GI Joe: Retaliation (2013)

GI Joe Retaliation (2013)

Do you remember when toys and games were just that? You know… they were just pieces of plastic that you’d play with in your room or in the bath? Oh come on, it wasn’t just me playing in the “water arena” with my pieces of plastic was it? I was about 5 or 6 okay?! Well, I remember those days… and your imagination was definitely enough to dream up all manner of scenarios and events for these toys. Sure, there might have been cartoons, but no-one wanted to make a film about plastic toys. Then the world changed. Our plastic heroes were suddenly on the screen… and before you knew it Hasbro had somehow managed to put Battleships (a game where you just shout grid co-ordinates) into your local cinema. So after the ridiculously underwhelming “success” of GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra in 2009, Hasbro has now brought you the much delayed GI Joe: Retaliation. Now with 100% more Channing Tatum. Well… sort of…

Dwayne "The Traps" Johnson...

Dwayne “The Traps” Johnson…

GI Joe: Retaliation follows on from the events of the first film, but decides to scrap the majority of the existing cast in favour of following our new group of “Joe’s”, Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Duke (Channing Tatum) and Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), over another bombastic set of events. I don’t feel like I’m “spoiling” anything here to say that I wouldn’t get too attached to Tatum here… his role is very similar to that of Side Effects. It’s another instance of him being billed ludicrously high as a draw card… you will be disappointed. Be warned.

Anyway, this time around the Joes find themselves “betrayed” as an act of “retaliation” from Cobra – their arch-nemeses. What follows is an attempt to restore their good name as US heroes and stop Cobra’s wicked plan from succeeding. I honestly can’t bring myself to write an engaging plot summary, as I dreamt up more thrilling scenarios in my bath last week when I was a child. Oh, and this time around you can add in the original Joe – Bruce Willis as the GI’s attempt to restore their good name. There was a time where I’d always see Bruce Willis being in a film as a true positive… but this time around? Well, you’ve seen A Good Day To Die Hard haven’t you?

Gi Joe Retaliation (2013)

GI Joe: Retaliation isn’t the action movie you were hoping for. This should have been obvious when Paramount delayed the release from June 2012 to April 2013 to add 3D to it. Now, 3D can work – I’m not the critic to tell you that I despise it. It works sometimes, it doesn’t others. But a massive delay to ADD 3D screams cash grab. Some speculated it was to add a bit more Channing Tatum, as his star has risen dramatically following Magic Mike and 21 Jump Street. I’d fall more with the former, as opposed to the latter, that’s for sure!

What of the action? Surely there has to be some great action though right? Well… there are bangs and pops, that’s for certain. Indeed, the children in the audience were whooping and laughing at every single Cobra member that had their rappelling cord cut in a cliff scene. Oh, it’s all fun and games for them. What of the families? They were sons and daughters to people! Children nowadays have no concern for the wellbeing of a family. That’s what’s wrong with Britain! But seriously, there is enjoyment for the younger audience members. For everyone else? You’ve seen it all before.

GI Joe Retaliation (2013)

What you might not have seen before is the size of Dwayne Johnson nowadays. This guy (aka, The Rock) has packed on an immense amount of muscle. Look at his traps! (Traps are the muscles in his neck / shoulder region that make him look so massive). That guy has been doing a hell of a lot of shrugs down the gym. I feel for Johnson, as again he’s in a meat-head role that requires very little acting ability. But he does look massive, so that’s good for him. Hopefully this year’s Pain & Gain can deliver some goods for him. He looks massive in that too! What of the others? I wouldn’t write home about them to be honest. Tatum rivals Anne Hathaway‘s performance in Les Misérables… but only insofar as time on-screen, not in acting ability! And Willis? Once again it looks like he’s wandered onto a set as if by mistake. He seems distracted and a little too laid-back. Looper stands as his only recent performance that really shines. Come on Bruce… please bring back your A-Game!

Ultimately, GI Joe: Retaliation is an underwhelming amalgamation of explosions and muscles. There’s a plot there, but it’s very thin on the ground. It tries to inject suspense and thriller-esque imagery, but fails. Having said that, the film gets an extra half-Phage purely because of Dwayne Johnson‘s traps. That guy deserves the extra half for all that gym time! If you were looking forward to seeing a solid action film, then you’ll be disappointed. Just await the next explosion-fest to hit your local screens in about 2 weeks’ time.

