Film Review: G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)

Also known as: G.I. Joe 2 (working title)
Release Date: March 11th, 2013 (Seoul premiere)
Directed by: John M. Chu
Written by: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Hasbro
Music by: Henry Jackman
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, D. J. Cotrona, Byung-hun Lee, Adrianne Palicki, Ray Park, Jonathan Pryce, Ray Stevenson, Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis, Arnold Vosloo, Walton Goggins, Elodie Yung, Rza, Matt Gerald, James Lew, James Carville (cameo)

Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Skydance Media, 110 Minutes, 123 Minutes (Extended Cut)

Review:

“I came here when I was fourteen, with a life expectancy of thirteen. I was bounced around from home to home until this… became my home. Guys would line up outside that door to fight me. They whooped my skinny ass so much I started to enjoy it. Until one winter, I grew eight inches, gained sixty pounds, punched a guy so hard he couldn’t move his arm to tap out. Then when the Joes came recruiting to the hood, I’d already beaten down half of it. I became a Joe to serve. In the field. So if we’re fighting uphill, we take the hill.” – Roadblock

I really wish this movie would have done much better at the box office because it course corrected in a great way and fixed the mess that was G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.

On one hand, this is a sequel but on the other hand, it is also a soft reboot. It doesn’t necessarily ignore that the terrible first film exists, it just buries it and moves on. But as awesome as this turned out, for the most part, the damage from the first picture was so severe that this Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis action extravaganza couldn’t save the G.I. Joe franchise on the big screen.

That being said, it still isn’t a perfect G.I. Joe film but it felt like a good bridge between the shit this crawled out of and the great movie that could have followed, based off of what this picture set up for a future story.

To start, Dwayne Johnson was genius casting and this should have been the perfect franchise for him to lead. While he isn’t exactly who I would’ve envisioned for Roadblock, he definitely filled the shoes of leadership after Duke presumably died and General Hawk also presumably died or went on vacation somewhere.

Other than Duke and Snake Eyes, there aren’t any other G.I. Joe members from the first movie present. I’d like to think that maybe some of them would’ve been back in a third film, as none of the actors were necessarily bad, it was just the first movie that was a massive pile of shit.

The film does bring back Cobra Commander, Storm Shadow and Zartan on the Cobra side of the equation and we do get a brief glimpse of Destro but he’s essentially left out of the main plot, in what I would presume means that he would’ve been back in a third film with his Iron Grenadiers in an effort to start a Cobra Civil War, which was a great event in two different G.I. Joe comic book series.

While I could speculate on what the future of this franchise could have been for quite awhile, this is a review of this film and not a wish list for a movie that will never happen.

So getting back to the film, it flows nicely and I like that it was kept pretty grounded and didn’t try to overdo things like its predecessor that tried to be more like Iron Man and Transformers than G.I. Joe.

My only real complaints about the film are the same that I have with most modern big budget blockbusters of recent years. The musical scores are dull and not memorable or iconic, the fight scenes are hard to follow due to super fast edits and shaky cams, and the film’s visual look is boring, sterile and generic. These are all things that could’ve been easily tweaked and would have made this a much better picture.

Now I mostly like the story, other than I’m tired of killer satellites as weapons of mass destruction. This is a trope that has been done to death more times than a beaver has built a dam. Although, I will give the writers props on coming up with a fairly original version of a killer satellite.

Unlike the first movie, I loved the look of the characters, especially Cobra Commander. I don’t know what the fuck he was supposed to be in the first film but he looked like Doctor Satan from House of 1000 Corpses trying to cosplay as Glacier from World Championship Wrestling in the ’90s. Now Cobra Commander looks right. In fact, by the end of the film, he looked fucking perfect.

They also refined the look of Snake Eyes and got rid of his weird rubber lips while making Storm Shadow look more badass. Plus, the introduction of Firefly was great, he looked great and he was played by Ray Stevenson, who is pretty damn great in everything. I was kind of pissed that he got killed but this is a comic book movie and they could easily bring him back if they made a third picture.

For an old school G.I. Joe fan, this is a movie that just felt right. Especially, after the first one was a massive misfire that insulted the fans and confused the normies. It gave me hope because it showed that Hasbro and the studio listened to the fans’ criticisms of the first movie. Less than ten years later, studios just blame fans as being “toxic” while dismissing their criticisms because apparently fans are idiots and studios are run by geniuses that think that failure somehow means success.

