G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is not universally accepted as a good movie. Critics didn't particularly like it for the reasons you'd expect, but it was the fans that truly spoke out. I enjoyed it, but I acknowledge it didn't feel like a traditional G.I. Joe story. (Cobra Commander rises...then gets thrown in jail five minutes later.) Despite feedback being largely negative, it did pretty well in the box office. Still, no one imagined it would actually get a sequel. Directed by Jon Chu, (whose filming credits include Step Up 2 and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never) Retaliation was a surprise announcement. It came out four years after the first one, quite the gap. Many thought it thought it should have been a reboot as opposed to a sequel, but in many ways it's a reboot while being a sequel. The cast is different, with only three returning members from Rise. It dropped the whole "power suits" from the previous movie in favor of a more traditional military approach. Retaliation is definitely more of a G.I. Joe story than Rise of Cobra, with however some questionable decisions. It's still a very fun movie with more to like than dislike.
The story continues where the previous movie left off. Zartan is impersonating the President of the United States as part of Cobra's plan. The Joes are sent into a trap where Duke is killed off. Meanwhile Storm Shadow manages to get inside the jail where Cobra Commander and Destro is being held, and frees the former. (Sadly the Commander has no use for Destro now.) They escape, and now the leader of Cobra plans to take over the world. Obviously Director Chu knew this is a G.I. Joe movie and not a humanized version of Transformers which the previous film thought it was sometimes. The fun tone is still present, but with a more military perspective. Cobra Commander has his traditional (and awesome) 80's helmet, and threats involving politics is used. But, despite all these right moves, there are some questionable things.
Duke, portrayed by Channing Tatum, the leader of G.I. Joe, is killed off very early in the movie. You would think he would have shown up later on, but he didn't. Duke is one of the most well known G.I. Joes, right next to Snake Eyes and Cobra Commander. The previous movie built him up from being a rookie to expert, Here he's leader, but we never got that feel. So in my opinion, that was a mistake in killing him off. It was a shock, but not a good one. Another controversial move was Destro, because he was 'laid off' by Cobra Commander. He had a zero presence in the film. It could be an interesting thing however if he's used in the sequel to go against the Commander, which would make up for his lack of appearing.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson plays Roadblock, whom serves as leader in the wake of Duke's death. He surprisingly does a good job in the acting department. Adrianne Palicki plays Lady Jae, whom takes the place of Scarlet as the primary female lead. I would say she did a solid job. Of course with such a lovely actress the film shows her off since it knows the audience is going to like her. (Flint's scene comes to mind immediately...unnecessary eye candy.) As for Flint, he's alright. He's pretty much just there. Bruce Willis as Joseph Colton, the original G.I. Joe, was heavily marketed in the trailers and TV spots. (How many times did you we see the scene of him shooting from the back of a pickup truck?) Despite appearing everywhere in the marketing, he actually doesn't appear all that much. His scenes are pretty cool however, and not overly cardboard as the trailers would have you believe. He adds to the overall fun atmosphere of the story. Ray Park returns Snake Eyes. Nothing to complain about here, another perfect portrayal of the fan favorite character.
We can't forget the highlight of the film, Cobra Commander. I was disappointed to hear that Joseph Gordon-Levitt wouldn't be reprising his role, but Luke Bracey does a solid job. This is the Cobra Commander we all know and love from the cartoons and comics. He's not cheesy however, he's a very good villain that actually never cracked under pressure. He should have appeared more and gotten one final scene after he escaped onto a helicopter. Zartan was a blast to watch as the fake president. The writing is very good especially at some points, such as when he says to the real president "your approval ratings went up," it's something older viewers can have a good chuckle with. Byung-hun Lee returns as Storm Shadow, another solid job. His deciding to team up with the Joes was kinda fast, but handled well. Other characters include Firefly and Jinx. The latter was kinda thrown in with no real character development, she barely had any lines. Firefly on the other hand while being a minor villain got some decent lines and scenes.
The action segments are a whole lot of fun. The Snake Eyes/Storm Shadow fight was great. There's a lot of military based action, which is good since this is G.I. Joe. A stand out special effects driven scene was when the nuclear missile decimated London, it was truly something to watch the city blow up like that. It makes the viewer kinda scared inside to see what a nuclear weapon can do. Besides that grim scene, the film never leaves its light atmosphere. One of my personal favorite scenes was the meeting between world leaders. It was almost a parody of how these meetings go. All of them unleashed nuclear missiles...the whole world could have been destroyed! It's a scary thought, but kinda funny in the context of the movie. (Also North Korea's leader constantly being picked out by Zartan was hilarious.) The soundtrack is pretty solid, plenty of techno-rock themes.
Overall, Retaliation is definitely the G.I. Joe movie fans were looking after after The Rise of Cobra. It's more military based with actual political plot points being used. (Many of which are basically parodies.) Duke being killed off is questionable, since he's pretty much the face of G.I. Joe. Cobra Commander is handled extremely well, despite not appearing all that much. (Villain of 2013? I think so.) It's not a perfect movie, but it's fun and definitely worthy of the G.I. Joe name. I look forward to seeing what they'll do with a sequel.