So naturally i was first in line at my local cinema to see G.I. Joe: Retaliation because I love GI Joe and I love movie sequels with colons in the title. Well, I say “first in line,” but more accurately there was in fact no line. I am not sure why people will line up for stupid Spider-Man movies where Peter Parker goes out hunting for revenge but not for awesome movies about G.I. Joe. This seems rather silly to me.
So anyway the movie starts with the G.I. Joes rescuing a “defector” from North Korea, which given that they are supposed to be like this international strike force as per the first movie is a little odd, but if someone is going to defect to The Regular Old World, I guess they would do it from North Korea because that entire country is basically crazy. The Rock (the movie says he is Roadblock, but he does not speak in rhyme even once in this movie, so I am just going to say he is the Rock, much like how in the first movie Brendan Fraser was a G.I. Joe for some reason and they never explained it, but at least the Rock makes more sense because, come on, he is the Rock) has special fence-melting gauntlets which melt the fence and the Joes sneak in and rescue the North Korean defector from North Korea, which… I guess technically that makes him an “attempted defector” rather than a defector, right? Anyway, they rescue him, and then Flint (who is played by a boring guy I don’t remember) points out as they leave that he replaced the North Korean flag with the Yo Joe flag, because Flint thinks secret missions are for wussies.
The Rock is angry at him but before he can swear we cut to the opening credits, which reveal that Duke is now in charge of the Joes, that Ripcord, Scarlett, Breaker and Heavy Metal are all not there any more, (probable reasons: Ripcord and Scarlett got married and had babies, Heavy Metal went back to England because he loves it there and Breaker realized he was totally a token Middle-Eastern-looking-person and was insulted by that), and that G.I. Joe now consists of Duke, the Rock, Lady Jaye, Flint, Snake-Eyes and a bunch of other people who don’t matter. We quickly learn that one of these other people is called “Mouse” and he is an awesome sniper but since he didn’t get named in the credits you don’t really have high hopes for him. We also learn that Snake-Eyes is away on Joe business hunting Storm Shadow, because ninjas.
After the credits, Duke and the Rock hang out at the Rock’s house and play video games and play with the Rock’s kids and it is fun. Meanwhile, Zartan is still the president of the United States! And he orders the Joes – all of them – to go secure nukes in Pakistan, because the Pakistani President has been assassinated. We know this because while Duke and the Rock were playing video games, the news came on, as it does when you play video games, and they had very serious faces. The Joes do this easily, because Flint does parkour and the Rock shoots people while going down a zipline and the Joes also have super-smart homing bullets with mini-computers in them. Then they hang out afterwards in the desert and bust each other’s balls for fun, because that is how the Joes roll. Unfortunately, this is when Zartan orders Cobra to go kill the Joes while they are waiting for their pickup, and the Joes are totally annihilated. Including Mouse, which we saw coming. Even Duke dies, presumably because he has a personality now and that doesn’t work for Duke, generally speaking. Only the Rock, Lady Jaye and Flint survive. and Snake-Eyes, obviously, who was not, like, there. Because if Snake-Eyes had been there he would have ninja’d all the Cobras and this would be an awful short movie.
President Zartan sneaks into the secret bunker just outside the White House where he keeps the real President. If it was me I’d maybe hide the President a little further away from the White House, like another couple hundred feet at least, but then again Presidenting is a very busy thing to do so maybe this was most convenient. Anyway, President Zartan asks Real President where the jail holding Cobra Commander is, because only Real President knows that. Well, Real President and the people at the prison. And probably some other people too. Really, this is kind of a bonehead move on President Zartan’s part, but that is because this movie has layers and builds its characters and stuff.
Anyway, President Zartan gives a press conference where he claims the Joes went rogue and he had to kill them all with soldiers, and nobody finds anything odd about this or takes issue with the American President ordering the deaths of what was in these movies, last I checked, a multinational elite peacekeeping task force. Probably this is also because of ninjas. However, they also announce that Snake-Eyes was captured because he killed the Pakistani president! Ninjas! And they take Snake-Eyes to a secret prison in Germany. Walton Goggins is the warden (really!) and he explains to Snake-Eyes – who is still in full costume and body armor and all that because who would dare to disrobe Snake-Eyes – that the prison goes so far underground and to the left that technically it is not in Germany but in “international territory,” and I don’t think that exactly works unless there is some disputed part of Poland that Germany says is still theirs because of Hitler, maybe. Maybe that is how it works. Hitler: not just useful for the History Channel!