In the end, I wish that this would’ve done better and that it would’ve kept the G.I. Joe franchise on the big screen for years to come. Granted, this could’ve easily just gone the route of Transformers and gone right back to being an embarrassing piece of shit.

I guess we’ll never know.

But I also guess we’ll see how Hasbro and the studio handles the material once it is rebooted. Rumor has it that G.I. Joe will be part of a larger connected universe with Transformers, M.A.S.K. and other toy franchises but fuck all that. I just want them to make a good, consistent G.I. Joe movie series before they try to go too big and ruin the whole thing for another generation.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the early days of the original Marvel Comics run, as well as the first two seasons of the ’80s G.I. Joe cartoon.

Documentary Review: Beyond the Mat (1999)

Release Date: October 22nd, 1999 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Barry W. Blaustein
Written by: Barry W. Blaustein
Music by: Nathan Barr
Cast: Mick Foley, Terry Funk, Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, New Jack, Paul Heyman, Vince McMahon, Shane McMahon, Darren Drozdov, Jim Ross, Jim Cornette, Dennis Stamp, Tony Jones, Mike Modest, Roland Alexander, Dave Meltzer, Chyna, Spike Dudley, Koko B. Ware, Jesse Ventura

Universal Family and Home Entertainment, Imagine Entertainment, Lions Gate Films, 102 Minutes, 108 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I could never get over the fact that guys could beat the crap out of each other in the ring, and be friendly outside of it. Some of Terry’s most famous matches were against a man twenty years his junior: Mick Foley. Over the years, Mick and Terry had traveled the world, setting each other on fire, tossing each other into barbed wire. Yet outside the ring, they were truly at peace with one another.” – Barry W. Blaustein

Considered to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest wrestling documentary of all-time, it’s almost a crime that this wasn’t, at the very least, nominated for an Academy Award. Watching this all these years later, it still holds up and is damn compelling, top to bottom.

Beyond the Mat is intriguing on just about every level and every story featured in this documentary is well told, well presented and edited into the larger tapestry so neatly that I feel as if this would be a great watch even for those who aren’t all that interested in professional wrestling.

One of the most engaging things about it is that it really shows you the behind the scenes stuff from the WWF corporate offices, as well as what goes down backstage during a massive, flagship pay-per-view event. In this case, the film features the main event of the 1999 Royal Rumble, a brutal “I Quit” match between Mick Foley and The Rock.

That being said, it does feel like some parts of this documentary are heavily sensationalized, like the reactions of Foley’s wife and small kids during the Royal Rumble match. Of course the kids are going to cry when the mother is freaking out in an over the top way when she knows the cameras are on her. I’m not saying that it wasn’t a legitimate reaction but it was definitely captured and then sold to the audience as something much worse than it needed to be.

While it is obvious that this wanted to pull the wool over Vince McMahon’s eyes, initially, it’s fine in that it wanted to expose the darker sides of the business. Those darker sides exist, especially back then, and showing the underbelly beyond the lights and pageantry is why this probably did a lot more good than bad in how the business has evolved and tried to improve over the years since this came out.

Ultimately, this isn’t perfect but it’s damn entertaining.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other professional wrestling documentaries, most notably Wrestling With Shadows.

Film Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

Also known as: Jumanji 2 (alternative title)
Release Date: December 5th, 2017 (Paris premiere)
Directed by: Jake Kasdan
Written by: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner
Based on: Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
Music by: Henry Jackman
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Bobby Cannavale, Colin Hanks, Rhys Darby, Missi Pyle, Marin Hinkle, Marc Evan Jackson, Tim Matheson

Columbia Pictures, Seven Bucks Productions, Matt Tolmach Productions, Radar Pictures, 119 Minutes

Review:

“Why am I wearing this outfit in a jungle? Tiny, little shorts and a leather halter top. I mean, what is this?” – Ruby Roundhouse

I’ve got to say that I was pleasantly surprised by Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. I wasn’t sure what to expect from it but it delivered on what it was trying to do, which was being a funny, over the top, action-adventure movie.

The cast was pretty good.

I always like Dwayne Johnson and Karen Gillan, Jack Black is usually enjoyable in most things and Kevin Hart can be grating at times but he does well here, as he isn’t the focal point of the film.

Additionally, I really liked seeing Rhys Darby and Bobby Cannavale in this. I’ve loved Darby since Flight of the Conchords and Cannavale really impressed me when he joined the cast of Mr. Robot.

