...shining light on the media, one review at a time
Remember playing with G.I. Joe action figures as a kid? Or perhaps you grew up watching a cartoon version or reading the comic books. G.I. Joe first leapt onto the public stage as an action figure for boys, a male alternative to dolls for girls. Originally, G.I. Joe gave parents much less to worry about than Barbie for girls. Fashioned to represent soldiers in the armed forces, G.I. Joe was a suitable hero for little boys to admire and emulate. But now that the iconic action figure has hit the big screen, one thing is for certain, G.I. Joe is not for kids anymore.
The unfortunate evolution of G.I. Joe from hero to anti-hero cannot be made clearer than in the most recent live action installment, G.I. Joe: Retaliation. A testosterone driven film filled with violence, language, crude jokes, and objectifying women, Retaliation has little to offer to any viewer, but only sheer danger to young boys and girls.
Life is good for the G.I. Joes. With their evil nemesis, Cobra, locked away under seemingly impenetrable security, the Joes are free to successfully complete mission after mission, keeping the United States safe and comfortable with their bravery, high-tech weapons, and exceptional skills. Honor bound by the chain of command, the Joes may be rough fighters, but they are also soldiers, respecting their superiors and following military rules.
The last thing the Joes anticipate is betrayal from their topmost superior within the U.S. government. But that is just what the Joes encounter when a successful mission is followed by an ambush. The tragic decimation leaves only a few Joes to carry on, and they are determined to find the man responsible for the attack.
The Joes soon find out that there is more at stake than revenge. G.I. Joe has become a dirty name to Americans since the unit’s betrayer framed the Joes for attempting to steal nuclear warheads. As if being hunted as outlaws is not enough for the Joes to handle, Cobra is back and has world annihilation on his mind. With the feisty blend of courage, guts, and fighting skill that the Joes are known for, these maligned soldiers are the only ones with a chance to save themselves and the world.
The premise for Retaliation seems as if it were made for maximum hero potential. Classic good versus evil, saving the world, and even some underdog flavor thrown in—should be a recipe for an equally classic example of heroes in action. Instead, Retaliation proves that even a promising plot can backfire in the hands of the wrong filmmakers.
The first problem that explodes on the scene is heavy, sometimes unceasing violence. The violence is not of the most graphic kind, but still falls into the category of most harmful to viewers. Desensitization will be the obvious result from the numerous battle and fight sequences in which countless people are shot, stabbed, and killed in a sundry of ways. Viewers are only led to care about one of these deaths, that of a fallen G.I. Joe.
Otherwise, entertainment is the goal of the video game style approach to showing the Joes rapidly shoot off victims and in other moments of violence. One memorable example comes in a jaw-dropping special effects sequence of a mid-air ninja fight, in which the ninjas are flying on ropes between cliffs. Viewers are invited to laugh when one of the “bad” ninjas is accidentally knocked off a rock and plunges to his death.
When they aren’t fighting, the Joes are still sorry examples of character. Roadblock and Duke, the leaders of the Joes, spend their downtime playing violent video games and making inappropriate jokes. The filmmakers attempt to humanize Roadblock by showing his two young daughters, but the idea seems more unrealistic and incomplete (no mother of the girls is shown or referenced), rather than achieving the apparent desired end.
Roadblock still hangs mostly with the guys, cracking wise about Duke’s “panties” and making “girls run screaming from the room.” Roadblock is also a leader in the film’s offensive language, shooting out “a--” and “h--- “ alongside other characters with great frequency. Roadblock even has all the Joes repeat “h--- yeah” as a motivational mantra.
The Joes’ most positive trait is that they willingly risk their lives for their country. In Retaliation, however, the Joes’ goal in stopping Cobra becomes as much about revenge as it is about protecting the people and country they have sworn to serve. Their methods and even enjoyment of some of the killing they do undermine any honor there might have been in the sacrifices they are willing to make.
More than anything, the Joes are evidently in the unit to please themselves, not because of a sense of honor, duty, love of country, or even a desire to protect the helpless. Roadblock is the only Joe who speaks of wanting “to serve,” but this supposed reason for fighting is negated by his other words and actions, which reveal a man who wants revenge and casually deals out death when he sees fit.
The other soldiers in the Joe unit have similar motivations, as well as the thrill they seem to get out of using their fighting skills and playing with guns. Even Lady Jaye, the most prominent female representative, is no less selfish in her motivation. She is not with the Joes to serve and protect, but rather to prove her father wrong. Her father did not believe women should be in the military, so Jaye subsequently enlisted and tried to outrank him as quickly as she could.
Sadly, Jaye will not find the equality or recognition of worth that she’s looking for in the military. Though she works extra hard to be seen by her fellow Joes as a competent soldier, she herself shoots such efforts for respect in the foot when she willingly volunteers to sell her body whenever doing so will help the mission (or the movie’s appeal). Twice, Jaye dresses to entice, once in shorts so tiny they qualify as underwear with a sports bra and again in a ball gown that leaves little to the imagination. Using her body as a weapon of lust works quite well, as all the men she encounters when thus attired cannot resist ogling her and becoming distracted enough for her to perform her job.
One has to question what her real job is and if it is really worth the sacrifice that the ironically-named Lady Jaye, as a woman, is apparently required to make. None of the male Joes are asked to volunteer their bodies as sex objects, but the rules are different for Lady Jaye. Perhaps that is because Jaye, just like a model for a porn magazine, is all too happy to comply with the special demands placed on the female soldier. It is little wonder that, while Jaye thinks she is being respected, even her fellow Joes still see her differently, referring to her as a representation of an innuendo laden image of “girls with guns.”
In a telling scene, a G.I. Joe known as Flint unzips the back of Jaye’s ball gown when she apparently asks him for help. To his credit, Flint turns away when Jaye indicates that he should, but all accolades end there since Flint then proceeds to watch Jaye in a reflection as she undresses down to her underwear. So much for the gender equality that some argue women fighting on the front lines of the military will bring. As long as actresses and women everywhere continue to try to be men, while telling the world their bodies are for sale, this confused scale will never come out equal.
The worst offense of Lady Jaye’s character and this film lies in the fact that Jaye’s role as seductress-fighter is portrayed as immensely positive. Jaye is one of the few characters given a backstory in this film, allowing viewers to attach to her as the character whose story is second only to Roadblock’s. Any young girls that watch this movie will see in Jaye a woman that can fight with the boys and is “admired” by them (or more accurately, lusted after) for her sexual appeal, flaunted in skimpy outfits. Boys will be thinking quite another thing when they watch Jaye, as well as the “amusing” and “natural” reaction of the men eyeing and flirting with her, but the damages will be even more detrimental.
Sure, this film has awe-inspiring fight sequences with incredible cinematography to match. It also boasts a weak script with miniscule plot and characters so flat there seems no point in commenting on the acting performances. But such trifles will not likely bother viewers who are there for the explosions, the thrills, and the excitement. Such viewers will not be disappointed and can happily munch their popcorn while trying to follow the fast-paced action and adventure.
Yet, those viewers may find that they’ve taken in much more than some popped seeds and butter with this movie. Retaliation is not the kids’ action figure of the past. It’s the new, modern G.I. Joe. And this Joe packs all the danger of a violent, sex-saturated culture into a bomb and aims it right at you and your children. Grab your popcorn and get out of the theater—Retaliation is on its way.