Let me define this instance of "dummy" for you: I saw the first movie but don't remember anything other than too little Joseph Gordon Levitt. I've never played with the action figures, and if push came to shove, I couldn't tell you what differentiates Sgt Rock from GI Joe—they're both soldier comic book covers I didn't get any further than. So why am I watching GI Joe: Retaliation? Dwayne Johnson. Dwayne Fucking Johnson and Adrianne Palicki. Here's what it looks like from the outside—spoilers ensue:
It's still an enjoyable movie for me—it stands alone...pretty well. And even though seeing "Hasbro" come onscreen before the movie gets started made me laugh out loud, that's got to be the goal, no? No matter how devoted the people intimate with any given franchise, you've got to have crossover appeal, or you won't make money. Fandom is never enough.
So, thing 1: I DO NOT KNOW WHO ANYONE IS. I didn't remember we hadn't met a guy named Joe. That unmemorable. But good lord, Dwayne Johnson. I think he could be a worthwhile addition to just about any action movie, because he makes the most ludicrous of premises seem...acceptably fun. His milk advertisement couldn't be more on point. So far, no one else has taken the larger than life ludicrosity of the WWE and married it with the ludicrosity of the action/sci fi genres—he has good enough acting skills, charisma, and so help me dog, looks to pull off the transition.
I knew coming in that Tatum bows out, for one reason or another, and I didn't miss him any—with my amnesia, he seemed like an appropriate inciting incident for the people we have left to embark on the Losers/A Team movie plots—the introduction to the Joes in action is well done—I got enough sense of who they were and what they did without it being too too obvious who was the third wheel that would make it into the second act.
But...damn...if you're a fan or a person with a long term memory, you get the Snake Eyes thing. You know that when the incredibly charismatic (he tears the place up in Justified, but he's on a different kind of fire here) Walton Goggins unmasks him that this totally sullen Shadow guy is not Snake Eyes, and perhaps the changing of the black swords into the white proto-batleth seems...seems to trigger a faint memory from the first movie. But still—the fact that this is the government, that they have captured the Snake Eyes guy vouched for by Roadblock and reputed to have killed the Pakistani leader, and that they have the wrong guy *and don't know even after the mask is off* could be made more clear.
So when we find the right Snake Eyes, who's he with, and why? This never becomes clear for me. RZA is always good for some low rent Ghost Dog, but I can't tell from the movie at this pace why I'm watching the League of Shadows. And why, if you're going to have two female characters in your movie, you give them both J-names. For you guys familiar with the franchise this isn't distracting or confusing, but although there was no visual overlap the Jinxing and the Jaying asked for more attention than I was expecting to pay for a movie with action heroes predating it by decades.
It's a regular task for a movie to establish what is "normal" and what is superhuman and who can do what when it's translating from another medium, especially one with no FX budget. After a while, everyone looked just about as good as anyone else at everything, except (clearly) Roadblock can lift bigger guns, and Firefly. But the action keeps up, and assuming we accept the premise of that many swords in a world with intelligent bullets (Why do only snipers get those? Aren't they more use for the normal folk?), easy enough to follow.
There's enough flashback to explain why Storm Shadow changes side, and since the biggest part of the rest of the plan is that Zartan is helping Cobra Commander take over the world, I only have to wonder if the world knows about the Cobra guys when all this starts (it's okay if the Secret Service is suddenly wearing those pins?) and why the original Joe bothers hiding any of his weapons when he's so clearly *not* hiding some of he's weapons, and I'm good to go for the rest of it.
I do think the movie is longer than the material warrants—ten minutes could have been lost, easy, include Flint scoping his comrade in arms before she has her touching emotional bonding moment (did these guys not talk before they got reverse decimated?). It's nice that there's no sex in the movie, and only a bit of people being deliberately sexy, since there's a whole lot of incidental sexiness going on, more than enough to keep the energy up.
I think this was a lot more fun than the last one, and handled the absurdity way better. I watched it in 2D, and couldn't work out what would be better in three, except maybe hyperventilating over the Rock's traps, and putting the audience in danger of dying seems to be a flawed business plan, especially since there's still a Cobra Commander to be caught, and a Duke to be implausibly resurrected. Oo-ah!