I fecking hate the G.I. Joe movie that came out in cinemas a couple of years back. It was a completely lazily produced, poorly written and horribly made turd of a film. Despite that I’m actually looking forward to seeing G.I. Joe Retaliation. Mostly because of it having The Rock in it, who is pretty much an instant fun elevator for any film, but also because it actually looks like real things are in the film and some effort has been made to make some of the action scenes at least stand out on a visual level. When I was a lad G.I. Joe (Or Action Force as it was called here in the UK) was always second fiddle to my love of Transformers. I only owned 1 G.I. Joe video, compared to the mass of Transformers ones I owned. That said, I enjoyed the shit out of the series and all their silly adventures, and no adventure was sillier than their 1987 animated movie. How silly is G.I. Joe: The Movie? Burgess Meredith provides the voice of the leader of a civilisation of snake people. That’s how silly it gets. Click the link for further descriptions of silliness.
So a little bit of a back story to the G.I. Joe movie. In the mid 90s Sunbow Entertainment and Hasbro were pulling in the cash like you wouldn’t believe. Their three biggest toy lines all had animated shows to run alongside them which were, as you’d expect, thinly veiled 22 minute long adverts for the toys themselves. The two companies decided it would be super mega awesome to produce movies based on those three franchises for release in the summer of 1986. Those films would be Transformers: The Movie, My Little Pony: The Movie (Pre-Friendship is Magic of course) and, today’s subject, G.I. Joe: The Movie. One of these films didn’t make it’s summer of ’86 release. Three guesses which. G.I. Joe was delayed due to issues with the film’s production. There had been scripting conflicts and changes had to be made. One issue came from Hasbro’s insistence that the villains race be Cobra-La, a name the writers put in as a place-holder. This lead to the now semi-legendary battle cry of “COBRA-LALALALALA!” (I’ll link a video). Another issue was the fact they planned to kill off one of G.I. Joe’s main hero’s, Duke (Michael Bell), which had to be changed after Hasbro received very strong backlash against (spoilers!) the death of Optimus Prime in the Transformers movie. Did the year of extra production time help the film at all? No… no it did not.
Now I can’t vouch for the quality of My Little Pony: The Movie, but, G.I. Joe: The Movie is a darn sight weaker than the pretty much awesome Transformers: The Movie colon… The Movie… Anyway, the G.I. Joe movie has a multitude of problems that, whilst likely invisible to the film’s target audience, are all too visible for anyone that has since moved on. I think I only moved on from loving every 80s kid’s show about 4 years ago so I think I’m ready to critique this film. The biggest issue is the plain silly storyline that meanders all over the place with little real direction for the first hour. We know what the threat is early enough, in this case the Cobra-La people have brought in the Cobra forces to assist them in a plan to mutate the worlds population into degenerate lizard people, but very little happens with the Joe’s themselves as far as stopping Cobra. Most of the first hour for the Joes is spent with various new characters training, Duke butting heads with blatant Rhodimus Prime proxy and secret half-brother Lt. Falcon (Don Johnson… yes THAT Don Johnson). To be fair the character interplay between Duke and Falcon isn’t too bad for this sort of film. They have conflicts, unresolved issues and it all plays out over an actual honest to goodness character arc. It’s just that while this stuff is going on the Joes don’t seem to be too fussed about the attempt to steal their energy emitting device by Cobra at the start or the whereabouts of a number of their team currently held captive by Cobra.
This all means that we are left with less than proactive heroes dicking about at their base and showing us their new toys whilst the villains are actually getting on with doing stuff. Think of a Steven Seagal film, and now think of how often in his films he is sat around minding his own business until trouble comes to find him and how you just don’t care because the fights Seagal is getting into are merely reactionary and not actually progressing him towards a goal. That is the whole first hour of G.I. Joe: The Movie. If lead character’s aren’t proactive in their goal to stop the villains then nothing is really moving the story along. Sure the villains might be up to something, but we aren’t meant to be rooting for them to achieve their goals.
Another big old story issue is the ham fisted way they deal with Duke’s totally not death. The scene clearly depicts him being killed by one of (Cobra Leader) Serpentor’s (Richard Gautier) all purpose snake spear weapon things. He bleeds a lot, says his final words to Falcon, everyone cries and Hawk (Ed Gilbert) says “Yo Joe” al serious and stuff with a tear in his eye. This all happens whilst a character mentions briefly that he has gone into a coma… cos it’s really easy to tell the difference between death and a coma without doctors or medical equipment on hand. At the end of the film, as the Joes are celebrating their victory (Spoilers I guess) we get a random piece of voice over saying that Duke has come out of his coma and so know everyone is extra happy. We don’t see this of course, because he is dead. There was even a funeral scene animated but cut from the final film. This just shows how much the film was made purely to shift toys. Hasbro were so scared of hurting toy sales that they fudged keeping a character alive just to avoid a repeat of the Optimus Prime death. God knows how fans reacted when Rainbow Bright died in My Little Pony: The Movie after being stabbed in the face with a laser sword like unicorn horn.
Production wise the film even manages to fall short of the quality established by the Transformers film a year earlier. There’s a few sequences where legendary animation house Toei Animation let rip with some complex sequences but these are few and far between, one at the very beginning and two towards the end. Generally the film looks near indistinguishable to the actual TV series. The sound design rips many of it’s effects straight from the TV show and even the Transformers series. The music uses a lot of reworked versions of the Transformers movie score but has no parallels to that films awesome rock scores. There’s some of the music from the TV series and a very awkwardly redone version of the G.I. Joe theme (Which was always inferior to the UK’s Action Force theme) and as such nothing makes the film stand out on an audio level. Remember, Transformers: The Movie had a ballsy mix of Rock and Metal along with a very retro, but perfect for the time, synth score. G.I. Joe just reuses music and has nothing to give the film an identity of it’s own.
Even after all that, I have to say, I actually enjoy this more than the live action film that Stephen Sommers excreted onto us a few years back. I would imagine this is because, at the very least, this is true to the G.I. Joe cartoon series and does have at least a few decent action moments. Plus, this film has Sgt Slaughter in it… as himself… how perfect is that? It is baffling how they managed to get this simple toy pushing film so drastically wrong though. Even if the story issues were ironed out you would have still been left with the Joes fighting a bunch of snake people with their Lovecraftian looking vehicles. Yeah, I forgot to mention that. They have organic ships that don’t fire lasers, instead they fart out web stuff. Literally, the sound effect when they fire is a farting noise. Also, the villain is called Golobulos and played by Burgess Meredith. I can’t get past that. Orson Welles as Unicron made sense. You want an imposing villain you get one of the most imposing actors you can. G.I. Joe got The Penguin. It is very possible to make a damn good G.I. Joe movie, if you have seen G.I. Joe Resolute a while back you’d know this is true. I’m giving G.I. Joe one more chance with the new film before I confine the series to the corner of my mind where all childhood loves go to die. Unless, of course, they follow up Resolute. Seriously, it was awesome.