Michael Bay’s Transformers films take a lot of heat, but they also taught most parents one important lesson: movies based on popular toy lines aren’t necessarily made with kids in mind.
The same needs to be said for the G.I. Joe
franchise, which now consists of two action-packed films I’m not quite ready to share with my sons. That doesn’t mean they’re bad. Both are enjoyable popcorn efforts, and Jon M. Chu’s new Retaliation
is a marked improvement over Stephen Sommers’ Rise of Cobra
But when it comes to G.I. Joe, the plastic Hasbro trucks, helicopters, tanks and warships piloted by action figures modeled after Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will be about as far as my boys will go until they are a few years older.
You might be thinking about taking your kids to see Retaliation. For most, it will be a solid decision. Let’s recruit the troops, target Cobra’s forces, and figure out when you can watch G.I. Joe: Retaliation with your kids.
Red Flags: “Transmission lost … ”
The G.I. Joe characters have been around for decades, their stories told through outlets that normally appeal to kids: comic books, cartoons and a long line of collectible toys. Hasbro can trace the origin of the Joe stories back to the 1960s, when “Rocky,” “Skip” and “Ace” became the nation’s first “real American heroes.” Most of us, though, came to know characters like Duke, Stalker, Snake Eyes, Gung-Ho, Destro, Storm Shadow and Cobra Commander thanks to the 1985 animated series and the comic that accompanied its run.
The Joes are highly trained soldiers capable of dropping into any conflict and subduing their enemy. As such, their stories come with military repercussions: massive fire fights, casualties and credible global conflicts between warring nations, many of which have nuclear arsenals ready to wipe humanity off the face of the planet. Not exactly kids' stuff.
The movies don’t shy away from the militaristic nature of the G.I. Joe stories… and they shouldn’t. Watering down the Joe missions would neutralize the effect of these films. Audiences turning out for Retaliation want to see the Rock they know from The Rundown and Fast Five… not the one from The Game Plan or The Tooth Fairy.
So what’s questionable in Retaliation?
The firefights, while not overly bloody (a la Olympus Has Fallen), still wipe out multiple Joe soldiers and enemy forces. There’s humor sprinkled throughout Retaliation, but there also are ample kills, including an attack on a base that results in the death of Channing Tatum’s character, Duke.
There’s a questionable subplot where Zartan, a Cobra chameleon, is standing in for the kidnapped president of the United States … and our commander in chief is held hostage by his captors and tortured. Again, nothing too brutal – this isn’t Jack Bauer rampaging through a season of 24 – but tough enough that it might bother young kids. And the finale of the film, which I don’t want to spoil, involves nuclear warheads and the destruction of a major international city (which you probably saw in the trailers).
So yes, G.I. Joe is based on a popular toy line, but the action on-screen goes for “realistic” over “campy,” and the combat-heavy sequences likely will have parents pressing pause. Which stinks, because the following Green Lights do make G.I. Joe sound SO cool to a kid.
Green Lights: “Damn ninjas … ”
Jon M. Chu’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation isn’t Zero Dark Thirty. There are a number of combat moments, but also plenty of over-the-top and borderline-cartoonish action stunts that serve to remind us this property did start as a cartoon based on a popular toy line.
Chu told me in a recent interview on behalf of Retaliation that he tried his best to please his inner seven or eight year old by including scenes of ninjas fighting on the side of a snowy mountain while dangling from ziplines that stretch for miles. There are chase scenes in and around Fort Sumter, South Carolina as the Joes try to prevent nuclear Armageddon. The Joes have cool gadgets that they use in their battles against the Cobra commander, who makes his bid to become the next Darth Vader with a menacing voice emitting from behind a nearly faceless mask.
Again, there are ninjas. That alone is going to have preteens bouncing in their seats.
But in a bid for some sort of realism, Retaliation cranks the action to a level that earns the film its PG-13 rating. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson leads the charge with his characteristic charisma and beastliness. Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow continue their age-old rivalry. And then there’s Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) in that red dress… wait, maybe that’s a Red Flag? It certainly is when she strips out of it – though her figure’s only reflected in a TV screen and barely distinguishable.
Chu gears G.I. Joe toward older kids. As a result…
Parents probably want to wait until their kids are 12 or 13 before they take them to see G.I. Joe: Retaliation.
While this movie isn’t nearly as dark or sadistic as the most recent Transformers movie, it clearly circled teenagers as its target audience, and should be held until kids are able to handle combat sequences on-screen. It’s a Catch-22, as my sons recently have begun playing with Snake Eyes and Roadblock action figures, creating their own Joe adventures in our living room. That will have to do until they’re a little bit older, and ready for Retaliation.
If you’d like to read previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That with My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hugo, The Princess Bride, The Monster Squad and Elf, to name just a few.