GI Joe should have been left in my toy chest / at the bottom of my bath. Somewhat alarmingly, it appears as though a third instalment is on its way though. Hopefully the script-writers will come and ask me for a decent plot line. I can conjure them up some fantastic ideas. They’ll be way better than the big screen adaptations of Kerplunk and Buckaroo that I’ve got brewing. I’ll go and let the bath run now…

Phage Factor:

1.5 Stars

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A Good Day To Die Hard (2013)

A Good Day To Die Hard (2013)

Starting a franchise is an interesting choice to make if your first instalment is considered hot property. You’re inevitably setting yourself up for a fall when the people return and bemoan the fact that “it’s just more of the same” or “why isn’t it more of the same?” Yes, people are indecisive, unappeasable drones it would seem. Some sequels do pull off the feat though and return even stronger. Some even go on to merit a third instalment, but these are rare beasts. Even rarer is the “threequel” that pulls it off. Look at Terminator – it didn’t fare too well! And time will tell if Iron Man 3 can achieve the hat-trick. But the Die Hard franchise IS that rare beast that produced three stunning instalments time after time. Hell, it even managed to throw in Die Hard 4.0 a few years back and it still hit all the right notes. But how does A Good Day To Die Hard fare? Can it really accomplish the lofty goal of being a smash-hit the fifth time around?!

A Good Day To Die Hard (2013)

I am a massive fan of John McClane and Bruce Willis. The guy’s a stalwart of the cinema and has been in some of my all-time favourite films and my pick of last year’s releases in Looper. The character of McClane has always struck a chord with me. He’s been the cop in the wrong place in the wrong time all the damn time. Die Hard and Die Hard 2 are some of the finest Christmas movies you’re likely to see and Die Hard With A Vengeance? Well, that’s just pure gold. Pairing Samuel L. Jackson with Jeremy Irons and Willis makes for a damn good time. Hell, in Die Hard 4.0 Willis proved he could still bring the goods, even if it wasn’t quite up to the original trilogy’s heady heights. He smashed a car into a helicopter… a HELICOPTER. Good man. But what of number five? Well… it just isn’t Die Hard is it?

Let me explain this. The things that make a Die Hard movie are the wry one-liners, the world-weary attitude, a nefarious evil-doer and a bucketload of pyro and demolished “things”. A Good Day To Die Hard has some of these, for sure, but not all of them. For me, it’s simply lacking a cohesive plot. It all seemed way too scrappy and all over the place…

Briefly, John McClane (Willis) discovers that his estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney) has been hauled into prison in Moscow. So he decides to go over there. I’m not sure why he went over there though – certainly not to free him… he was “on vacation” (a line driven into the ground over the course of the film). But of course, this is John McClane and things fall apart around him and he finds himself and Jack on the cusp of a massive plot involving uranium… OK, it might seem that it has all the necessary components for a Die Hard film, but it doesn’t. It just doesn’t…

A Good Day To Die Hard (2013)

For a start, let’s get the “buddy film” issue out of the way. John McClane hasn’t worked alone in a movie for some years now – he’s had Samuel L. Jackson and Justin Long in recent instalments. But this whole dynamic with Jack McClane / Jai Courtney? It just doesn’t gel. Courtney plays a petulant little git who has real daddy issues. But he stomps around like a 13 year old who’s just been told he can’t stay up past 10 to watch a “really educational show about page 3 models”. I thought Jai Courtney functioned well in Jack Reacher earlier in the year… but back then I said he’s no Tom Hardy (similar build and look), and I’ll say the same now. I’d rather see Tom Hardy as Jack McClane, but then again… considering the poor scripting, I’m glad he didn’t take this dud of a movie…

We have to move onto Willis here. It hurts me to say it, but he just didn’t seem that into it this time around. There were some beautiful set pieces, but the writing left a hell of a lot to be desired. Lines were shoe-horned in, or repeated ad nausem so much that that dead horse was well and truly flogged to a pulp.

