just crawling over the lip. But instead they showed us exactly how: the giant Dwayne Johnson, the forgettable stubbled guy, and the waify lady pressed their backs together and walked up the crumbling sandy walls. Why? this was like 3 minutes of movie. What the fuck?
yeah, ok, direction was probably a big part of the problem. But i think there’s ultimately a bigger picture problem that really deserves the brunt of the criticism.
I think the problem-winner is the blockbuster nature of the film. This ties into something Damon Lindelof mentioned recently in a Vulture interview – that once you spend over $100 million, your film has to be about the end of the world. and this limits what kind of characters, and characterization, you can focus on.
Really, this is a movie about crazy characters with goofy specialized abilities. Firefly, for example, can make a bunch of small robot fireflies buzz into an area then blow up. That’s rad. But he has no place in a movie about the nuclear disarmament of Earth. This is why it was weird to have a subplot about some ninja clearing his name regarding a single assassination. And why it was weird for The Rock to basically just be a bunch of muscles. When an imposter president is trying to trick 8 nations into nuclear devastation, it’s a waste of time to hang out with the streetwise steroid poster boy, or the backstabbing ninja who always wears white. The ridiculous nature of a ninja shooting throwing stars out of the air with each bullet in his hyper-accurate uzi seems insulting when slammed up against the very real problem of modern global nuclear disarmament.
Don’t get me wrong, this cast of bizarre colorful characters could have been delightful, if they’d actually contributed to the core plot. If they’d contributed to stopping the core problem of the movie. But instead they just fucked around, doing their pitifully irrelevant small scale bullshit, while someone else did the work of saving the world.
I was struggling to keep my eyes open at the end, so maybe I missed some brilliant relevance. but. I mostly remember the rock was driving some dune buggy tank around shooting missile robots, with no direct bearing on saving the world.
if Cobra had instead infiltrated the management of a local boys and girls club, and the Rock had to find ways to leverage his street smarts to stop them without openly killing anyone, and this was cross cut with some Ninja redeeming his family honor for a false allegation of killing his childhood mentor, it would have felt much more balanced.
… maybe that’s not a great example. but. I think part of the point is that as soon as you’re saving the entire world from destruction, characterizing some strange irrelevant players seems kind of insulting and/or confusing.