As befits a commando team inspired by a 49-year-old series of Hasbro toy soldiers, the G.I. Joes in "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" are a squad of government combat renegades so wholesome and upstanding that they make the A-Team look like unsavory street punks.
The squareness ends, though, with their one-dimensional personalities. When they go into attack-the-enemy mode, the action is video-game vicious and fast, with a raucously propulsive heavy metal soundtrack to set off every lightning-timed knife thrust and hail of bullets.
"Retaliation" is a 3-D sequel to 2009's "G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra," and in its dehumanized and trivial way, it's a triumph of razor-sharp, hyper-violent style over formulaic substance.
We've seen these teams of U.S. government-approved military-jock "outsiders" plunge into combat many times before, in movies from "The Dirty Dozen" to "The Expendables." But Hollywood has now evolved to the point that it can deliver these thrills with maximum brute force and keep the impact so light that the result can still be looked at as a harmless diversion for 14-year-olds.
In "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," a collective of otherworldly invaders called Cobra has infiltrated the White House, kidnapping the president and replacing him with a look-alike double. Both are played by Jonathan Pryce, who gives a deviously fun bad-guy performance as the fake president. He orders the Joes to be wiped out, and the plan almost works.
But three of the Joes survive. They're led by Dwayne Johnson with a shaved head, tattooed biceps the size of canned hams, and his usual Obama-on-steroids blunt-spoken affability.
"Retaliation" was directed by Jon M. Chu, who made two of the "Step Up" dance films, and he brings a high choreographic snap to much of the movie, especially during a martial-arts battle set on a vertical stone cliff. I also liked the little electronic fireflies that erupt into fireballs, and a nuclear countdown that's much more tense (not to mention funnier) than the one in "Olympus Has Fallen."
I don't want to make "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" sound good, exactly -- it's well-executed, technocratic action fluff. But it did leave me buzzed rather than drained.