Director Jon M. Chu has not made a secret of his G.I. Joe passion, and now he has a film to back it up. "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" ditches the science-fiction camp of the previous film in favor of classic guts and glory. The result makes "Retaliation" a more grounded film, meaning that everyone turned off by "The Rise of Cobra" has another chance to enlist with a totally new take on the Joe squad.
It's not just the approach that's new this time out, either. Channing Tatum and a handful of others are the only actors reprising their roles from the first film, thus ensuring that "Retaliation" both looks and feels like a fresh start. The cast is anchored by Dwayne Johnson as Roadblock, with D.J. Cotrona and Adrianne Palicki rounding out the core Joes, and Bruce Willis added for extra cred.
So just how does "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" differ from "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra"? Here are the key changes that make "Retaliation" work.
Accelerator suits out, fatigues in
Fans weren't exactly thrilled that the people behind "The Rise of Cobra" felt the need to outfit the Joes in head-to-toe black suits more reminiscent of superheroes like the X-Men than combat-ready soldiers. The decision was even more confusing since most Joes wear uniforms not far removed from the actual armed forces (not counting Scarlett's ninja-gymnast get-up). In "Retaliation," however, the protagonists sport battle armor over traditional camouflage and fatigues, at times even mixing it up in nothing more than t-shirts, combat boots and practical pants. These heroes don't need science-fiction armor to get the job done.
No forced connections
By the end of the first G.I. Joe film, viewers needed a jumbo-sized diagram to make sense of the extensive connections between the Joe and not-yet-Cobra forces. Duke's ex-fiancée became the evil Baroness because of her brother Rex's manipulations. To further confuse matters, Rex was best friends with Duke, until a horrific accident destroyed their friendship and set Rex on the path to becoming Cobra Commander. "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" does away with all of that baggage and, for the most part, keeps it simple: The good guys are good and the bad guys are bad. We aren't given a reason why Ray Stevenson's Firefly has sided with Cobra, and we don't need one.
Ninjas, ninjas and more ninjas
What made G.I. Joe stand out from the other big action cartoons of the '80s was the franchise's ability to seamlessly mash up Eastern- and Western-influenced action. Gunslingers mixed it up side-by-side with ninjas in adventures that spanned the globe. Whereas the first film included this key ingredient in low doses, the sequel pours it on thick. The resident G.I. martial artists fight Cobra's legion of crimson-colored ninjas in a mountainside battle, in addition to a number of one-on-one grudge matches between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow.
Gratuitous toy tie-ins
Even the most stalwart G.I. Joe fan can admit that the cartoon series existed to sell toys. New characters and vehicles were introduced at an alarming rate, meaning that kids would never run out of new things to bug their parents for. "The Rise of Cobra" was conservative in its usage of vehicles, but "Retaliation" isn't. Cobra has a fleet of H.I.S.S. tanks pulled directly from the cartoon series and they take flight in a variety of jet-propelled helicopters, while Roadblock tears up the road in a tricked-out dune buggy. If it's not constantly trying to sell you a cool new toy, it's not G.I. Joe.
This is the big one; Cobra was too busy "rising" in the first film to actually do any damage. That left fans without Cobra Commander, a character as important to the franchise as Darth Vader is to Star Wars. But all that's changed in this film. Cobra Commander is center stage in his full, silver face-plated regalia, mounting an over-the-top scheme to take over the world. The Cobra logo is plastered all over this movie, popping up on briefcases, vehicles, lapel pins and flags. With a full-fledged Cobra army to fight against, the G.I. Joes finally feel like they did thirty years ago.
Check out everything we've got on "G.I. Joe: Retaliation."