G.I. Joe: Retaliation

Once again I have to start this review with my fanboy disclaimer: I am not a GI Joe “buff,” and you shouldn’t have to be to see this movie.  I watched the cartoons as a child, but I’m approaching this review as an average moviegoer and not an enthusiast.  At any rate, I enjoyed the first edition and was looking forward to the sequel.  It was entertaining, and it opened up at number 1 at the box office – but it wasn’t quite all it was cracked up to be.

We begin with Duke (Channing Tatum, Side Effects) and Roadblock (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Snitch) as the movie opens with a glimpse into their affable friendship.  Tatum and Johnson have an easy rapport, and it’s always interesting to see these iconic cartoon/comic book characters brought to life.  Lady Jaye is portrayed by Adrianne Palicki (Red Dawn), who you may recognize from Friday Night Lights, while DJ Cotrona of Detroit 187 appears as Flint.  Duke is the clear leader, but his position is threatened when the Joes are ambushed by COBRA while on assignment.  It turns out the President is actually a disguised Zartan, who ultimately wants to free Cobra Commander from his prison and destroy the Joes in the process.  The ambush results in severe casualties, and nuclear warheads are stolen. The President (Zartan) blames the Joes and paints them as traitors, disavowing them.  Disgraced and betrayed, the surviving Joes band together to figure out who’s responsible and recover the warheads.

I’ll be succinct and quite simply tell you what worked and what didn’t.  We’ll start with the positive.  I thought the casting was effective and the lineup made sense.  Additionally, there were quite a few cool scenes and plenty of entertaining action sequences, including a memorable scene involving Snake Eyes (Ray Park, X-Men) and Jinx (Elodie Yung, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) battling ninjas on the side of a snow-capped mountain.  Bruce Willis (Red) makes a cameo as a seasoned Joe who lends a hand, and he’s a sentimental favorite of mine.   I think he’s gonna try to do the action thing until he’s collecting Social Security (if he’s not already), and you know what? He can still pull it off.

Unfortunately, the movie wasn’t without its flaws.  The 3D aspect was negligible, which is becoming all too common nowadays.  Secondly, the writing was not very impressive.  The movie faltered when it drifted away from action.  The dialogue was corny and the plot confusing at times, beginning with the appearance of RZA as a wise old martial arts master who has a history with Storm Shadow (Byung-hun-Lee, I Saw the Devil).  I thought I was watching The Man With the Iron Fists for a second.  I like RZA, but I couldn’t take him seriously. I think if you grew up watching the cartoons, you might want to see this off GP, and I can dig it.  But if you’re totally neutral about it, perhaps you should forego the experience.  It wasn’t bad.  It just wasn’t THAT good.  Grade: B-


Every self-proclaimed movie buff has a favorite genre and type of movie.  My favorites are suspense thrillers or crime dramas.  I also like movies that feature intersecting storylines.  I think the best movies are “high concept,” meaning that the storyline is uniquely original and it features a refreshing central idea.  Some examples would be Inception, In Time, and Minority Report.  All three of those movies were unlike anything that preceded them.  Looper was such a movie, a high concept tale characterized by an inventive storyline.

J. Gordon Levitt (Inception) has matured into a fine young actor.  He has been impressive in everything I’ve ever seen in him, most notably 500 Days of Summer.  In Looper he stars as Joe, a young criminal in the desolate future of 2044.  30 years from that in 2074, time travel will be possible.  It is ultimately outlawed, used only by criminal organizations in secret as a way of eliminating unwanted offenders.  Joe is a looper, a person who executes people who have been sent back from the future.  Criminals in 2074 send their victim (always another criminal) back in time to 2044, where they are immediately shotgun blasted out of existence by a looper.  There is now virtually no trace of the person ever having existed.  It’s a sad and efficient way of dispensing with an enemy.  Occasionally a crime boss will want to get rid of an employee, even a looper.  When this happens, the looper will make the requisite kill, only to remove the pillowcase from his victim to discover that it’s him or herself (in the future).  This is called “closing your loop,” which means that your future self no longer exists.  The worst thing that a looper could do is fail to close his loop by letting his future self escape.  An open loop means that a future and present version of the looper co-exist in the present.  It also means that they haven’t been removed from the future yet.  It would be like 33-year-old Tanya and 63-year-old Tanya chilling right now in 2012.  Bugged out, right?  Exactly, that’s why it can’t happen.  As crazy as it must seem to put a bullet in your future self, that’s what a looper must do, if necessary.  Joe doesn’t lack the resolve to do it, but he bungles a hit on his future self (Bruce Willis, Red) when the time comes.

Of course, being a looper, Future Joe (Willis) knows exactly what is going to happen when his bosses try to send him back in time.  He prepares for it and outsmarts Present Joe easily, overpowering him and escaping.  I’m just going to refer to Future Joe as Bruce Willis, for simplicity’s sake.  Once his bosses find out that Joe didn’t close his loop, they send a bounty hunter (Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom) back in time to eliminate both Joes – the young one for botching the job and the old one because he was the target in the first place.  Joe himself is also very committed to killing himself, stopping at nothing to track Bruce Willis down.  There is a curious dynamic between Young Joe and Bruce Willis, as their agendas are wildly divergent.  Bruce Willis wants to make sure that his life plays out, as it should, the way he knows it.  He already knows what his version of the future holds, because he’s lived it.  He has a wife that he’ll never meet if Young Joe somehow alters the course of their lives.  Young Joe wants to make his own way in the world and cares nothing for a hypothetical future that he knows nothing about.

Looper was an intriguing movie.  Its high concept premise lured me in, but there were several enjoyable elements.  The casting was great.  Bruce Willis was fitting as the grisly older man who is one step ahead of his younger self.  He really looks like an older version of J. Gordon Levitt, which was especially noticeable in one scene where both actors were shown in profile.  Emily Blunt was also featured, and I think she’s very versatile.  Here she showed a vulnerability and sense of love and compassion that I liked very much.  Her performance was both emotional and convincing.  Levitt always simply does whatever is required of him, and he does it very well.   Looper was nearly flawless, and I hope that Levitt continues to challenge himself with great scripts like this one.  Grade:  A