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Rating: ★★☆☆☆

When G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra came out in 2009 it wasn’t a film that had audiences demanding a sequel. Nor was it a film that pleased fans of the long running G.I. Joe franchise of action figures, comics and cartoons that have been popular worldwide for decades. The general feeling was that not only did it fail as an action movie in its own right, but also failed to truly connect with its core fans.

This isn’t unusual when it comes to movie adaptations of franchises based on action figures. The Dolph Lungren starring Masters of the Universe movie deviated greatly from what we’d come to expect from He-Man, and the Thunderbirds movie was so bad it made even non fans think the puppet based TV series had better acting. There are countless others and often worse examples but the G.I Joe movie wasn’t as bad as them (He-Man is actually still pretty fun in retrospect), but the studios recognised that in order for this franchise to thrive, big changes were needed.

To start with almost the entire cast has been changed from Rise of the Cobra to Retaliation. Channing Tatum is back, though his role is reduced from the lead that he was in the first movie in favour of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who joins the battles as franchise character Roadblock. The two actually have pretty good chemistry together on screen and in a different movie could have made a better double act in a sort of Rush Hour or Lethal Weapon style.

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Other returning actors include Byung Hun-Lee as Storm Shadow and Ray Park as Snake Eyes, which ensures we get plenty of ninja combat. Jonathan Pryce is also back as The United States President, and for those of you reading who saw the ending of the first film, it will come as no surprise that his role has taken centre stage in this movie as we’d seen that Zartan has infiltrated the White House. Pryce really steals every scene he is in, and his swagger and cockiness is a joy to watch as he gleefully plays Angry Birds as other world leaders panic to save their nations from destruction.

Still that enough about the old, and let’s look some more at what’s new. As mentioned The Rock is here, and he has all his usual charm, and makes a convincing leader of his team. It has to be said that since the film does choose to show Roadblock away from war and establish him as a family man, it doesn’t do it with enough depth to make us care about him, or his family. This is only a minor point, and credit can be given to them for attempting to give Roadblock a more gentle side, but realistically we only pay to see The Rock put ‘Boots to Asses’. Luckily for us he does plenty of that, and he has some really fun and explosive battles against Ray Stevenson as Firefly.

The biggest new addition to the franchise is Bruce Willis as the original G.I Joe, and he plays the part exactly like John MaClane…which is exactly as he should play the role. His wise cracks are spot on and he is in true Die Hard form when he’s on screen, but this is unfortunately not as much as you’d hope from a man who is front centre on the poster. He also shares very little screen time with Dwayne Johnson for those who were hoping to get the two whooping everyone in sight as the ultimate unstoppable force. Still I guess that happening may have made it too unfair to the bad guys in the favour of the Joes. This also gives them the opportunity to have them share more screen time in a sequel, but they could have done it this time and it’s not good to make the audience wait for a sequel to get what we could have had first time around.

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The tone of the movie is fairly inconsistent at times as it bounces between gritty realism and Mighty Morphing Power Rangers like ninja battles. This is partly because of the source material, and no matter what they did to try and add serious warfare to it they’d never be able to escape that some of the characters look like The Stig doing karate. It’s just a shame that it takes so long to connect the threads of the plot with Roadblock, Flint and Lady Jaye with what Storm Shadow is doing. Each side of the plot is fun in its own right, but could have done with coming together quicker.

The plot is solid enough in that you stay engaged with the action and humour, but you won’t get the kind of clever plotting that you’d get from Bourne, Batman or Bond. The method in which our heroes discover the truth of who the bad guy is, is fairly ridiculous. It was one of those scenes where everyone in the cinema was laughing for the wrong reason as Adrianne Palicki as Lady Jaye pointed out that you can recognise an imposter by their saying the word ‘Kinda’ instead of the word ‘Sorta’. Dwayne’s attempt to make light of it doesn’t quite excuse its absurdity, but luckily this is where Bruce strolls in and shows them how action movie smart talk can get you out of the most convenient plot developments.

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So to sum things up G.I Joe Retaliation 3D is a fun movie that will certainly give enough thrills and humour to be worth a couple of your hours. Is it the best action movie this year? No, and it’s not even the best action movie starring Bruce Willis you’ll have seen this year, but for action fans its sure to bridge the gap before the summer blockbuster season takes full effect.

It is sure to be the only movie with an old lady ninja though! And that is worth the ticket price alone!

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GI Joe: Retaliation 3D is out in cinemas this week.

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This article was first posted on March 25, 2013