G.I. Joes know their stuff.
Whatever the situation, these consummate supersoldiers are prepared to go the distance. When the president of the United States of America sends them to Pakistan to infiltrate a military base and snatch that turbulent nation's nukes, for instance, there are no questions asked. No second guessing. They just assess the situation, carry out the mission and walk away with minimal damage.
That's how the Joes roll: They're precise and by the book.
Of course, "the book" doesn't always cover everything. It doesn't have rules about what to do when your commander in chief turns on you and sends a surprise attack of helicopters, missiles and men to demolish your entire squad after a job well done. Yeah, the book doesn't have much of anything to say about that scenario.
That's when a seasoned soldier lets his instincts take over. And so Sgt. Marvin F. Hinton, aka Roadblock, does exactly that. He gathers the few remaining members of the Joes and begins making plans.
How could this have happened? Why would the soldiers' country betray them? And why is the president calling them traitors?
Roadblock doesn't know. But he does have a gut feeling the answers to all those questions have something to do with the villainous outfit known as Cobra, a group infamous for harboring and hatching its nefarious plans for world domination. If Roadblock's right, he and the remaining Joes will do everything necessary to protect an unsuspecting populace.
And evil doesn't stand a chance against even a handful of these focused, determined soldiers. I told you already: The G.I. Joes know their stuff.
Roadblock is a loving dad, a dedicated soldier and a good friend. He serves his country proudly and fights sacrificially to save it. He also holds his fellow soldiers in high regard and is cut deeply when most of his squad gets killed in the president's ambush. Afterward, he collects a sack full of their dog tags to honor his comrades. He says of one fallen fighter, "He was a great soldier, a better friend."
When the Joes are attacked at the beginning of the film, they fight valiantly to keep one another alive. We see one soldier sacrifice his life to save a friend. From then on, G.I. Joe: Retaliation repeatedly reinforces that theme of sacrificial service and honor among brave and conscientious soldiers.
Eventually, the surviving Joes are exonerated, praised and saluted by their country.
Before leaping into action, Roadblock lifts up something of a soldier's "prayer" for everyone's safe return (quoting lyrics by rapper Jay-Z). One character utters "thank God" after she learns a friend has survived an attack.
A female Joe named Lady Jaye uses her feminine wiles to attract and distract two different men. In one case, she wears short exercise shorts and a sports bra. In the other, she dresses in a slinky gown that accentuates her curves and cleavage. She changes clothes, and a fellow soldier (along with the camera) spots a distorted reflection of her wearing only a bra and skimpy panties. So as to give equal time, as it were, during a battle a male solider has his shirt pulled off to reveal his rippling torso.
From the opening moments it's clear that this G.I. Joe is all about heated, explosive conflicts and well-choreographed, mano a mano beat-'em-ups. Those pound-and-grind moments land with even more concussive impact in the 3-D version of the film as bullets, vehicles and chunks of debris regularly get hurled in audiences' faces.
Those battles result in an extremely high body count. And while most of Retaliation's many onscreen deaths are relatively bloodless and free of gore, they're nevertheless pretty realistic looking. For instance:
A squad of men is set upon by missile-firing helicopters that light up the night with enormous explosions. Vehicles erupt in towering columns of flame, and men are sent flying in every direction. In another scene, small mechanical fireflies swarm through a military compound and then blow up in large balls of orange flame, enveloping nearby soldiers. Scores of nuclear missiles are launched (but detonated before they reach their targets). We see a supersecret weapon obliterate two sprawling capital cities.
An insurgent rides his motorcycle into a compound and jumps off it as it breaks into rocket-propelled segments that destroy the side of a building. A group of men are felled by grenade-like balls that send small metal projectiles ripping through a room. A bloodied soldier shoots a tank of fuel, frying all nearby—including himself. A survivor's back is badly burned, and we get a close-up look at his still-smoldering flesh.
We see scores of martial arts encounters with men and women flailing away with staffs, blades and ninja throwing stars. In one scene, combatants run along a steep mountainside suspended by ropes. They slash at each other and at ropes; many ropes get sliced, sending victims falling to a distant death far below. Elsewhere, an avalanche crushes a dozen or so men. Someone is sent flying up in the air when hit by a truck.
Roadblock walks through a field of smoking debris and dead men and pulls the dog tags off a partially covered corpse. We also see the massive Roadblock fighting and pummeling many enemies, slamming them into walls, fences, tables and concrete pillars even as he ends up on the receiving end of similarly fierce blows.
Bad guys talk of waterboarding and torturing the kidnapped president. We see him hit in the face once. One of his tormentors cuts his own face with a large blade to show the self-repairing effects of new nanotechnology.
Crude or Profane Language
An unfinished "motherf—" is left hanging in the air during a heated moment. Six uses of "h‑‑‑," along with three exclamations of "a‑‑" and one "d‑‑n." A bad guy employs an obscene hand gesture.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Specialized drugs are used. In one case, three men are given a muscle-paralyzing substance to keep them docile. The Joes jam a needle into a government official's leg, saying the injection will wipe his memory. Another character is rendered unconscious with a drug-filled inhaler.
Guests at a political event drink wine. A song alludes to a "whiskey-drinkin' mother."
Other Negative Elements
Roadblock makes an off-color, winking joke about his friend Duke sending women screaming from his room. But then the big guy balks when the reference is applied to his own daughters.
Avid fans of the 1980s G.I. Joe cartoon—and those simply longing for a good duck-and-cover explosion-themed actioner—will spend more time standing in line to see it than they will reading this review. But for those of you who really do want to know if this concert of cordite concussions, bulging biceps and armored Armageddon is worth dragging the fam to, let me give you a few clues:
First of all, this is a quick-paced pic that starts out stabbing something of a dramatic adrenaline needle into its own cinematic heart. From there it slams its foot on the armored-vehicle gas pedal—with a trigger finger clenched in an automatic-weapon death grip—and never looks back. The cartoony heroes and masked villains are all way over the top as they alternately ravage or rescue the world.
In star Dwayne Johnson's case, that plays out pretty well. He looks and sounds as much like an over-muscled cartoon hero as any flesh-and-blood human has a right to. (Even Bruce Willis looks like a frail fellow next to the actor once known in the pro wrestling world as The Rock.) The film's martial millieu works for director Jon M. Chu, too. His past films (dance flicks Step Up 3D and Step Up 2: The Streets) have obviously prepared him for choreography of a different type, this time involving all manner of ninja sword-slashing, machine gun-hoisting and tank-jumping moves.
Of course, all of that bombast makes for quite a lot of bullet-riddling, swinging-on-a-cliff-side destruction. Hundreds of good guys and bad ones (including, surprisingly, some central characters) get pounded, pummeled and decimated. Some even get dropped screaming to their deaths. They're all relatively bloodless endings, but sure demises nonetheless.
After noting the drips and drabs of foul language and sensuality, I'll end with this "warning": If you've decided to go ahead and see this one, you might want to consider having plenty of snacks on hand. After all, you'll want to give your brain something to focus on while your eyes are drinking in all that mindless boom-boom-boom cacophony.