‘Retaliation’ brings new set of Joes

It’s appropriate that “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is based on toys, because the story plays out with all of the realism of two 6-year-olds brandishing action figures.

“My G.I. Joe has fence-melting gloves!”

“Oh, yeah, well mine has deadly mechanical lightning bugs!”

“My throwing stars killed your lightning bugs!”

“Nuh-uh. My bullets shot your throwing stars out of the air.”

“Then, while you weren’t looking, my ninja snuck up behind you and detonated a nuclear bomb “

You get the idea.

And maybe that’s what the audience for “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” wants. Those looking for chaotic action, both sleek martial-arts-style battles and good ol’ American let’s-kick-butts-and-blow-stuff-up mayhem, probably will be happy with this sequel, which is really more of a do-over.

Most of the characters are new, certainly the good guys. Remember the rumors that test audiences reacted poorly to Channing Tatum’s early exit, which is why the movie’s release was delayed eight months for reshoots?

Well, not to get all spoilery, but let’s just say Tatum still doesn’t merit top billing – or even top five billing.

This is The Rock’s movie. OK, he goes by Dwayne Johnson these days but here he does more posing and engages in more hand-to-hand combat than he did in a WWE ring. And Johnson continues to be the go-to guy to stabilize shaky action franchises.

Through some shape-shifting technology, villain Zartan has assumed the identity of the President (Jonathan Pryce), disgraced and eliminated most of the G.I. Joes and put the world on the brink of a nuclear war.

It’s up to Johnson’s Roadblock, Adrianne Palicki’s Lady Jaye, D.J. Cotrona’s Flint and a few others to stop Zartan, Firefly and assorted baddies from controlling or destroying the world.

They also get a little help from a retired general played by Bruce Willis, an actor who has some experience with this kind of stuff.

Critics used to always talk about the balletic violence of Sam Peckinpah’s westerns, and director John M. Chu, who has two “Step Up” movies and a Justin Bieber documentary on his resume, makes the case that staging dance numbers is good training for creating action sequences. He comes from the edit-everything-so-quick-the-audience-doesn’t-quite-know-what-it’s-seeing school of filmmaking, but there are some well-executed set pieces, the best of which is a ninja battle on a snowy mountain range.

The screenplay by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick feels like it’s made up entirely of stage directions. The closest thing to wit in the script are a couple of one liners tossed off by the pretend President – “They call it a waterboard, but I never get bored.”

With a running time around 100 minutes, “G.I. Joe” doesn’t overstay its welcome. If the scene doesn’t feature something blowing up or set up the next explosion, it’s been pared away. For those who opt to see the movie in 3D, the effects are better than average, especially for post-production 3D, but it’s still not worth the glasses surcharge.

“Retaliation” is a difficult movie to review. I can’t really call it good. Moviegoers whose initial response at seeing the commercial was, “I have no desire to see that,” I won’t try to change their minds. But as mindless action spectacles go, it’s lean and fast-paced. I’d sit through it again over one of the bloated “Transformers” flicks any day. That may be faint praise, but it’s something.