'G.I. Joe: Retaliation'
Director: Jon M. Chu
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Adrienne Palicki
2 (out of 5) Globes
As with most long-running comic book franchises, "G.I. Joe"'s mythology is insanely complicated. Here's all you need to know to comprehend the first sequel, "G.I. Joe: Retaliation": at one point, a member of the good guy squadron announces, "I'm the quicker blower-upper." Less an action movie than a catalogue of artillery and explosions, it's too much of a drag to be dumb fun, but gun collectors and pyromaniacs might dig it.
The film takes off where the first left off, with the American president (Jonathan Pryce) having been replaced by Zartan (also Pryce), a soldier serving the evil Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey) who's been made to look exactly like the commander in chief. All that's standing between Cobra and world domination is the G.I. Joe team, led by Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson at his most by-the-numbers). Other members include Flint (D.J. Cotrona, appropriately rock-like), Lady Jaye (Adrienne Palicki, relentlessly ogled) and Duke (Channing Tatum). Tatum's role has been played up in advertising, and there were reshoots to give him more screen time, but he exits early.
The colorless crew is almost wiped out by a strike ordered by "The President" shortly after they successfully invade Pakistan to retrieve that country's nuclear weapons. That mission is one the movie supports: up with guns and pre-emptive strikes, down with nuclear disarmament. Or does it? "There's only one person who could authorize a strike like that, and I voted for him," Roadblock says after the attack, and the team investigates what our white male president is up to. "What if the president...isn't the president?" Lady Jaye wonders when she stumbles onto the truth. At such moments, "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" seems like a bizarre riff on Obama voters disappointed with their president's drone strike policy.
Sometimes the movie seems to be flirting with camp, as when the RZA shows up as a ninja master with the fakest beard ever and barks martial arts lore. But mostly "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" is shockingly dull, with lots of incoherently shot carnage and lame wisecracks. (The worst offender on that front is Bruce Willis, who seems to be trying to destroy the goodwill he's accrued over the years.) There's one undeniably cool bit involving ziplining ninjas fighting it out on the mountains, but the film mostly presents undeniable silliness with a tedious poker face.