Meanwhile, the Rock, Lady Jaye and Flint tromp through the desert until they find an air base in the middle of the desert. They also come to the grim realization (somehow) that only the President could have betrayed the Joes in this manner! Which makes no sense really but they are traumatized so that is all right.
Meanwhile meanwhile, Walton Goggins takes Snake-Eyes down to his super-awesome cell that houses – wait for it – Cobra Commander and Destro! They are in these weird isolation suits that paralyze them completely and keep them conscious at all times, because the prison builders wanted to violate every human rights treaty at once I guess. Anyway, before they put Snake-Eyes in the chamber, Walton Goggins decides that now he will unmask Snake-Eyes, because why not? And it turns out that Snake-Eyes is actually Storm Shadow! Rather than contact anybody about this and mention “uh, guys, Snake-Eyes is still out there, you know,” Walton Goggins says “well, whatever, let’s put you in the most inhumane prison ever designed, because you are awful bad too” since, well, once you start operating this extra-legally, why not? It is quite logical! Also it helps if you remember that, while Walton Goggins may be bragging endlessly about his inhumane high-tech super prison, he is still one of the good guys and that matters.
Meanwhile, Snake-Eyes and Jinx (who is Storm Shadow’s sister – can we trust her? Apparently yes since this never gets mentioned again) go hunting Cobra ninjas looking for Storm Shadow, because Walton Goggins did not tell anybody about the whole switcheroo thing. Bureaucracy, the mortal foe of all Joes everywhere!
Also meanwhile, Zartan goes and has another conversation with the actual President, who is not dead because they need him alive. Zartan gloats, and also points out that the Secret Service is now filled with loyal Cobras, who all wear Cobra pins so he can identify them in a hurry if need be. Which does not strike me as the greatest plan by a covert terrorist organization ever coined, to be honest, but then again Secret Service guys all look alike so if nothing else you have to admit it is practical.
Back at the prison, Storm Shadow is now in the isolation tank thing, but he stops his heartbeat and the guards think he is dead! Because ninjas. Anyway, of course he is only ninja-faking and he drowns a scientist in his tank, and then the guards shoot the tank and it explodes outwards violently because it was not a very well designed isolation tank of liquid, and Storm Shadow uses the drowned scientist as a shield and then murders all the guards. Then he shoots Cobra Commander out of his tank. While this is happening, up top somebody (it is Firefly) on a Cobra-stamped motorcycle (it is Firefly) attacks the front of the prison with his tiny robot firefly bombs (it is Firefly) and then drives his motorcycle into the prison and jumps off it before it transforms into a bunch of rocket-bombs. Because it is Firefly, and although he is not technically a ninja because he uses guns and bombs rather than swords, he has a mask and is therefore 100% more awesome as a result.
Inside, Cobra Commander and Storm Shadow abandon Destro because they don’t like him any more and then Walton Goggins and the remaining guards get murdered by Firefly on one side of a death sandwich and Cobra Commander and Storm Shadow on the other. However, before Walton Goggins dies, he blows up a tank of fire (that he mentioned previously, because this is a movie where foreshadowing means something!) and Storm Shadow’s back gets badly burned because he decided to fight without a shirt, because ninjas. Then Team Cobra leaves the prison triumphantly!
Meanwhile, the Rock, Lady Jaye and Flint have returned to the Inner City Where The Rock Grew Up. The mean streets know their own! The Rock is on his home turf now! You better watch out, bad guys! G.I. Joe is now operating out of a broken down gymnasium! Lady Jaye does computers (because every girl in these movies has to do computers) and explains that she will “cyber-blast” out an “encrypted beacon” that only other G.I. Joes will get, because G.I. Joes are kind of like dogs that way. Then, she realizes that the President is really not the President, because he speaks slightly differently and clasps his hands slightly differently than he used to do! She is nearly as smart as Scarlett! Although I bet she does not speak as many languages.
