Skip to main content

Let's move! The world ain't saving itself!


G.I. Joe: Retaliation
(2013)

The best thing about the generally crappy G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra was the subplot involving the infiltration of the Whitehouse. It gave Jonathan Pryce, never one for underplaying, a chance to take centre stage. It was also one of the few parts of the movie that didn’t encourage Stephen Sommers to bounce off the walls like the ADD, taste-free scourge of cinema he is. So it’s welcome news that the sequel continues with that thread. And, with John M Chu at the helm, it’s certainly better assembled than the first movie. But it says something that, for all the action stars assembled here, the only character to have any real impact is played by Ray Park. And you can neither see his face nor hear him.


Until he is swallowed up during the third act, I was enjoying Park’s masked maestro Snake Eyes. Park has all the moves and then some, of course, but it was mainly the sheer bonkers bravura of the character that kept me interested. I found myself questioning how the Hollywood machine didn’t spit out a revised Snake Eyes, completely altered from his toy persona. If Judge Dredd takes his head gear off, surely Snake Eyes will doff his helmet and engage in a sparkling dialogue with some lovely lady. Instead, he’s this ever-imposing, black-clad silent knight. Presumably he always wears this gear when he goes on a mission and never says a word. I’m astounded that he ever gets results; he’ll stick out like a sore thumb if he goes out in daylight or anywhere remotely populated. And, if he needs to interrogate someone, that speech impediment’s really going to put a cramp in his style. He’s conceptually unfeasible, basically, and the film’s all the better for his presence. It could have done with embracing a bit more of that silliness rather than ending up as just another action movie.


During the opening scenes, Channing Tatum’s Duke strikes up a good rapport with Dwayne Johnson’s Roadblock, but once Johnson’s left playing against bland D. J. Cotrona the chemistry fizzles. There’s only so much renta-Johnson franchises can take to spice them up, and his charisma isn’t best served here. Back when the first film came out I barely registered the lovechild of Stockard Channing and Tatum O’Neal; four years later when he absents the screen he creates a void.


So who better to fill it than Bruce Willis, wisecracking his way through every scene like he did in his heyday? You remember the first Die Hard and Last Boy Scout. Unfortunately it’s not that Bruce Willis. This is the same Willis who’s more intent on drifting stony faced through cameos (see also The Expendables), unwilling to goof off in David Addison mode. Apparently Bruce is responsible for the friendly sparring between his’ “original Joe” and Adrianne Palicki’s Jaye. You just wish much more could have been made of it. Willis does deliver the odd funny line (although you’ve heard the best if you’ve watched the trailer), but this is further evidence that he’s spent the last decade pissing his career away (Wes Anderson aside).


Then there are the villains. Byung-hun Lee is saddled with the most ridiculous character development as Storm Shadow; it’s very much on the “Doh!” spectrum. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s non-return sees Cobra Commander voiced and performed by two different people and Chris Eccleston was never coming back even if the first movie had received Best Picture Oscar. Arnold Vosloo returns, eager for work, but it’s little more than a cameo. So that leaves Ray Stevenson, whose Firefly has the bulk to take on Roadblock but little else. Stevenson seems preoccupied with his lousy Southern accent and fails to inject any fun into the proceedings; it’s left to Pryce to make the villains sell the menace of Cobra (he gets to “hang out with Bono” and even makes a line like “You know, they call it a waterboard, but I never got bored” kind of work).


Chu’s direction isn’t bad; certainly good enough to wrench himself from the doldrums of directing Step Up movies and Justin Bieber documentaries, but he never manages to give the film as a whole much momentum. Individual sequences work fine, but that’s all they are. You’re not invested in getting anywhere with the plot so before long listlessness sets in. Even the fight on the cliff face, which looked like the highlight from the trailers, doesn’t quite have the thrill it ought.


There are a few daffy elements to note; more emphasis on that tone might have made for more memorable results. Storm Shadow undergoes a healing process that involves a curious mixture of Eastern magic/medicine and science. There’s an early training session between Jinx (Elodie Yung) and Snake Eyes that’s also big on the Eastern wisdom, with RZA presiding as a blind master. It verges on Austin Powers self-parody but, alas, it’s played deadly straight.


A movie this mindless obviously has no worthwhile pretentions of making statements about the state of the planet. Cobra’s world domination gambit is particularly ridiculous. But I did wonder if there was some modest propaganda in there. The whole premise is a celebration of the US armed forces after all, even if in a somewhat adulterated way. So North Korea is established as an out and out enemy in the first scene, while Pakistan is identified as incredibly weak (you can steal their nukes and kill their president in the blink of an eye). I’m not sure what the mass destruction of London is about, but Roland Emmerich would be proud. Then there are the shout-outs to the greatness of Patton; the whole movie desperately needed to have its tongue firmly in its cheek, but there’s only the odd wink.


A third instalment is inevitable, as the Hasbro brand has managed to expand its appeal overseas (to the tune of $100m on top of Rise of the Cobra’s gross). It seems that Chu is attached, and he’ll no doubt refine his skills. But the series really needs a shot in the arm in the script department, and to embrace its essential absurdity.

**1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Only an idiot sees the simple beauty of life.

Forrest Gump (1994)
(SPOILERS) There was a time when I’d have made a case for, if not greatness, then Forrest Gump’s unjust dismissal from conversations regarding its merits. To an extent, I still would. Just not nearly so fervently. There’s simply too much going on in the picture to conclude that the manner in which it has generally been received is the end of the story. Tarantino, magnanimous in the face of Oscar defeat, wasn’t entirely wrong when he suggested to Robert Zemeckis that his was a, effectively, subversive movie. Its problem, however, is that it wants to have its cake and eat it.

Basically, you’re saying marriage is just a way of getting out of an embarrassing pause in conversation?

Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
(SPOILERS) There can be a cumulative effect from revisiting a movie where one glaring element does not fit, however well-judged or integrated everything else is; the error is only magnified, and seems even more of a miscalculation. With Groundhog Day, there’s a workaround to the romance not working, which is that the central conceit of reliving your day works like a charm and the love story is ultimately inessential to the picture’s success. In the case of Four Weddings and a Funeral, if the romance doesn’t work… Well, you’ve still got three other weddings, and you’ve got a funeral. But our hero’s entire purpose is to find that perfect match, and what he winds up with is Andie McDowell. One can’t help thinking he’d have been better off with Duck Face (Anna Chancellor).

Stupid adult hands!

Shazam! (2019)
(SPOILERS) Shazam! is exactly the kind of movie I hoped it would be, funny, scary (for kids, at least), smart and delightfully dumb… until the final act. What takes place there isn’t a complete bummer, but right now, it does pretty much kill any interest I have in a sequel.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Do not mention the Tiptoe Man ever again.

Glass (2019)
(SPOILERS) If nothing else, one has to admire M Night Shyamalan’s willingness to plough ahead regardless with his straight-faced storytelling, taking him into areas that encourage outright rejection or merciless ridicule, with all the concomitant charges of hubris. Reactions to Glass have been mixed at best, but mostly more characteristic of the period he plummeted from his must-see, twist-master pedestal (during the period of The Village and The Happening), which is to say quite scornful. And yet, this is very clearly the story he wanted to tell, so if he undercuts audience expectations and leaves them dissatisfied, it’s most definitely not a result of miscalculation on his part. For my part, while I’d been prepared for a disappointment on the basis of the critical response, I came away very much enjoying the movie, by and large.