2013 Dwayne Johnson Action Movie

I never played with GI Joes as a boy – Mum thought they were too violent and I was more of a Transformers kid anyway. The recent films seemed like a bit of dumb fun though, so the other day I went off to GI Joe: Retaliation (a much snappier subtitle than the original one they had for it, which I understand was GI Joe: This Franchise is a Dwayne Johnson Vehicle Now And If You Don’t Like That Tough Shit You Had Your Chance With The Last One And You Fucked It Up).

Roland Emmerich’s semen stains

The first film, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, was a masterclass in how to violate John Rogers’ guidelines on writing action scenes. That article is something every fan of action films should read – the main lesson is, as he puts it: “Don’t write action scenes. Write suspense scenes that require action to resolve.” After I first read it, I found myself seeing the lesson in every movie I watched (like when I first heard about teal and orange). And I saw it plenty in The Rise of Cobra – pretty much every action scene in that film just went until it stopped without serving any real purpose. I have to say though, when watching Retaliation, this sort of stuff didn’t stick out to me – basically because nothing about the film really stuck out.

I’d hoped this one might be an improvement on the former – it shows promise when they start by ditching all the dead weight from the first film. Some characters get blown up and others just never appear, such as the Superfluous Wayans and the Hot Redhead. (Bit of a pity, that – one of the best things about the first film was being able to shout “ha ha – looks like this time the fire is on the other crotch!” whenever she appeared.*) One of the villains basically gets told to his face “sorry, you’re not in this one” and is never seen again.

Having done that, they’re free to bring in an entirely new team, consisting of The Rock, Parkour Guy and Corporal Tits’n’Ass** and play them up as an improvement on the last lot. This wasn’t a problem for me at all – since I was never a GI Joe fan, I had no attachment to any of the characters who were jettisoned. I wonder how actual fans would have reacted, especially since the film shovels in lots of other stuff that I’m assuming were fan-pleasing references to GI Joe things I’ve never heard of – cool gadgets that are used once and then forgotten, characters that hang around in the background and barely get a mention.

Compared to the first film, this one spends less time setting up the characters, but more time setting up the story (or at least it felt that way). Even with all the setting up, though, the plot was still all over the place. Some of this was down to the Snake Eyes Problem – Snake Eyes is the Wolverine of the GI Joe franchise; not a central character in the overall scheme of things, but the number one fan favourite, which means he needs to be included in whatever’s going on. While I haven’t seen or read too much GI Joe material, everything I have experienced has had the plot “the Joes go and blow up Cobra and also Snake Eyes is off somewhere doing awesome ninja stuff.” Sure enough, while everyone else is trying to foil Cobra’s evil scheme to hold the Earth’s nuclear powers to ransom, Snake Eyes is jumping around mountains and hanging out with RZA (here playing the role of Ninja Master With a Ridiculous Beard).

There’s also a fair bit of tension generated by the film’s attempts to be modern and realistic while also remaining true to the silly 80s toy line it’s based on (and while keeping to an M rating – I’m pretty sure there was not a single drop of blood visibly spilt throughout the whole film). This was also true of the first film, which took pains to set up the Joes as a modern fighting force and introduce everyone’s detailed back story, and then casually introduced a character called Dr. Mindbender without anyone blinking. So here we get tense, personal drama and intimate action, in the middle of which there’s the following sequence, which occupies no more than 30 seconds of the film and is never brought up again:

COBRA: Yeah, so we just destroyed London.

[CGI shot of a kinetic harpoon devastating central London, Roland Emmerich’s semen stains still drying on it.]

EVERYONE ELSE: Sucks to be London. Anyway…

There were definitely multiple writers working on this one – not only does the plot jump around, but the dialogue does too. At the very least there was Witty Dialogue Guy, who supplies some genuinely funny quip-laden banter and one-liners, which The Rock in particular delivers well; and Clunky Exposition Guy, who throws in leaden prose whenever things are in danger of displaying subtlety or requiring a few seconds’ thought. Cobra Commander in particular seems to have been the object of a tussle between the two – one minute he’s throwing out pop culture references, and the next he’s a walking thesaurus of movie villain clichés.