Snake-Eyes and Jinx see the cyber-blasted encrypted beacon message, but it is too late because they are already almost at the mountain evil ninja base where an old healer ninja lady is splashing nanites on Storm Shadow’s burned back to heal it, as ninjas so often do. Snake-Eyes and Jinx bust in, and Snake-Eyes beats up Storm Shadow and puts him in a body bag, and Jinx beats up the old healer ninja lady who can fight like whoa because ninja, and then there is a thrilling mountainside chase that was in all the trailers where Jinx and Snake-Eyes fight about fifty ninjas while everybody is on bungees and rappelling laterally across the side of the mountain and it is awesome and then Snake-Eyes kills a bunch more ninjas with a FUCKING AVALANCHE because he is Snake-Eyes and therefore always the best.
Back in the USA, the Rock, Lady Jaye and Flint approach the original General Joe who is Bruce Willis about their hunch. Original Joe says “uh, nobody is going to buy this hand-clasp shit” and says he needs more proof, so the three of them come up with a plan: they will sneak into a Presidential event and get some of the fake President’s DNA! They do this by having Lady Jaye dress up in the skimpiest workout clothes possible and hold some groceries awkwardly in front of the White House Chief of Staff, who is an idiot and totally buys it, and then they pull him into a car and give him a super-science drug that will give him total amnesia of the last ten minutes, and then tell him to put Lady Jaye on the invite list for the next Presidential event. The Rock explains that this is okay for him to, you know, commit treason, since he will not remember it later. The Chief of Staff buys this, probably because he is a Republican.
Back in Japan, it is time for NINJA TRIAL. The RZA oversees the ninja trial because he is the ninja master because the G.I. Joe movies are progressive like that and also because the RZA’s life ambition is to die an elderly Japanese martial arts sensei despite being born a black guy in Brookyln. They accuse Storm Shadow of having killed the previous ninja master, but Storm Shadow dramatically points out that it was not his sword that killed the previous ninja master, but a forgery because he breaks the sword. The ninjas are all very abashed at not having considered the fake-sword theory or not actually bothering to check the sword anytime in the last two decades, and then RZA points out that it is pretty obvious that nobody in the clan framed Storm Shadow because why would they do that, and Storm Shadow in turn has his “oh” moment and he realizes that the person who actually killed the previous ninja master (who, let us not forget, was Storm Shadow’s uncle) almost certainly was the person who took him in “out of the good of his heart” when he fled the clan. Then he thinks some more and realizes, oh my, it was actually Zartan who killed the ninja master and disguised himself as a rival ninja master, because Zartan revealed himself to Storm Shadow later on! So basically the moral of ninja trial is that ninjas, as a rule, are not real good at deductive thinking, but then again we all knew that because they keep insisting on using swords when there are these things called “guns.”
Meanwhile, the Rock, Lady Jaye and Flint are infiltrating the Presidential event. James Carville cameos to tell some awful jokes. Lady Jaye pretends to be from Fox News (ha ha) and dances with President Zartan and gets the DNA, and for a few moments it looks like Cobra Secret Service will catch her but they don’t. Meanwhile, the Rock fights Firefly in an alley when Firefly stops him from assassinating President Zartan, and Firefly kicks his ass, and you might think “wait, someone else is kicking the Rock’s ass, that doesn’t make sense” except then you remember Firefly is being played by Ray Stevenson so it is all right. Flint rescues the Rock and then they all go to First Joe’s house to show him the DNA.
President Zartan and Cobra Commander reveal that they needed the President alive so they could scan his retinas for the “briefcase” that launches nuclear missiles! And then President Zartan gives a press conference where he reveals that because G.I. Joe were all traitors, he has brought in a new elite task force into the United States – named Cobra! Which, okay, I was willing to overlook the Cobra pins thing, but maybe, if you are impersonating the President, your covert terrorist organization’s name which would be known to at least the general intelligence community if not the entire world should not be the name of the pretend security force by which you are putting your terrorists in charge of things. But a ha, you see the movie wants you to think that, because G.I. Joe has always been about cutting satirical jabs at military adoration culture and such! This is satire! Just like in the Eighties, they had Quick Kick running around barefoot with nunchuks in the Army and played that totally straight.
