Why G.I. Joe: Retaliation was so exciting!
Before it turned out to be such a disaster!
Note: This article was written long ago, before the March 2013 release of the actual film. I think we all know how it actually turned out. Such makes this article enjoyably ironic.
"G.I. Joe: Retaliation" is a very strange film. It's strange in that it is the only sequel I have ever heard of that is essentially a deliberate slap in the face to the film is a sequel to, a literal apology to everyone who saw the original, and something that is essentially trying to eradicate the existence of it's predecessor. And this not only makes it a strange film, but also one of the films that I am most excited to see this year. It is, in it's essence, a second chance, an opportunity for redemption, and proof that no film franchise is without hope.
Anymore nowadays, if one adaptation of a comic book proves less than satisfactory, the series is simply rebooted (i.e., Hulk and Superman). But the makers of this film somehow saw it differently, and were able to make what is essentially a reboot, a declaration of the mistakes made in the first film, and a wiping out of many of the staples and characters created in that film, while still keeping it in the same continuity. As I said, it's something that's never been done before.
When details began to arise about "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," it became very clear to any fan of the comics/cartoon that it was in no way a service to the established mythology. In fact, that film in and of itself was a curiosity, in terms of the sheer amount of disrespect it threw its source material, moreso than even the most liberal adaptations had dared. If you count this as a comic book movie, it quite possibly holds the record for the least faithful CBM of all time. One could certainly say that the film was largely it's own entity, owing little other than it's title to the G.I. Joe franchise. So, how is this new film so different?
Let us review. G.I. Joe began life as a series of 12" figures of military personnel: Army to Navy, etc. But the G.I. Joe we know was born in 1985 with the launch of the "A Real American Hero" line of 3 3/4" figurines that introduced a wide cast of characters and a story promoted through a comic book and animated series.
The story of "G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero" concerned an elite team of American soldiers assigned to fight the terrorist organization called Cobra, led by the enigmatic and reasonably named Cobra Commander.
The G.I. Joe team, commanded by General Hawk, was led in the field by Duke, a hard-nosed, crew-cut bearing leader. Other team members included Scarlett, the witty first female member of the team, and Snake Eyes, the deadliest and most mysterious, member of the group, largely left out of the cartoon, but who, in the comics, alone holds the heart of Scarlett.
Together they also fought he likes of Destro, a metal-faced arms dealer, and Baroness, a a former Russian aristocrat who served as both Cobra Commander's lieutenant and Destro's lover.
So all in all, very simple, very straightforward. Pretty hard to screw up. And with Stephen Sommers, someone with a reputation for creating fun-loving adventure stories, and the news that the producers wanted Mark Wahlberg to play Duke, things were looking up.
But what people got instead was something else entirely. For starters, Duke would be played, by all people, by Channing Tatum, the sort of casting choice that can be related to having John Goodman play Batman. His right hand man would be none other than Marlon Wayans. 'Nuff said.
But the biggest slight came with the realization that the team was made to be international, "G.I. JOE" would stand for "Globally Integrated Joint Operations Entity," the classic base known as The Pit would be found in the Egyptian dessert, and half the charactes would be changed to be from different countries.
G.I. Joe material, for all it's worth, is essentially shameless American military propaganda, the kind of patriotic meat Michael Bay would be proud to direct. And so, although there was never any obligation to keep the "A Real American Hero" part of the title, when you literally have to cut out any part of the name of your adaptation to make it work, it's probably not a good sign. I certainly don't remember them making Captain America into "Captain World" to make it more marketable.
But, of course, it didn't stop there. Cobra Commander, rather than being a fairly simple evil guy in a mask, in this film, was Duke's good buddy Rex, who went missing in war and reappears as an evil scientist called "The Doctor," before finally donning his trademark mask....Or in this case, a completely different mask that bears no resemblance.
And last but not least, the Baroness, rather than being a mysterious foreign beauty, is Cobra Commander's sister and Duke's ex-fiance, who really isn't a bad person at all, but who is being brainwashed, and turns out to be Duke's main love interest.
By the way, did I mention that Scarlett is turned into Spock, literally spouting about the uselessness of emotions, and rather than ever look at Snake Eyes, falls for Marlon Wayans in the end?
So, all in all, "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," had little to do with G.I. Joe or Cobra, other than character's names, a few details here and there, and the only solid aspect they got basically right: Snake Eyes. For G.I. Joe fans everywhere, it was more than a disappointing adaptation. It was the sour realization that they weren't getting one at all.
Some films, like the Transformers series, may be bad, and may even take way too many liberties, but are still, in the end, adaptations, something we'll still be eager to see just for the sake of it. This, however, wasn't even a bad G.I. Joe film. They'd been told they were getting one, and had gotten, for all intents and purposes, punked.
But it made money. And so a sequel was ordered. But what hope did a sequel have of being any good? Even if it had Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis, even if it was written by the writers of Zombieland, the fact was that no G.I. Joe film set in this universe, a universe where G.I. Joe was a global institution based in the Egyptian desert, and Duke was played by Channing Tatum, where Baroness was a simple American girl named Anna, could ever be any good. It just couldn't work. Add to that that the film was being helmed by the visionary director of "Step Up 2 the Streets," "Step Up 3D," and "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never," and suffice it to say I was skeptic.
Then, on December 12th 2011, the first trailer hit. And I have confidence in saying that very few trailers have ever gotten me as truly excited for an upcoming film as this did.
Immediately within this trailer it is evident that this film is being made by true G.I. Joe fans, and people who hated the first film. And as I said, they somehow manage to not reboot the series per say, but fix all the greatest problems in-continuity.
Problem 1) The G.I. Joe team is an international organization
Solution 1) Cobra wipes out the entire organization, leaving only a few survivors, all American.
Problem 2) "Duke" is not Duke, not in the slightest, and the same applies to most of the characters.
Solution 2) "Duke," along with all the other characters from the first film, apart from Snake Eyes, are among those killed in the attack, leaving only a team of new characters who are accurately based on their comic/cartoon counterparts. Seriously, horror movies aside, how many sequels have entirely different casts from the previous film?
Problem 3) Cobra Commander looks like this.
Solution 3) Cobra Commander looks like this.
I have to say, actually seeing the real Cobra Commander realized onscreen, even for a moment, was pretty heavily exciting, and also the final nail in the coffin of any idea this film had of I honestly want to get a t-shirt for this year's Chicago con with that picture on it, captioned "Honestly, how hard was that?"
And with just those moves, the team of writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, and director Jon M. Chu, have essentially redeemed an irredeemable franchise, and created the first true live-action G.I. Joe film. The fact that the first trailer is set to the music of The White Stripe's "Seven Nation Army" is nothing short of hilarious irony. I cannot help but think that this irony was intentional, and more power to them.
Of course, in an ideal world, a G.I. Joe film should have Duke. But given with what they had to work with, they did the best job they could to make it a faithful adaptation. And that's exactly what it will be. It has now been over a year since we saw the first trailer for this film, and we are just now coming up on the much-delayed release. And I'm finding my excitement rise once again.
Of course, as with any film, there is no guarantee that "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" will actually prove to be any good. I've eagerly anticipated films and been burned before. The truth is that it may, in fact, suck big time.
But if it is bad, it will at least be a bad G.I Joe film.
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