I'm the first to admit that I had no idea of the context of the G.I. Joe franchise, as envisioned by the 1980s line of toys with the "complex background story involving an ongoing struggle between the G.I. Joe Team and the evil Cobra Command which seeks to take over the Free World through terrorism" (thank you, Wikipedia!). I thought the G.I. Joe doll was an alternative to a Ken doll, because, you know, Joe wore fatigues and had a butch 70's beard. But alas. It is not my Hasbro childhood toy that has made it to the big screen, that much is clear!
The film plays like a live-action Saturday-morning cartoon, with the Joes answering a call to the desert where Pakistan is storing nuclear warheads (or something). The Joes swoop in with their bullet-proof armor and surprising lack of helmets (I guess we don't want to cover their pretty faces), and successfully achieve their mission. D'OH! But then they are ambushed and framed as terrorists, because a bad guy (Jonathan Pryce) is impersonating the President of the United States, and is scheming to take over (or destroy!) the world! It is up to Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) to avenge the fallen Joes and stop the (fake) President! Or something.
I really got confused with the arrival of the ninja warriors, as well as a handful of bad guys that just wear featureless masks, but have cool body armor and capes. However, my confusion quickly led to my brain just shutting off to enjoy the ride when Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun) found himself oiled-up and shirtless for no apparent reason other than the fact that he was hot and could kick-ass using only a sword. With Ray Park playing one of the faceless good guy/bad guys (I was never quite clear), the fight sequences are actually pretty cool to watch, especially one involving ropes, swords, ninjas, a sleeping bag, and a Himalayan sheer cliff.
I have to say that Dwayne Johnson is an appealing actor, and makes just about any dumb movie a little better. He is flanked by Adrianne Palicki trying her best with the hot chick soldier who (of course!) also looks hot while undercover in a red dress. D.J. Cotrona as Flint, the third main Joe, is pretty, but registers (strangely) barely a blip for character or screen presence. He is just a... void. Bruce Willis shows up in a small role where he is almost a cameo (though the film didn't really need him), and Channing Tatum continues his ongoing presence in almost every film released as Duke, a popular Joe who is sorely missed by his fellow soldiers (and the audience) when he meets his fate.
By the time Jonathan Pryce is gleefully punching buttons, launching nuclear warheads to the horror of the world's super-powers, I found that I was actually enjoying G.I. Joe: Retaliation. If you go into the movie expecting nothing more than a ridiculous popcorn movie, that is exactly what you'll get. And sometimes that is all you need.