As “How You Like Me Now?” blares presumptuously over G.I. Joe: Retaliation
's end credits, dejected viewers will be excused for muttering, “I actually liked you a lot better before.” While this sequel/reboot boasts the same slapdash storytelling and risible dialogue as its predecessor, John M. Chu (Step Up 3D
) can't infuse the material with the same cartoonish energy Stephen Sommers lent 2009's The Rise of Cobra
. Displaying an aversion to outrageousness, this action flick instead traffics in garden-variety ridiculousness. Consequently, minor pleasures are the best it can muster, such as Jonathan Pryce's mischievous turn as the Cobra terrorist who's assumed the president's identity. When he orders an airstrike that reduces the G.I. Joe ranks to Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) and three others (who share a dozen lines between them), the supposedly international strike force holes up in an abandoned gym and calls on a retiree (Bruce Willis) and his NRA buddies for backup. Given such dreary alternatives, Snake Eyes (Ray Park) understandably defects for a vastly superior subplot featuring ninjas, RZA and cliffhanging melees. Ultimately, this over-the-top tangent only serves to illustrate just what a joyless slog the actual climax is. A surplus of explosions is no substitute for a few narrative fireworks.