So not the best film I’ve ever seen. Ah well. And I haven’t even mentioned how part way through Bruce Willis shows up, behaving as he always does in films like this – the cocky smirk, the presumed invulnerability – oh shit, was this actually a Die Hard sequel all along?! Mind. Blown.

*Because, see, she was in The Woods as a blond bully who was always teasing the ginger protagonist and calling her “fire crotch” and then she was the one playing a redhead don’t fucking judge me.

**If you think that’s sexist, you should see how the film treats her – despite setting her up as a highly trained killing machine, at two separate points in the film her role is to wear something cartoonishly revealing and distract a horny bad guy. After the second such sequence it cuts to a scene of her teammate surreptitiously ogling her as she changes outfits while discussing her daddy issues.

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3 thoughts on “2013 Dwayne Johnson Action Movie

  1. Apathy Jack

    Well, this saves me the effort of writing my own…

    The overriding feeling seemed to be that the producers of this one said “Hmm, a high tech terrorist group who have planted a sleeper agent into the oval office? That’s a great story, and one we’re very interested in telling part 2 of.” The they watched the first movie and said “What the fuck is this shit? Alright, get rid of everything and THEN tell part 2 of that story we heard…” The sheer contempt they had for the original (which I’m not saying was undeserved) was evident in the lack of effort that went into the recast. The original had a tough handsome soldier (Duke) and the sequel had one too (immediately after Duke dies, the previously dialogue-free Flint steps up to be this). Wise-cracking black guy becomes wise-cracking Samoan guy. And in an inspired move, Tough-as-nails-good-with-computers-girl-with-daddy-issues becomes Tough-as-nails-good-with-computers-girl-with-daddy-issues. Even jaded-commanding-officer-who-comes-to-respect-the-new-kids (was it Randy Quaid in the original? Dennis Quaid? I don’t even know anymore) becomes _retired_ jaded-commanding-officer-who-comes-to-respect-the-new-kids It’s like the script was written before the producers decided to scorched-earth everything about the original.

    (My favourite piece of open contempt for the original was the fact that they didn’t even throw the audience a “Storm Shadow survived because of, y’know, ninja shit.”. As blase as this would have been, 1) it would have been inkeeping with the ethos of ninja shit, and 2) it would have given us an explanation, however rubbish, about how he came through a sword to the chest followed by being abandoned under the polar icecaps. But no. You could almost hear the producers’ voices in the background saying “Fuck that shit, if they sat through the first one, they’ll probably be too busy making out with their sisters to notice minor plot discrepancies.”)

    Speaking as someone who did (and still does – don’t look at me! DON’T YOU FUCKING LOOK AT ME) read GI Joe every month, I can attest that this movie was actually thematically very faithful to the comics. Which is to say: 2-dimensionally tough characters who will go to great, even action-slowing, lengths to describe the exact names and functions of their weapons and vehicles, all wrapped up in a fun and mindless series of fights that gets upsettingly stupid whenever there are more than two ninjas in the same shot. (“We need to hide in the snow – you stay wearing black while I put on my bright yellow camouflage! Wait, this isn’t stupid enough – someone get the Wu Tang Clan on the phone and tell them to send whichever one of them is the worst actor!” In fact, the ninja scenes in the movie were exactly like those in the comic – I hate them because they are ridiculous beyond my ability to suspend disbelief, but then I forget that I hate them because I’m so excited that shit is blowing up, and shit blowing up is awesome. Ninja scenes are basically the crywanking of the GI Joe franchise.)

    On a related note, your observation about Cobra Commander was valid, but made it fit more with the comic (which is not objectively a good thing for many movies – this one included). When the comic was relaunched by Devil’s Due, then rebooted by IDW, both lacked the sense of fun possessed by the original Marvel series. When IDW gave the reins back to Larry Hama, it was Cobra Commander’s over the top cartoon-super-villain rants that were the best indicator that the sheer joy of the original series (and yes, joy is the best word – because fuck you) had returned.

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