A Good Day To Die Hard (2013)

Alarm bells have been sounding everywhere about this movie even before release for a couple of reasons: 1) why no advance press screenings and reviews before release?, and 2) this interview with Bruce Willis on the UK’s One Show (part 2 is here). This didn’t look like the Bruce that was enthused about a movie… he didn’t want to talk about it one bit. Humble? Possibly. But more believable is the fact he wasn’t convinced of the movie’s worth. If you’ve got a star that’s not sold on a role, then it doesn’t bode well.

So who’s to blame for this sub-standard entry in the franchise? You can spin a bottle like some depressing game of truth or dare where no-one gets a smooch and a cuddle to be honest. People will have different issues with the movie, but for me it falls directly in the writers’ laps. The script is weak and the plot is even worse. This is from the guys that brought you Hitman, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The A-Team. Not all of them are stinkers, but they’re certainly derided by an equal-to-greater number than the people that enjoy them.

And finally… I need to deal with this furore about the UK version being censored. Over here we have a 12A rating on this film (equivalent to a PG-13 I’m led to believe). In the US, you have it rated R (equivalent to our 15 rating). Can one of our US readers chip in in the comments about the iconic Yippee-ki-yay-mo…..r phrase? In the UK we even lost the last word and it was said so quietly that you could have slept through it. Not that I want to hear swearing in a movie for the sake of it, I’m just puzzled as to why this decison was made…

Ultimately, this isn’t Die Hard. This is some other action movie featuring Bruce Willis playing an action hero… of sorts. I refuse to believe this is the fifth instalment in what has been an immensely successful and enjoyable franchise. If you’re a fan of the series, this will undoubtedly disappoint you. In fact, I struggle to even know anyone that would enjoy this above a level of “generic action movie”. Sure, it has all the whiz, bang and bluster you’d expect… but not much else. He doesn’t even wear a vest.

So what’s next for Die Hard? Is this is? Is this the final episode? Is John McClane going out with a fizzle? I hope not. Willis has indicated he’d be up for doing a sixth instalment, but please for the love of God hire a good writing team. Ideas for titles? How about Old Habits Die Hard and not How To Make A Franchise Die Hard, which should have been the title here.

Phage Factor:

2 Stars

Looper (2012)

It seems as though we can never get enough of time travel stories, different dimensions and “what’d happen if you changed the past?”. Sure, movies have thrown this idea around a lot, but so too have television series such as The Simpsons, Family Guy and Sliders. Audiences love the “what if…” scenario. So, what if you met your future self and were charged with killing him / her, or you would be killed yourself. Welcome to the world of Looper my friends… one of the best movies of the year.

So I might have jumped the gun a little there, and let slip that this is a fantastic movie, but why should I keep teasing you with what my verdict may or may not be for an entire article?

The premise of Looper, if you’ve not been drawn in by the trailers, is that Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a looper – a contract killer of sorts who disposes of people that are warped back in time by some future authority. By doing so, the person disappears from the future, and in the present? Well, they find a totally unknown body. Simple. Except if you factor in the whole time travel thing… that’s probably a little complex. However, Joe’s contract is terminated (closing the loop) when his future self (Bruce Willis) is sent back for extermination. Future Joe runs… and so present Joe pursues.

Ok, it sounds complex, but I’m not doing it justice. If you’ve seen the trailer then you’ll know the gyst of the film. However, what I will say is that if you’ve seen the trailer then the film offers much, MUCH more than what you’d expect. Although I don’t want to divulge too much, let’s just say that things have happened by the year 2050 (when the film is set). It’s not a cyber-punk future ala Total Recall, but there are certain differences in the people and places. Saying much more would ruin what is a brilliant script and plot.

Whilst I could wax lyrical about the plot, I’ll restrain myself. Needless to say, it’s captivating and sucks you in from beginning to end. It’s not an M. Night Shyamalan movie – we’re not going to find out that Bruce is a ghost or an acid trip by young Joe.

