Continuing the recent trend of major studios handing over the reins of their established action franchises to Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (see: the most recent "Fast and the Furious" films and its upcoming sequels),"G.I. Joe: Retaliation," the follow-up to 2009's "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," allows the former professional wrestler to take over as lead after Channing Tatum's character from the first film, Duke, is unceremoniously killed off. Unfortunately, the addition of Johnson doesn't make this film any less forgettable than its predecessor. But if you were a fan of the first film, "Retaliation" delivers more of the same competently staged mindless action.
The film is an odd mix of continuing storylines from the original film now acted out by an almost entirely new set of characters. Johnson's character is supposedly the best friend of Duke, but was never once mentioned in the last movie, and the script doesn't even bother to come up with an explanation. On the plus side, the always lovely Adrianne Palicki ("Friday Night Lights") plays Lady Jaye, who fills the role of lone female member of the Joes this time around.
The nonsensical plot picks up with the big cliffhanger that ended the last film, where we learned that the President of the United States has been replaced by an imposter: Zartan, arch-nemesis of the Joes. Apparently Zartan's been doing an OK job of it, since no one's noticed anything out of the ordinary. For clearly nefarious purposes, the imposter president sends the Joes off on a mission to Pakistan to locate some nuclear weapons. Of course the mission is a set-up, and Zartan stages a massive attack on the Joe camp, blowing the team sky high and leaving them for dead. Three members manage to survive: Roadblock (Johnson), now the team's de facto leader; Lady Jaye; and Flint (D.J. Cotrona, "Dear John"), who sure is pretty, but I'm utterly at a loss to come up with a single other defining characteristic for him. They manage to make their way back to America, and the stage is set for some good ol' retaliation.
Johnson is significantly less interesting here than he was a few weeks back in "Snitch," but to be fair, "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" doesn't feature particularly strong performances from anyone in the cast. There's not even a performance as enjoyable as Joseph Gordon-Levitt's hammy scenery chewing from the first film. Still, I suppose the actors do an admirable job considering that they're literally playing action figures.
Taking over directing duties is Jon M. Chu, the man behind "Step Up 3D" and "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never," and he does manage to deliver one great action set piece about halfway through the movie: a lengthy fight scene in which at least a dozen ninjas do battle while zip lining down the side of the Himalayan mountains. It's impeccably staged and without question the best part of the movie.