Although it’s a follow-up to 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, judging by the trailer Retaliation is also a major reboot. We see the previous movie’s star, Channing Tatum (barking orders as the all-around good-guy Duke), but then…
Boom! goes the dynamite. An air strike is called in on the Joes and we are treated to a sight of total annihilation. Smoldering vehicles and panicked looks — just like when my brother and I used to set fire to our toy G.I. Joes in the backyard using our dad’s cologne as fuel. (Kids, never, EVER do that, please.)
”We’re the only ones left,” a survivor says (and it ain’t Channing Tatum). Are we to conclude that Duke is dead? Maybe. If so, he apparently willed the franchise to Dwayne Johnson, who joins this film as the heavy machine gunner Roadblock. In the ’80s cartoon, Roadblock — coincidentally — loved to cook. Can you smell what The Rock is cookin’ this time? Smells like gunpowder. (And maybe a little flash-fried Duke.)
G.I. Joe is ultimately a team story, so new members are added to the squad. Here we meet the femme fatale ninja known as Jinx (Elodie Yung.) Notice the blindfold? That’s how she preferred to fight after learning her martial arts skills from a blind master (Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA, pictured at the back left.) Or maybe he’s a creep and just told her that just so he could innocently wander into the lady-ninjas’ locker room?
Looks to me like G.I. Joe’s other kick-ass female warrior, Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), in the foreground of this gasoline plume. Either she’s taking aim at whoever just bombed her, or she’s posing as the stencil on the back of a trucker’s mud flaps.
Byung-hun Lee returns as Storm Shadow, the white ninja, who serves the ruthless terrorist organization known as Cobra. He doesn’t look too happy with his employment these days, however. Behind him is either a COBRA viper, carrying a handgun, or is it…? That smooth silver mask also suggests the original cartoon’s design for Cobra Commander.
In the 2008 film, the U.S. president (played by Jonathan Pryce) was killed by Cobra’s in-house chameleon Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), who then shape-shifted into the leader of the free world. That plot thread was left unresolved, but the sequel picks it up again. Now we see Zartan has used his position within the White House to align the United States — and other world governments — with the selfish interests of the planet’s worst criminals. So, basically, exactly the same thing Wall Street banks have done. (What — too soon?)
Bruce Willis turns up in Retaliation in a small role as Gen. Joe Colton, the founder of the special fighting force that still bears his name. It’s unclear still how he’ll factor into the story, but in a franchise filled with sci-fi technology and giant, armored war machines, it’s kind of great to see someone just going old school with a machine gun in the back of a Chevy El Camino.
Maybe all hope is not lost. Snake Eyes, the silent, black-masked commando from the Joe force, has survived but is in captivity, here seen being walked into his cell not only shackled but with twin catch poles around his neck. The warden, played by Walton Goggins (The Shield, Justified) is escorting him inside, but I wouldn’t walk that close to Snake Eyes, buddy. Just saying. You don’t want to end up on the wrong end of a catch pole — or with a catch pole up your wrong end.
And here is our new bad guy, Firefly (Ray Stevenson, memorable as Pullo on HBO’s Rome). There’s no mention of the metal-faced Destro, or the Baroness, in the sequel, but again this silver masked man suggests Cobra Commander to me. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has said he is not returning as the character, but it’s logical to assume he doesn’t have to if we never see the character’s deformed face. We never did on the cartoon.