The Mother Brain Files: A Real American Hero

The Mother Brain Files: A Real American Hero

By Mother Brain

Growing up, G.I. Joe was a phenomenon. We’re not talking about the dolls from the 60s. We’re talking “G.I. Joe against Cobra the enemy fighting to save the day.” I can recall my next door neighbor and I having a friendly feud over trading (and sometimes stealing) our action figures. I also remember my cousin and I not only collecting the toys but also watching the cartoon every chance we had. We must have played the 1987 animated movie over and over until the tape wore out.
Everyone knew that with Hollywood’s trend of adapting comic books and 80s cartoons to the big screen, a live action G.I. Joe film was inevitable. Early discussions for it go back as early as 1992. But the technological limitations of the time prevented it from happening. By 2005, however, producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura was convinced that current world events made G.I. Joe something very timely to produce into film form for Paramount Pictures. Several drafts of the screenplay were written with cooperation with Hasbro toys who had the final say on character choices as well as story.

Initially, the concept for the film appeared to be promising as it was set to focus on the origin of the Cobra organization and incorporate popular Joes such as de-facto leader Duke, the silent but deadly Snake-Eyes, General Hawk, and female badass Scarlett just to name a few. Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse when Paramount hired The Mummy director Stephen Sommers to direct the film. While the 1st Mummy was enjoyable, the sequels and his Van Helsing pic were downright horrible due to his weak scripts and his massive orgy of CGI. Next, the studio decided not to make G.I. Joe “a real American hero” because of anti-American feelings overseas that would hurt the worldwide box office. So the writers choice to make it a code name for “Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity”. The hardcore Joe fans were outraged.
Casting would also become controversial. The 2007-2008 Writer’s Guild strike caused many actors and filmmakers to scramble for work before the deadline. Some legitimacy was added to the project when Dennis Quaid was cast as Hawk and Ray Park, best known for Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode 1, was cast as Snake-Eyes; however, the limited budget caused the studio to also go for not-so-fantastic actors like Channing Tatum as Duke and Sienna Miller as the Baroness. The latter two would share one of the worst sub plots in the entire movie.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra would be released in August 2009. The reception was mostly mixed meaning that the film was simply subpar. Among the things that did work were the preservation of elements from the G.I. Joe lure including “the Pit” as their main headquarters, the Snake-Eyes/Storm Shadow rivalry which included flashbacks to their late master, and the subtle build-up to Cobra Commander’s rise to power. Much of what made the film work was because of the creative consultancy of Larry Hama, the head writer of the original Marvel Comics series who also wrote the file cards on the back of the toy packaging. He managed to prevent the film from completely distancing itself from the source material when the studio wanted stupid changes to characters like Snake-Eyes who they wanted to talk and not wear his trademark mask.
Hama, however, could not save The Rise of Cobra from the majority of its weaknesses. The majority of the performances were too stiff (i.e. Channing Tatum) or too cartoonish (i.e. Christopher Eccleston as Destro). Even the casting of comedian Marlon Wayans felt out of place with the rest of the film while Joseph Gordon-Levett’s talents were wasted by having him spend most of the film in prosthetic makeup, a mouthpiece, and overdubbed dialogue. But once again, the actors were taking the backseat to Sommers’ X-Men rehash screenplay and his overuse of CGI effects that appeared to be so rushed that the audience was watching an unfinished film. Worst of all was the Duke/Baroness romance plot which was so stiff and boring that the audience felt nothing for their troubled relationship.
As of this writing, the sequel currently entitled G.I. Joe: Retaliation is in production in New Orleans. In a strange turn of events due to the reception of the original film, the majority of the cast was not hired back with the exception of Tatum, Park, and Lee Byung-hun as Storm Shadow. Nor was Stephen Sommers brought back to direct. His replacement came in the form of Jon Chu, best known for directing Step Up 3D and the Justin Bieber concert film. Prospects about the film were low until Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson signed on to play Roadblock and Bruce Willis appearing as General Joseph Colton, the original G.I. Joe. With real movie stars at the forefront as well as taking the delayed Star Trek’s sequel’s original release date, the new G.I. Joe film appears to look promising. But as a fan, I still have some pet peeves on what needs to be done to improve from the first film:
1) Less over the top action sequences. Keep the story and the characters more grounded than cartoonish like the first film. Add a certain grim reality that could be on the edge of becoming an R-rating so that no character is safe from death. Both sides are fighting a war after all. That leads me into my second point…

2) Kill off Duke in the first 30 minutes. Aside from Channing Tatum’s stiff acting ability, Duke was never that interesting of a character in the cartoon or the comics. The character was originally supposed to die in the 1987 animated movie until outrage from children over the Optimus Prime death in Transformers: The Movie forced Marvel and Hasbro to cancel their plans. Overall, G.I. Joe has a plethora of popular characters besides Duke.

3) Lose the Matrix-like black suits. Now nobody expects the original toys to properly translate to real people (save for Snake-Eyes, Destro, etc.). But why do all the Joes have to dress like they’re in a Call of Duty game? Stick with traditional fatigues and don’t change.

4) No accelerator suits, boring romance subplots, or still dialogue.

5) Influx more elements from the cartoon (the Marvel one from the 80s) and the comics.

6) Cameo appearance by Sgt. Slaughter.
Will the new G.I. Joe film redeem the franchise and recapture our childhoods once more? In June 2010, we will know… and knowing if half the battle.

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