What I will yabber on about is the acting. Bruce Willis is, and will remain, one of my favourite actors. I think he’s great. That being said, he’s been putting out little in the way of big blockbusters in recent years. They’ve either not been starring roles, or they just weren’t that widely applauded. Looper changes this. Bruce is back to his best – he’s weathered, world-weary and determined. It brings to mind the John McClane of yester-year – humour and all. What is remarkable is how they’ve made Joseph Gordon-Levitt look so much like a warped version of young Bruce. Sure, we all know what Bruce Willis looked like in his younger years… essentially the same as now, but with more hair… but the make-up artists have gone to town to make sure his brow, his eyes and general demeanour are like Willis‘.

Yippee-ki-yay kid… it may not be uncanny, but it’s not too bad!

Levitt never really registered on my radar in recent years. I knew him as that kid from 3rd Rock From The Sun when he appeared in 2010’s Inception. Since then, I’ve checked out some of his older cuts (which inspired little in me), but this guy has bloomed. If you enjoyed his acting in The Dark Knight Rises, then his performance here eclipses that. So long as you can get over that make-up, you’ll be fine.

Mock-yeah-ing-yeah-bird-yeah. Yeah? Yeah!

I also need to mention two other key players in the film: Jeff Daniels and Pierce Gagnon. One of these names you should recognise. For me, Jeff Daniels will always be Harry Dunn from Dumb & Dumber (a personal favourite), but here? Wow. Daniels is great. Here he plays a mob boss – Joe’s employer. His scenes are all sublime and were really a revelation to me about just how good an actor he is. Maybe if I watched The Newsroom I’d already expect such abilities from the guy. The second name on that list you won’t recognise. Pierce Gagnon plays Cid – a young boy that features prominently in the film. This kid has skills. His acting is extremely mature and obliterates many other child performers’ abilities. I just hope that this guy sticks at it and doesn’t become a Haley Joel Osment. Remember him? He sees dead people. Maybe there’s a correlation between Bruce and good child actors? If you’re a parent – put your kid in a Bruce Willis film pronto.

After so much gushing about the characters, I hope you can see why I loved the film. For me, it was a perfect combination of character-driven story and an innovative and creative plot. People are comparing Looper to The Matrix for this reason, and although Looper probably isn’t as ground-shattering as The Matrix was over a decade ago, it’s still a brilliant piece of film-making. You’ll wonder why you’ve not heard of writer / director Rian Johnson before and rightly so… because he’s not directed anything on this scale before. His closest run in with the big time was 2005’s Brick, which also featured Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I personally found Brick dry and quite tiresome, but others hail it as a cult film you must see. I predict much bigger things for Looper. This won’t be a cult hit. This should just be a hit.

I’ve no idea where Rian Johnson pulled this idea from unless he was visited by a future traveller… or unless Rian Johnson IS a future traveller that possessed intimate knowledge of the future film industry. However, considering his miniscule and less-than-Earth-shattering directorial resume, I doubt this somewhat. But never say never…

Levitt and Willis are obviously the stars of the film and put in some brilliant performances, but you can’t discount the supporting cast either. Everyone is firing on all cylinders to make Looper a standout film. Sure, it probably won’t win Oscars because it’s not that type of film. But what it is is a great example of modern day cinema. It’s the sleeper hit of 2012 and one that I’ll travel back in time to see again… Or at least travel back to the cinema to see again.

Phage Factor:

5 Star

The Expendables 2 (2012)

Everyone likes to have a go at fan-fiction: where you pit two or more icons against one another to see who’d win. It’s like an elaborate, imaginary form of Top Trumps. Who’d win in a fight between a polar bear and a great white shark? Who’d win in a battle between Batman and Iron Man? Who’d win if my dad fought your dad? It’s true that most of these revolve around the “fight” premise, and many of them will never come to realisation; unless you have a particularly violent dad who just likes fighting. But 2012 is thus far shaping up to be the year that fan-fiction comes to realisation. We’ve had The Avengers, and seen Thor, Captain America and Iron Man fight one another on-screen, and now we bring in the Last Action Heroes, The Demolition Men, The Universal SoldiersThe Expendables.

If you’ve been living under a rock, or if you’ve spent the past few years trying to wrestle a polar bear towards Cape Town for the epic bear vs. shark fight, then The Expendables united some of the 1980’s and 1990’s biggest action heroes into one big gunfight back in 2010. You had Stallone and Lundgren combined with some of the genre’s biggest modern stars like Jet Li, Jason Statham and… erm… Randy Couture? The first outing for The Expendables was fun, but about as deep as a puddle. It had its moments but you sensed it was missing something. It had its big names, and its cameos from Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but it was lacking.

