Byung-hun Lee

REVIEW: G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)

When the Joe’s are betrayed by their President (Jonathan Pryce), the survivors must hide and pool all their resources in order to stop whatever deadly plan he and Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey) have put together.

Much like the first film, I’ve seen G.I. Joe: Retaliation once before but it was so long ago, I remembered next to nothing about it. What G.I. Joe: Retaliation has going for it is that it’s a lot better than its predecessor, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. As a film G.I. Joe: Retaliation isn’t exactly great but when you compare it to what came before it’s hard not to think it’s half decent.

While there’s still some advance, sci-fi-esque tech in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, mostly courtesy of Firefly (Ray Stevenson) and his electronic insects, it’s generally a lot more grounded in reality. There are no super suits for the Joes, they are purely military characters, and they’re all American this time.

The surviving Joe’s are led by Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) proving once again that the Rock can help reenergise any franchise. There’s also Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) and Flint (D.J. Cotrona), and Snake Eyes (Ray Park). Snake Eyes and his feud with Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-Hun) is still a highlight of this franchise, it’s always nice to see a female badass in these testosterone-heavy films, but Flint is such a generic action man character that anyone could’ve been in that role – I mean, the man isn’t even on the poster. Channing Tatum briefly reprises his role as Duke and has much more charisma this time round and he could’ve easily fitted into the Flint character’s role. Plus, his chemistry with Johnson was really good too.

The action sequence that stands out in G.I. Joe: Retaliation of course features Snake Eyes. The first part is him fighting Storm Shadow in a hallway and how the music drops out so there’s just the echoes of gunfire or swords clashing is really effective. Then there’s the daring escape where he and Jinx (Elodie Yung) are against dozens of ninjas and end up fighting while abseiling down a snowy cliff face. It’s a thrilling sequence and while the film kind of slows down to allow for the Snake Eyes plot which is almost like a side quest to the main plot with the Rock and co. when it looks that good and is that entertaining it’s hard to be mad about it.

The rest of the action sequences are more on the small-scale (compared to the globe-trotting first film). There’s still a lot of gunfire and explosions but there’s also so hand to hand combat scenes and more of an espionage vibe as the Joe’s try to figure out what’s going on with the President. Gotta say Jonathan Pryce is delightfully hammy as the evil President and makes the silliness of the situation almost work.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a half-decent, popcorn, action flick. It doesn’t require too much brain power, there are some cool action sequences and mostly thanks to the Rock, a lot more of the characters are entertaining this time round. 3/5.

REVIEW: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)

As Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is set to be released this summer and looks pretty good, I thought I’d revisit the previous two live-action G.I. Joe films.

After their convoy was destroyed in an attempt to steal highly dangerous warheads, Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) join an elite military unit comprised of special operatives known as G.I. Joe to help take down the evil organisation that’s after them.

I’ve watched G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra once before and that must be close to ten years ago as I remember recording it off the TV, so while I knew I had watched it, I really couldn’t remember much about it – besides the almost ridiculous cast. Also, I have never read a G.I. Joe comic, seen the cartoon or was even that aware of the action figures – here in the UK Action Man was the military toy I remember as a kid. So, whether or not this film is true to the characters and world of G.I. Joe I have no idea.

Let’s talk about the cast of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. There are a lot of great actors in this film though very few of them give great performances. Channing Tatum appears to be just going through the motions, and both Sienna Miller and Rachel Nichols were pretty bland too. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is near unrecognisable thanks to his costume and voice performance and Christopher Eccleston seems to be having a whale of a time as a Scottish weapons manufacturer with nefarious schemes. The Mummy alumni Arnold Vosloo and Brendan Fraser also make appearances, Fraser’s being very random and is more of a cameo. It’s like that all these actors don’t quite no where to hit it on the serious to fun scale of their performances so it doesn’t feel very cohesive. Plus, a lot of the characters get little to no backstory or characterisation besides stereotypes like “brash leader” or “tech guy” so it’s hard to get attached to any of them.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra has a lot of CGI-heavy action sequences and makes full use of the budget to show secret bases under the Sahara Desert and the polar ice caps. Some CGI shots look a bit ropey, mostly from the chase sequence in Paris, but on the whole it still looks decent if excessive – that underwater base with the submarine dogfights truly is something.

While the abundance of CGI and explosions gets old quickly, the sword fights between Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun) stand out. The stunt work is great and while many of the other characters just seem to have super suits or big guns, these two actually have skills and with their backstories entwined, anytime they go toe to toe is a highlight in an otherwise bland action film.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is very silly and mindless. As so many of the characters lack interesting or any characterisation, they aren’t memorable. The only two that aren’t so easily forgotten are Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow and part of that is due to the distinctive costuming. Otherwise, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is pretty forgettable and even as you watch it it’s easy to get bored. 2/5.

REIVEW: The Magnificent Seven (2016)

magnificent-seven-2016-posterWhen the tycoon Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) takes over a town and terrorises its people, seven men lead by bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) come together to take on his army and save the townspeople.

The Magnificent Seven is a lot of fun and a lot of that is thanks to the cast. The seven men have a lot of chemistry and each bring something different to the group. Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) is the joker and gambler of the group who enjoys annoying Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) a Mexican outlaw a lot. Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and ex-soldier and Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) a knife fighter come as a pair, while Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) is a tracker and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) is a Comanche warrior. They are all very different people and it’s the moments where they are all sitting around a campfire or are in a saloon talking that are real highlights of the film. And while she is the only prominent female character in the film, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) is a force to be reckoned with as it’s she who goes out to find men to fight for her town and she has the respect of the men she employs.

The cinematography in The Magnificent Seven is gorgeous, there are often extreme wide shots of the town and the battles and they all look wonderful. The fights themselves are also well-shot and the action is very clear to follow and you have a good idea of where everyone is in relation to each other. There’s only a few shootouts in the movie but when they happen there is a good pay off and the one at the start of the second act has a good standoff between the good guys and the bad.

There are some clichés and tropes in The Magnificent Seven, but the characters and action are so well put together that it doesn’t really matter that much. Some characters do things that you can see coming a mile off but that’s mostly because the formula for The Magnificent Seven is a classic and even if you haven’t seen the 1960 original, you’ll know what will probably happen as the basics of the story has been seen in many different genres of films over the years.

The Magnificent Seven is a lot of fun. It has everything you want from a Western and the final battle even offers some surprises. 5/5.