by Coop Cooper
One of my favorite sections in Blockbuster Video when I was growing up was the ‘Extreme Action’ shelf. Sort of a mixture between superhero stories and shoot-em-up action blockbusters, extreme action films are usually R-rated ‘B’ movies or big-budget PG-13 popcorn films. With a heavy emphasis on martial arts and/or sci-fi, they feature over-the-top scenes which escalate in intensity over the course of the film. The Asian market perfected this type of film in the 90’s after America invented it in the 80’s. “G. I. Joe: Retaliation” fits squarely in that category and after seeing it, I had two thoughts: 1. It was a horrible movie. 2. I may have outgrown the extreme action genre.
The plot of “Retaliation” is similar to the original but it is so thin it’s almost ridiculous to explain. The Joes get some new recruits, save some people, then they get infiltrated and betrayed. The super-terrorist group Cobra eliminates the world’s nuclear arsenal and takes over the White House. After a lot of shooting and ninja sword battles, the Joes get revenge and stop Cobra Commander’s world domination plot. Although this time, the evil ninja Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) becomes a good guy for awhile and instead of ending with a huge underwater mini-sub battle – which is stupid but would’ve been better – this time there is a quick mini-tank skirmish.
The acting is as cornball as it comes. Byung-hun Lee seems to be the only real actor in the bunch. Bruce Willis’ cameo is a glorified “Die Hard” reference and a dirty paycheck for Willis. California taxes must be eating him alive.
In short, it’s goofy. ‘Extreme’ action movies follow a very familiar formula but take more liberties with the audience’s suspense of disbelief. There is also a fantasy element in which the heroes and villains seem capable of superhuman feats through both impossible skill and ridiculous technology. Logic is always thrown out the window in order to move the story forward. Style trumps substance as big explosions/outrageous kills are a requirement.
Although I used to enjoy these types of films much more when I was younger, these days I can only handle so many ninjas shooting lasers out of their eyes. Besides, if terrorists truly had the microscopic nano and drone technology that Cobra has possession of, America would be a hole in the ground and our enemies would be colonizing Mars the very next year.
Another egregious sin this film committed is what I like to call the “Iron Eagle 2” syndrome. That’s when a popular film facilitates the need for a quick sequel but the producers can’t afford the original star(s) – for most of the film at least – so they get rid of them or kill them off at the beginning and let new stars take over for the rest of the film. “Retaliation” sidelines nearly all of the original characters and does so in some very idiotic ways. One of them is simply told they are “out of the band” and left behind, never to be seen again. Another takes a direct missile hit in the first ten minutes and when audiences see it, I suspect much of the audience will tune out because this actor was probably the only reason they went to see this mess.
For some truly great examples of extreme action films, try John Woo’s “Hard Boiled” (1992), Albert Pyun’s “Nemesis” (1992), Stephen Chow’s “Shaolin Soccer” (2001), Mark L. Lester’s “Showdown in Little Tokyo” (1991), John Carpenter’s “Big Trouble in Little China” (1986) Doug Liman’s “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” (2005) Paul Verhoeven’s “RoboCop” (1987) and many of the early movies of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal or Chuck Norris. Even the recent “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” wasn’t too terrible.
As I said after the last “Transformers” movie… please, no more. This now applies to “G. I. Joe” as well. If they try to make another “He-Man” movie (see the original 1987 “Masters of the Universe” with Dolph Lundgren, it’s a lot of fun), my childhood memories of extreme action movies inspired by toy lines will have been officially ruined. And that’s a terrible thing.
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars