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Arts & Entertainment Presented by Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts

Cinema in Focus

Cinema in Focus: ‘G.I. Joe: Retaliation’

By Hal Conklin and Denny Wayman | @CinemaInFocus |

2 Stars — Shallow

The inherent pride in the U.S.A. present in the G.I. Joe comic books is continued in this visual form of these tales directed by Jon Chu. Based on the Hasbro toys and comic books, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a sequel to G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, which was released in 2009. Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who joined together to create such films as Zombieland, their story feels not only formulaic but also lacking in novelty.

Not only are the good and bad guys predictable in their valor and vindictiveness, but their visual images and characteristics are also reruns of other fictional characters. This is seen most obviously in the archvillain, Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey), whose mask includes the life support and amplified sound made famous by Darth Vader of Star Wars. But it is also seen in the introduction of Ninja warriors whose training and swords add variety to the hand-to-hand combat and firefights of the G.I. Joes with the Cobra warriors. One of the Ninja warriors, Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee), has a similar troubled past as we saw in Bruce Wayne of the new Batman films.

The central plot focuses on a megalomaniacal commander whose nanotechnology has joined with a new form of weapon with which he has conspired to take over the world. As the commander of the Cobra Rebels, he has used the instantaneous regenerative ability of nanites to replace the president of the United States (Jonathan Pryce) with Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), his trusted lieutenant who is a master of disguise.

As the imposter U.S. president, Zartan has followed the commander’s plan not only to destroy the G.I. Joes but to release the commander from their subterranean prison as well. But this is only the beginning, and we won’t spoil the rest of the plot.

As the elite fighting force that is representative of all U.S. military, the G.I. Joes are an ensemble of exceptional individuals. Although there are many in their unit, the film focuses on one squad in particular. Going by their nicknames as descriptors of their unique abilities, Duke (Channing Tatum) is their captain. Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) is a physical fighting machine whether his weapons are his hands, large guns or armored tanks. Flint (D.J. Cotrona) is the handsome sharpshooter while Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) is the beautiful but deadly combatant.

Along with Storm Shadow, the ninja warriors include the silent Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and the troubled Jinx (Elodie Yung) who were Storm Shadow’s childhood friends. Also present in the film, but playing a minor role, is General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis), whose house full of hidden weapons brings back images of Men in Black and Mr. & Mrs. Smith.

One of the interesting moral images in the film is when the Cobra commander orchestrates a meeting of all the leaders of the nations with nuclear weapons. We won’t spoil the purpose of the meeting, but it is interesting to see all of these leaders as normal humans out to care for their people against the egomania of a person wanting to take over the world. It is a fascinating moral juxtaposition that reminds us that there are evils far greater than the human to human struggles that often are our concerns. In that part of the message, these comic writers got right.


» The obvious superiority of the G.I. Joes over other nations’ forces could be taken as our own egomania as a nation. Do you believe such comic tales are helpful or hurtful for international relations as such films are shown all over the world? Why?

» The subplots of the various G.I. Joe soldiers include their friendships, their motivations, their fears and their vengeance. Do you think the writers accomplished their task of making us care about these characters?

» The struggle between good and evil is not as simple as having them wear different uniforms. How do you think North Korea will take the representation of their leader in this film? Was that an evil thing to do to portray him that way? Why do you answer as you do?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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