1. The SNAFU that Is the RZA
In a woefully odd bit of casting, Wu-Tang Clan's RZA plays the Blind Master, to whom Snake Eyes and Jinx are answerable. Yes, we all know RZA loves martial arts movies, but that doesn't mean you need to humor him in the casting process - his is a glaringly awful performance that not only stands out like a sore thumb, but induces the same level of pain as one too.
Enthusiastically yelling out exposition as clunkily as possible, the RZA is clearly having a blast, but he sounds more like a carney barker than a zen master, and the idea that Snake Eyes wouldn't slice his vocal chords just to get him to shut up is, frankly, far-fetched. At least his toy looks cool.
2. Cobra Uniforms Suck
Say what you will about the Neo-Vipers who served James McCullen in the first film, but they had a cool (if non-canonical) appearance and a backstory involving snake venom that made the Cobra designation ultimately make sense. Look also at the classic toys - whether you prefer the original blue outfit with face bandanas or the Viper uniform with chrome mask, the enemy's troopers had a look all their own.
What they didn't have: basic army camo with iron-on logos, and headgear that looks purloined from the set of American Gladiators. Cobra Commander's ninjas dress stylishly in red, and he himself has some pretty majestic leather attire, so did his fashion sense simply malfunction when it came to the infantry, or did the movie's costume budget run out?
3.Women, Minorities Seem Interchangeable
In the first G.I. Joe movie, Duke's best friend is Ripcord (Marlon Wayans). In this one, his best friend is Roadblock, and nobody even mentions Ripcord. Does Duke only have room in his life for one black best friend at a time? Did they know about each other, causing Roadblock to secretly strangle Ripcord with his own parachute so he could snag the coveted Duke BFF role? That's for the fan-fiction writers to figure out.
Likewise, everybody makes a big deal about Lady Jaye being a girl with a gun, and a woman having to prove herself in a man's military. Did all these good soldiers suddenly forget about Scarlett, who could kick most of their asses once upon a time (does she not count because she used a bow)? Or that leather-clad woman in glasses who caused such a problem last go-around?
4. No Destro (Mostly)
We spent the entire previous movie waiting for Destro to get his signature metal mask, something the movie's prologue had promised. At the very end, he finally did, and we thought, aha, now he's ready to be the fan-favorite character we know and love.
And then this movie does nothing with him. He's mentioned, but more as an afterthought than anything. Maybe, since we're talking about quotas, Cobra Commander's new choice of helmet meant there was only room for one character with a shiny metal face.
It's possible ol' chrome-dome could still resurface in a future sequel, but assuming that it's a CGI cost issue to save the money it would take to animate his noggin, the road ahead doesn't look good onscreen for our eminent enemy weapons supplier.
5. Real World Politics, G.I. Joe Don't Mix
We should never lose sight of the primary appeal of G.I. Joe toys - allowing kids to play war in a safe, simplified way, with clear good guys and bad guys. Sometimes kids will root for the bad guys and have them win, but rarely if ever will they play-act the geopolitical debate and have Hawk and Destro try to hash things out in fiery speeches to the U.N., for example. It's like how, in Olympus Has Fallen and similar films, it is never mentioned what political party the fictional president belongs to, because every viewer needs to be able to root for him.
Having James Carville appear to make a comedic speech on behalf of the fake president, however, drops a big hint - one that may unnecessarily polarize viewers. And then having Lady Jaye go undercover as a Fox News anchor, just so Zartan can make a "fair and balanced" joke...really? It gets a laugh, but do we need or want to be reminded that if G.I. Joe versus Cobra were a real battle, the American punditry would likely be divided in their sympathies depending upon who the president was?
Meanwhile, kids won't get it, but the scene in which we see Israel attend a world summit as a declared global nuclear power may be the biggest bit of speculative fiction herein.
And now you know. G.I. Joe: Retaliation opens Thursday.