Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) and Firefly (Ray Stevenson) bulk up for roughened fisticuffs as their ninja counterparts Storm Shadow (Byung-Hun Lee) and Snake Eyes (Ray Park) sling across mountains on chaotic zipline action. Styles are vibrantly varied, plunged together amidst a burdened script which often slips into ill-explained exposition.
G.I. Joe is a whittled force, ambushed by a rogue president whom slipped in under the guise of cloaking nanobots as Paramount’s first G.I. Joe fell into comatose credits. That film, a loud, often obnoxious technological extravaganza, is almost forgotten as we zip into Retaliations’ reality-driven – if futuristic – frame.
Roadblock takes center character charge, superseding Duke (Channing Tatum) as franchise face. Humanistic elements take the Joe’s away from Cobra battles, piecing them out as family men working out the American dream to shoot stuff, and coming home to white picket fences.
Retaliation ends with a symbolic bullet, as if that round is representative of metaphorical cause, in oppositon to thousands fired prior. Gunfights rip across the screen to deviate a nuclear holocaust, a framework better fit for an ’80s Cold War action picture starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. But, what’s more American than deeply tanned, broad shouldered muscle men igniting explosions to save the planet? At times, the satirical heart of Starship Troopers was given more legitimate credence toward its militaristic mindset than Retaliation.
Marketing feels as if its turned, gunning (literally) into a mindset of pride rather than kinetic and disjointed hyper futurism. Roadblock and Duke are captured in a deadlocked match of Call of Duty, no surprise left then when Retaliation spirals into a goofy story of political unrest in a deadened brown desert. Little here is indistinguishable from the vaunted video game franchise… except ninjas.
Ray Park and Byung-Hun Lee are the film’s color, masterful martial artists whom broaden scope to embellish on the absurd. Stand-offs with throwing stars and machine guns only begin an Eastern escapade of swords, honor, and upheaval, leading to a shockingly brilliant summer action romp mountainside. Attached to impossibly placed ropes, ninjas ascend to be plucked from their safety harnesses into Grand Canyon-level openings below. With raw imagination and special effects ingenuity, Retaliation finds its spark, an equivalent to Rise of Cobra’s never resting London run.
And what follows is merely okay, a run with rocket-firing vehicles doing aerials, and combined juxtaposition as ninjas collide with soldiers. An inventive rumble to finish, involving face-to-face gunplay, comes after endless explosions and sniveling Dwayne Johnson close-ups have run their course. Taking this franchise and running from marketable cartoon origins is a grab for an audience outside of those who enlisted in G.I. Joe for Halloween back in the ’80s. Yet, that decision creates an atmosphere where enjoyment saturation peaks before Bruce Willis begins a run though Cobra thugs. Not even screen presence of a squinting Willis can surpass a ninja’s impact.
With a beautiful film stock, often flustered color schemes, and stern focal points, Retaliation is scripted perfection in its visual scope. Grain is a persistent performer, levying work on Paramount’s encoding, and delivering gloss expected of summer escapism. Compression bothers are removed from the visual equation.
Peaking with astronomically tight close-ups, resolved facial detail becomes critical to the film’s visible appeal. A stunning visual repertoire slips in and dominates, medium, long, or close-ups all welcomed. Interesting is a clearly filtered 3D presentation, elements often run rip shod over these appealing elements, from hints of digital clean-up on Bruce Willis and sexualized star Adrianne Palicki to inadequate focus, both thickly softening elements to dilute their appeal. Switching from Snake Eye’s suit, visible down to costuming threads, to a close-up lost in drifting focus is unfortunate – and common on a separate 3D transfer, almost never a concern when ditching the glasses.
Run through with an orange and teal infusion in post, Retaliation will stick with the unfortunately popular hues, although shifts more than some animated films. Desert heat thickens flesh tones in addition to coupling a blasted contrast, while counteracting vertical mountainscapes cool with vivid whites, along with a natural base. A color tightened finale dishes on browns for exterior rumbles, and inherits a case of blue for world leader loaded interiors, a sub-battle of visual elements.
While droopy on a handful of occasions, black levels otherwise rush in to catapult depth into the heart of image quality. Beginning under the cloak of night, Retaliation hits heavy, without smacking shadow detail with a loss. Density packs in tight and enriches visuals already stocked with a palette of impressiveness, at least when it wants to do so.
Infamously delayed in 2012 for the sake of 3D conversion (and more realistically to reshoot and add scenes), Retaliation’s wait was worth it up to a point. Opening with digital character cards displayed on an interface, the astounding depth pushes hard, unlike most conservative post-conversion efforts. Layers plump up sights and scatter debris onto the face of the screen, close enough to exhibit refined 3D elements. Planes and bullets are carefully plotted to enhance 3D detail.
Retaliation must be a record setter for number of guns poked at the screen, characters standing with firearms outstretched toward the lens, and regardless, it works. A 3D highlight is unquestionably the ninja fight on the mountains, slinging ninjas out of the frame as they plunge to a falling death for audience amusement. Ropes cascade into the screen, and height is sold completely within the shots depicting vertical space. That high carries some unfortunate circumstances: What follows feels dim, with less reliance on planting cameras where depth can be fully exhibited. Fights lose their scale for one-on-one runs, and 3D becomes a slowly dying afterthought. Still, there is an hour plus of genuinely clean conversion work to take in, and success is definitive.
At five minutes in, Retaliation goes dark, completely black with only audio to sell an action gag. Voices plunge into each channel as LFE erupts due to precision gunfire. That’s a vision of every action scene to follow. This is a stupidly loud, masterfully mixed TrueHD 7.1 presentation, as rambunctious and boomy as home theaters will allow. In the face of action giants like Expendables 2, lowly Retaliation decides to play a premium game.
An unheard of explosion count means plentiful excuses to dump material to the subwoofer, a rarely stopping piece of this reference sound mix. Punches become ludicrously oversized with girth exhibited in the sub for extended, monster power. Guns, small or large, are bolstered by gargantuan, smooth, tight activity in the .1, only aided by additional design. Heartbeats and slow motion vehicles battle to match enormity felt elsewhere.
Avalanche fun, whipping winds, traveling robot insects, panning helicopters, roaring jets; it’s endless. Complaints of audio pacing are unfounded, as Retaliation is always doing something fun. TrueHD shenanigans seem to extinguish themselves with a swallowed city near to the finish, and yet, it keeps doing more, layering gunfire, extending to additional surrounds, and rushing into stereos. This is flawless.
After all that, we come to wavering extras, certainly sufficient and lengthy, if anemic in presentation. Director Jon M. Chu collaborates with producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura for a commentary track, followed by an 72-minute, eight part making of that moves from apprehension in the studio’s director choice to plotting out a tighter film. It’s praise-heavy if detailed. A weak three deleted scenes are left.
Note the disc asks viewers to choose between Joe and Cobra when booting. The only difference would appear to be color schemes and background video.
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