From what I recall of “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” — which is to say, from what I gather by reading my review of it — the 2009 franchise starter was silly but not terribly stupid, as if an enthusiastic group of 10-year-old boys had been given $175 million to bring their toys to life. The sequel, “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” has a new director (John M. Chu, from the “Step Up” franchise), new writers (“Zombieland” duo Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick), and a less juvenile approach. This one’s less overtly goofy — or perhaps just less aware of its inherent goofiness — though it does have Jonathan Pryce as the U.S. president saying, “Get me the G.I. Joes!” the same way one of those 10-year-olds might say it.
(The U.S. president is never given a name, by the way. When he talks on TV, the news channel’s caption reads “U.S. President Addresses Nation,” like maybe even the news people don’t know what his name is.)
The story involves the Cobra organization’s infiltration into the highest levels of power, leaving the dismantled G.I. Joe operation — led by Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), and Flint (D.J. Cotrona) — to uncover the impostors and restore order. Walton Goggins has an amusing turn as a sadistic warden at a high-tech underground prison where villains are kept; Channing Tatum reprises his role from the last film as a G.I. Joe named Duke, and in that capacity produces a few enjoyable moments of rapport with Roadblock; and of course Dwayne Johnson is 10 pounds of charisma in a five-pound bag. And is that Bruce Willis as a retired Joe? Sure, why not!
There’s a terrific action sequence set atop a mountain that involves zip-lining ninjas and much high-spirited camerawork, and there’s the occasional bon mot that warrants a chuckle. But I’d be hard-pressed to call any of it “exciting”; mostly the film just chugs along, steadily going from one plot point to the next, neither engaging us nor boring us. Look, this is the second one. If the fine people at Hasbro haven’t figured out by now what approach to use to turn their property into a dynamic movie franchise, maybe it’s time to give it a rest.
C (1 hr., 50 min.; )