If a big, dumb action movie knows it's a big, dumb action movie and revels in that fact, is that preferable to a big, dumb action movie making the mistake of thinking it's significant, relevant art?
That's the question to ponder — if you can think straight and your ears aren't ringing too badly — during “G.I. Joe: Retaliation.”
This sequel of sorts to the 2009 blockbuster “G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra” seems to have some cheeky fun with itself, from Bruce Willis cheerily revealing the arsenal he's hiding in his quiet suburban home to RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan essentially showing up and playing himself.
A major city is obliterated with the touch of a button and several others are in peril as the world hinges on nuclear destruction in what amounts to a hammy game of chicken.
Nothing matters, really. This is a movie based on a Hasbro toy, after all — it's all spectacle and bombast.
But at least “G.I. Joe” is aware of its vapidity compared to, say, last week's “Olympus Has Fallen,” in which North Korean terrorists took over the White House in self-serious fashion but our secret-service-agent hero found time to make wedged-in, smart-alecky quips on the way to saving the day.
That's not to say that this “G.I. Joe” is good, aside from a couple of dazzling action set pieces, but it's efficient in its muscular mindlessness.
The elite military team of Joes, now led by Duke (Channing Tatum, returning from the first film), is sent to Pakistan to recover some nuclear weapons. But they find themselves double-crossed by their own government, led by an impostor president, and lose many among their ranks in a massive ambush. The survivors — Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson, reliable as ever), Flint (D.J. Cotrona, who's given no personality) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki, in full makeup for covert ops) — must find out who's running the country and get to the bottom of this villain's dastardly plan.
Turns out it's master of disguise Zartan, part of the enemy group Cobra, who's posing as the president while the real commander in chief is locked up in a bomb shelter. (Jonathan Pryce plays both roles; he's far too qualified for even one of them.) The three Joes realize they need help to bring him down, so they round up the far-flung Snake Eyes (Ray Park), the petite warrior Jinx (Elodie Yung, whose character trains with the Blind Master, RZA) and the reluctant Storm Shadow (Korean superstar Byung-hun Lee, an athletic and elegant specimen).