- - Thursday, March 28, 2013

The opening credits of the second “G.I. Joe” film informs viewers not once, but twice, that the movie is produced by Hasbro, the toymaker behind the line of cartoonishly militarized action figures on which the movie is based. The toy line has existed in some form for decades; originally, the figures were modeled to represent characters from various divisions of the U.S. military.

But in the early 1980s, Hasbro took the toys in another direction, transforming the Joes into comic-book-style sci-fi heroes — a motley assortment of ninjas and elaborately armed robo-warriors fighting a gang of laser-wielding supervillains known as Cobra.

The good guys had names like Duke and Scarlett and Snake Eyes. The bad guys had names like Destro, Copperhead and Cobra Commander. Each had a simple but distinct personality, which made it easy for young fans to generate their own stories.

And they did. The toys were massively popular, and over the course of the decade millions of young boys — myself among them — spent countless hours spread out on the floors of their parents’ dens, imagining the giant-sized battles and adventures that the 3.75-inch toy figures might have if they were somehow real.

But now those boys are all grown up, with little time to waste on such play. The movie’s proposition to its old fans seems to be: How about if someone spent $130 million attempting to imagine one of those adventures for you?

They needn’t have bothered. “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is noisy and incoherent, packed with big biceps and bigger guns, but with little in the way of imagination or fun.

As a follow-up to 2009’s “Rise of the Cobra,” it’s less a sequel than a reboot: rougher and tougher than the enthusiastically silly original, with a new director (Jon M. Chu) and mostly new stars, including Bruce Willis and Dwayne Johnson, better known as The Rock. Channing Tatum returns as Duke, but he makes an early exit.Mr. Tatum and Mr. Johnson make an appealing pair in the movie’s opening minutes; with their pylon-sized biceps and amiable attitudes, they share a brawny-bro kinship that is amusingly self-aware.

But after Mr. Tatum’s early departure, the movie loses its charm. Aside from the colorful ninja-inspired costumes of the heroes, there’s nothing to set it apart from any other forgettable action movie. The action scenes are loud and unmemorable. The cheap-looking 3D conversion makes the figures stand out like cardboard cutouts. The story is neither interesting nor coherent.

Most of all, the movie lacks any discernible sense of fun or adventure. That’s the real mistake. Michael Bay’s “Transformers” films, which are clear models, were also based on popular toys of the 1980s. They are not works of art, but they embrace their silly subject matter with an unrestrained enthusiasm — the same sort of boyish enthusiasm that their fans felt about the series in the first place.

The new “G.I. Joe” has no such energy or imagination, substituting a lame sense of irony instead.

An 8-year-old could imagine a story better than this. Many did.


TITLE: “G.I. Joe: Retaliation”

CREDITS: Directed by Jon M. Chu, screenplay by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick

RATING: PG-13 for cartoon violence, sensuality

RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes


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