The Expandables 2 adds new names to the roster, such as Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme, as well as expanding on the roles for Willis and Schwarzenegger, to almost provide the quintessential who’s who of action heroes. But does it deliver where its predecessor tripped over itself? Most certainly.

Some of the who’s who of action movies are in The Expendables 2… as well as some just plain “who?” too.

Make no mistakes, this film is never going to be nominated for an Oscar, nor is it going to receive any awards from any magazine, but it’s a lot of fun. I’ll lay it down here that I was never an avid watcher of the 1980’s action classics; I know of them and their premise, but I in no way attest to having watched all of them. Therefore I’m in no way, shape or form a “fan-boy” of the 80’s. I was more a fan of every-man John McClane than the one man army that is John Rambo and his ilk. But I still really enjoyed this.

The premise of the film essentially revolves around Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his motley crew of mercenaries being tasked with recovering some data for US Government bod Mr. Church (Bruce Willis). Clearly, things don’t go as planned and the data falls into the hands of the villain with the inspired name Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), then boots are put to asses. The plot is nothing special, but I don’t think it’s intending to be that either. It’s a straight up action film – true popcorn fodder, and at this it excels. However, I take umbrage with critics saying that this is “excusable” because “it’s only an action movie”. Why can’t a film like this have a riveting plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat? Die Hard: With A Vengeance for instance had a great plot that played out as a thriller as much as an action movie. I don’t accept that cop-out excuse.

Pure fan service: The Terminator, Rambo and John McClane, united at last.

What you do have is a fun, self-referential, action-heavy movie sure to please fans of the genre. There are so many nods to the stars’ previous films, from Van Damme‘s roundhouse kicks to Chuck Norris‘ accompanying intro music that plays every time he appears. Hell, there’s even a reference to the played out Chuck Norris jokes we’re all familiar with. It’s all very tongue-in-cheek and genuinely fun to behold. Much like The Avengers I’d actually argue that some of the most entertaining parts are when the guns aren’t firing – it’s the back-and-forth and banter between the guys that is most engaging. It really looks like they’re all having fun with the script and relishing those wisecracks. Well, except for Statham who is given a number of “one liners”, but none of them hit the mark. Better luck next time Jason.

Although on paper the cast list appears to be too full, it’s good to see that not everyone is on the screen at all times, as this’d make for a horribly messy film. Some of the big names are reduced to cameos: Jet Li especially, who has about two minutes on-screen overall. However, I still don’t see the need for Randy Couture in the team. He’s a brilliant MMA fighter, but an actor he is not. And despite being part of the “core” group, he probably has five lines in the whole runtime. He’s probably the most expendable of The Expendables.

Can Stallone pull off the treble? Film Phage wants to see some of these guys in The Expendables 3…

If you’re unaware of the rumblings in Hollywood, then know that The Expendables 3 is a very real proposition and I’d anticipate it landing amidst explosions and gunfire sometime in 2014. Here’s hoping that Stallone can bring in some of the last remaining action players, such as Wesley Snipes and Steven Seagal, as well as other less obvious choices like Liam Neeson, Nic Cage and even Mel Gibson… Now that’s a film I’d love to see.

The Expendables 2 fires into cinemas with the expected combination of testosterone and guns. What was less expected was the self-referential humour and light-hearted quips that really made the film feel much more fluid and complete than its predecessor. Its only weakness is that the franchise is still lacking something in the way of cohesive story. I’m not looking for Memento with action heroes… just something a little different to spice things up. I know the franchise is capable of ratcheting it up that last notch.

Thankfully the film turns out more like Time Cop than Kindergarten Cop and I’m already baying for the announcement of the role-call for the inevitable third entry in the series.Then the fan-boys will get some more of their all time most wanted duels up on screen, which may not solve any of the “versus” arguments, but will no doubt entertain once again. And for the record Iron Man would hammer Batman… and my dad would also kick your dad’s ass. Fact.

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star