At Joe Number One’s house, everybody meets up! The Joes are angry at first that Storm Shadow will be teaming up with them, but the ninjas point out that, hey, he is a ninja! Also Cobra trusts him, which is important. And then Bruce Joe Willis starts opening up his kitchen drawers and it turns out he just has guns everywhere. Like, there are literally grenades in his fruit bowl underneath the fruit. Which seems kind of dangerous, but he is trained military. I note that Snake-Eyes is totally excited to get his hands on some actual guns, because he is the smartest of all the ninjas. Also, Old Joe has some other old soldier friends and they all want to fight too, because America, even though this is an international task force with ninjas on it.
…Oh, I forgot a while back that Lady Jaye had a character moment where she talked about how her dad never thought women could be soldiers and now he’s dead so she can’t prove him wrong. She totally acted and everything.
ANYWAY. President Zartan has a nuclear peace summit where he invites the other seven nuclear powers: Great Britain! France! Russia! China! Israel! India! And North Korea! Not present: Pakistan. Probably because the Joes got all their nukes at the beginning of the movie, I guess. Actually, that would explain why all the Joes had to go on one mission! Good work, movie! They are having the summit on an island outside of New York and President Zartan says he wants universal nuclear disarmament, and the other leaders say “look, let’s just reduce our nuclear arsenals by half,” and Zartan says that is not good enough and he pulls out his “briefcase” and pushes the Red Button and launches all of America’s nukes. The other world leaders have no choice but to retaliate (hey! That’s the movie title!) and they all pull out all of their briefcases and launch all of their nukes. (I know in real life the “briefcases” are not actually launch devices but instead contain codes that you send to the actual people who launch the nukes, but this is the G.I. Joe universe and I suppose they were worried about ninjas maybe killing those guys, because ninjas are a serious thing here.)
Then Zartan says “ha ha, fooled you” and destroys all of his in-flight nukes, and then says “okay, now if you don’t do the same, boy are you gonna look stupid” and so they in turn destroy all of their mid-air nukes. And now THE TWIST! Zartan pulls out his Cobra briefcase and Cobra Commander walks in. See, Cobra put these satellites into space without anybody noticing, and they are basically kinetic harpoons. And then, to prove his point, he harpoons London and it goes FOOM. And then Cobra Commander says “agree to obey us or you are next.” MASTER PLAN REVEALED! Which of course means the Joes attack in teams. Team Ninjas attacks directly, Team The Rock attacks in a tank, and Team Lady Jaye and Old Old Joe go save the President. Flint probably did something too but I cannot remember what for the life of me. Maybe it was parkour. He did some of that earlier, I think?
In quick succession: Team Ninjas stab a bunch of guys, and then Storm Shadow kills Zartan with Snake-Eyes’ sword. Lady Jaye and Joe “Not John” Mclane burst into the secret bunker and shoot the Secret Service guys there, and presumably they were all Cobras but I didn’t get a good look at their lapel pins. Lady Jaye shoots the President to save him from Chief Evil Secret Service Guy because she has seen Speed. Team the Rock has a tank battle with Firefly and then an armed-jet-boat battle with Firefly and finally a guns-and-fists battle with Firefly. He wins all of the battles, then blows Firefly up with his own tiny robot firefly bomb and de-activates the kinetic harpoons by blowing the satellites up in orbit, which – would that even work? I mean, the entire point of the kinetic harpoons is that they just drop from orbit, so blowing up the satellites would presumably only drop them anyway, and… no, I’m sure Science took care of that. Oh, and Cobra Commander escapes because of course he does.
So Real President re-activates the Joes and puts the Rock in charge, at least until halfway through G.I. Joe 3: Cobra Strikes Back! Again! when the Rock has better things to do than appear in another G.I. Joe movie and they cast, I dunno, Shawn Ashmore as Duke’s whiny little brother Falcon to be the new leader when the Rock gets killed off in the first twenty minutes of that movie. Also Original Joe gives the Rock Patton’s handgun so he can kill Cobra Commander with it one day. Also Original Joe tells Lady Jaye he served with her dead father and her dead father would be proud of her, so closure. I can’t wait for the next one!