“G.I. Joe is the codename for America’s daring, highly trained, special mission force.” So declares the voiceover in the theme song for G.I. Joe, the cartoon show that dominated after-school televisions in the 1980s. And by that criteria, Channing Tatum seems like the perfect choice to play Duke, leader of the Joes. Is he highly trained? Of course! Have you seen Step Up or Magic Mike? Is he daring? Anyone who caught his cameo in This is the End would give a resounding “yes”!
But the song also tells us that G.I. Joe “never gives up” and is “always there.” On that account, Tatum might fall a little bit short.
Recently, Tatum agreed to strap on a lie detector and answer questions for Vanity Fair. And to test the actor’s resolve, Vanity Fair went right for the tough questions: “You played Duke in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Did you ask to be killed off in the last 10 minutes of the sequel?” Before the interviewer can even complete the question, Tatum answered in the affirmative. He was just as quick with answer for the follow-up question “Do you regret that choice?,” stating unequivocally, “No.”
“The first one I passed on seven times,” revealed Tatum. “But they had an option on me, and I had to do the movie.” And so, against his will, the actor joined the cast of director Stephen Sommers’s live-action adaptation of the 1980s toy line/cartoon series/military propaganda. Joining Tatum as Joes were Marlon Wayans as Ripcord, Rachel Nichols as Cover Girl, and Ray Park as the silent ninja Snake Eyes. For the villainous Cobra, Christopher Eccleston played arms dealer James McCullen aka Destro, Sienna Miller was the Baronness, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt gave a scene-chewing performance as Cobra Commander.
But despite the strong cast, involvement from legendary writer Larry Hama as creative consultant, and flashy direction from Sommers, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra failed to capture the nostalgia that made The Transformers movies into mega hits.
Still, the movie grossed $305 million on a $175 million budget, enough for the sequel G.I. Joe: Retaliation to be released four years later. But the hierarchy of power needed to change for the follow up, and not just because Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson joined the cast as Roadblock. “I obviously didn’t want to be in that one either,” Tatum said of Retaliation, leading to his character’s death in the opening scene.
In retrospect, it’s hard to say that Tatum was wrong to turn down the role. Retaliation may have doubled its budget and become a favorite among fans of trashy blockbusters, but it failed to continue the franchise, eventually leading to reboot/flop Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins. Tatum, on the other hand, has enjoyed a successful career thanks to strong performances in movies such as Logan Lucky and Dog, in which he plays a man with a dog.
While Tatum and the G.I. Joe franchise seem to have moved in opposite directions, it’s never wise to bet against Real American Heroes. As long as there are interested studio executives and former 80s kids with disposable income, G.I. Joe will be there.