This is a sequel to the original Robin Williams starring Jumanji but it takes the concept and kind of modernizes it by making it a video game instead of a board game. Here, four teens are sucked into the game and they have to play out the game in a real-life simulation as their avatars, all of which are very different from their real personalities.

It’s a fun, cute movie where the teens are challenged by their situation, their avatars’ roles and having to work together to survive and free themselves from the game. It’s a good coming of age story, even if its pretty predictable and embraces some tropes and cliches.

I thought that the action was solid, the CGI effects were top notch and the environment was rich, lush and beautiful. This had a real Uncharted feel to it, which I think was the intent of the filmmakers, who went the video game route with the story and even put up an Uncharted 4 poster in one of the teen’s bedrooms.

I guess there is a sequel to this coming out in the near future. I’d probably go see it. I’m not sure what they can do to keep the concept fresh but this new take on it worked fine for this chapter in what appears to be a real franchise now.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the original Jumanji and Zathura.

Film Review: Rampage (2018)

Release Date: April 4th, 2018 (Microsoft Theater premiere)
Directed by: Brad Peyton
Written by: Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, Adam Sztykiel
Based on: Rampage by Midway Games
Music by: Andrew Lockington
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Marley Shelton, Matt Gerald

New Line Cinema, Flynn Picture Company, Rickard Pictures, Seven Bucks Productions, Warner Bros., 107 Minutes

Review:

“Like my grandpappy always said, ‘Us assholes gotta stick together.'” – Harvey Russell

I wasn’t sure what to think going into this film. I am a massive fan of kaiju movies and I was a big fan of the Rampage video game when I was dropping quarters into it on the reg back in the ’80s. However, the game didn’t have a plot, really. It was just about playing as one of three monsters: a gorilla, a werewolf or a lizard. The only real purpose was to cause as much destruction as you possibly could: punching buildings into rubble and eating people hanging out of windows.

The film’s story actually did a decent job of explaining the creation of these giant creatures and their physics defying abilities.

For the most part, I really liked this movie. It was ridiculous in the best way possible and a ton of friggin’ fun. This is what a blockbuster should be. It doesn’t have to be scientifically accurate or attempt to be overly serious, it can be a balls to the wall smash’em up festival. And while that formula has worn thin and I’ve been critical of it in the past (*cough, cough Man of Steel), when done right and with an organic purpose, it can still work. It works here.

From a storyline standpoint, this is more engaging than the first Pacific Rim movie. I liked the plot of the second Pacific Rim much better, by the way. Rampage just does a good job with its human characters and also really makes you feel for George, the Rock’s large albino gorilla friend who turns into a menace, only to be cured of his aggression and turn into a hero that teams up with the Rock in taking down the other two monsters: the giant wolf and the giant alligator.

I also love the cast. The Rock, who prefers to just be Dwayne Johnson now but is and will always be The Rock to me, leads the charge but is backed up by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Joe Manganiello and Marley Shelton, the last two being in small roles, unfortunately.

But with The Rock, Morgan and Manganiello together in the same film, there is a testosterone overload that matches the beastly intensity of the three actual beasts in the film. I also loved Malin Akerman as a villainous corporate bitch in this. She was perfect, cold and still looking damn fine. In fact, having her and Morgan in this makes the film a mini Watchmen reunion.

I also really liked the Easter egg of having the old Rampage arcade game in Akerman’s office.

There are some goofy things about the movie. Okay, “some” is an understatement. However, it works for a movie with giant monsters tearing up Chicago and literally toppling the Sears Tower. I’m not going to get nitpicky and bitch too hard but sometimes the dialogue was forced and felt unnatural but this was usually in the moments where The Rock was yelling at green screen. There just seemed to be a disconnect at times, which isn’t the actor’s fault but for some reason certain bits felt off.

The creatures and their physical embellishments all worked for me and the special effects used to bring them to life was well done. I also like that they didn’t make the monsters too big like the Pacific Rim kaiju or the modern versions of Godzilla. The monsters don’t have to tower over the largest buildings, they just need to tower over the humans running away and the military might that confronts them.

Rampage isn’t a great motion picture in the terms of being cinematic art or something that the Academy would see as worthy of their consideration outside of special effects. However, it is a solid popcorn movie. Especially for those of us who can’t get enough modern kaiju films.

And if you are wondering if there is a scene where a monster eats a lady like in the video game, well… you won’t be disappointed. And frankly, it’s an awesome f’n moment.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The 2014 Godzilla remake, Kong: Skull Island and the Pacific Rim movies.