It’s a slow week for home video, as the only major theatrical release moving to the small screen is an action film based on the G.I. Joe toy franchise.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation
2 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of combat violence and martial arts action throughout and for brief sensuality and language
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, digital download and on demand
The best thing about the “G.I. Joe” movies is they don’t pretend to be what they aren’t. Based on Hasbro’s toy, comic and TV franchises, the films are simple fables of good versus evil that refuse to acknowledge shades of grey. They also oversimplify world affairs, take unrealistic plot turns and focus on characters that are more archetypes than human beings. Even the names are the stuff of fantasy, with the good guys calling themselves things like Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Duke (Channing Tatum) and the bad going by monikers like Zartan and Firefly. It’s ridiculous, a fact that screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick must have been aware of.
With “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” – a sequel to 2010’s “The Rise of Cobra” –
Reese, Wernick and director Jon M. Chu seem to resign themselves to the fact that the project is so over-the-top that a truly great movie would be impossible. So, they do the best with what they have. The result is a smash-bang action film that shoots first and thinks later. This doesn’t make “Retaliation” good, but it does make it moderately entertaining, especially for the pre-teen boys who are likely to make up much of the audience.
Set directly after “Rise of Cobra,” “Retaliation” takes place in a world where the baddie named Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) is successfully impersonating the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce). One of his first acts is to launch a strike designed to kill America’s entire team of G.I. Joe operatives, defaming them in the process. Although most of the Joes are eliminated, Roadblock, Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) survive the assault.
Swearing revenge, they attempt to reconcile their situation, eventually teaming with the ninja Snake Eyes and a retired general named Joseph Colton (Bruce Willis).
Meanwhile, Zartan and his accomplices free their leader (Luke Bracey) from U.S. imprisonment, and he launches a plan that will give him control of the entire planet. Obviously, the theme of world domination is tired, especially when played out by archetypal characters. Still, “Retaliation” has moments, most of them coming in expertly staged action sequences. One particularly compelling bit comes when Snake Eyes and his apprentice, Jinx (Elodie Yung), battle enemy ninjas while repelling down sheer cliff walls.
Chu is a stylish director, and it’s fun to watch him blow things up. He also paces the material furiously, likely aware that action is the only thing he has to sell. For awhile, this strategy works. But, as with most movies that don’t have any substance, the pomposity and spectacle grow tiresome.
The DVD release of “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” has no special features, but the Blu-ray releases include eight making-of featurettes, deleted scenes and an audio commentary by Chu and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Banshee” – The Complete First Season: Cinemax TV series focused on the complicated world of Lucas Hood, a master thief who poses as a small-town Pennsylvania sheriff after being released from prison. Not only is he doing a job he’s not qualified for, he’s trying to reconnect with his former partner in crime – now a married woman – and dodge a Ukrainian gangster who’s after both of them.
“Justice League – The Flashpoint Paradox”: Animated DC Comics movie in which Flash travels back in time to prevent his mother from falling victim to a violent crime. Alas, his actions alter the space-time continuum in terrifying ways. The voice cast includes Justin Chambers, Kevin McKidd, C. Thomas Howell, Nathan Fillion, Ron Perlman, Cary Elwes, Dana Delany and Kevin Conroy.
“Filly Brown”: Drama about an up-and-coming hip-hop singer (Gina Rodriguez) trying to become a star without compromising her morals. The movie is noteworthy because it features the last screen appearance by Jenni Rivera, the popular Latin singer-songwriter who died in a plane crash in December. Lou Diamond Phillips and Edward James Olmos also star. Written by Youssef Delara and co-directed by Delara and Michael D. Olmos.
“Black Rock”: Thriller about three women who visit a remote island and find themselves stalked by hunters. Kate Bosworth, Lake Bell and Katie Aselton star. Aselton also served as director, and she co-wrote the screenplay with Mark Duplass.
“Star Trek – The Next Generation”: The “Star Trek” franchise hit an all-time high when this series was active, and Paramount is allowing fans to relive all the action on home video. This week, the studio brings us a high-definition Blu-ray restoration of the complete fourth season along with a specially edited version of the “Redemption” storyline. The latter is essentially the last episode of season four and first episode of season five edited into movie form. The two episodes focus on the Klingon Empire’s descent into civil war, and the choices Klingon Starfleet officer Warf (Michael Dorn) must make amidst the upheaval. “The Next Generation” cast also includes Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Marina Sirtis and Gates McFadden.
“The Devil’s Backbone”: Before writer-director Guillermo del Toro was crafting blockbusters like “Pacific Rim” (in theaters now), he made this creepy and intimate, Spanish-language horror movie about a boy living in a haunted orphanage. Like most of Del Toro’s work, the film is masterfully made, and this release is a treat because it features a digital restoration by the Criterion Collection.
“Teen Beach Movie”: Disney Channel original movie about youngsters (Ross Lynch and Maia Mitchell) who get swept into a 1960s beach movie where surfers and bikers are feuding over a hangout. The film originally aired on television July 19.
“Touched by an Angel” – The Eighth Season: Second to last season of the popular CBS drama about angels who help human beings through difficult times. The 22 episodes presented here feature Roma Downey, Della Reese, John Dye and Valerie Bertinelli.
“The Fog” – Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray release of writer-director John Carpenter’s 1980 horror film about a Northern California town that becomes socked in with fog that hides deadly supernatural beings. Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Houseman and Janet Leigh star.
“The Incredible Melting Man”: Blu-ray debut of the 1977 horror effort about an astronaut who returns from a mission only to find that his flesh is melting and the only way he can survive is by eating humans. Written and directed by William Sachs.
“Meet the Small Potatoes”: Seventy minutes of music and fun with the singing Idaho spuds who are a sensation with youngsters who watch Disney Junior.
– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.