Hopes and fears for G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

So far, 2009’s big summer blockbusters have been largely disappointing. Can G.I. Joe overcome scepticism to deliver, though?

I love blockbusters, I really do. Yet somehow this year I haven’t been appeased by anything I’ve seen. I’ve been planning this article in my head for a while now, but fresh from a recent IMAX screening of Transformers 2 (which suffered from The Phantom Menace syndrome – some great moments drowned in banality, lazy film making, awful attempts at humour and, worst of all, racism), I realised that G.I. Joe is one of the last summer blockbusters left to get excited about.

This year seemed to peak with Watchmen and Monsters vs Aliens, both of which I thought were superb, making way for a string of high budget sequels that I had a lot of personal investment in. I’m a big fan of the X-Men comics, so I tried to enjoy Wolverine for the most part as I finally got to see Gambit in action and revel in Ryan Reynolds all too brief appearance as pre-Weapon X Deadpool, but then the writers kept taking more and more liberties with the characters (Wolverine and Sabretooth as brothers? I think not. The appearance of Scott Summers and Emma Frost for no good reason whatsoever. The whole of the last act.) to the point where I despaired.

Along comes Terminator Salvation and fails to be all it could be, which I described in more detail here, then even my beloved Transformers decides to increase its own creative licence by neglecting core characters and their respective dynamic. Why bother introducing Sideswipe in such a fantastic way, then disregard him and give screen time to the simply atrocious idiot twins, one of whom beggars belief in his stereotypical, racist depiction – a jive-talking, foul-mouthed truck who transforms into a monkey with a gold tooth? I can only imagine that the scene revealing that Mudflap and Skids ran on fried chicken was left on the cutting room floor, no doubt to be re-instated in his ‘Extreme Director’s DVD KKK Cut’. Anyway I digress and will leave my Transformers rant for another time.

The point is that I love blockbusters, no matter how inane, as long as they keep me bouncing along and entertained, so now I find myself at a crossroads, G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra looks like everything I could enjoy in a brainless, summer spectacle, the only problem is that, like the above films, I have a personal investment in how the Joes are translated onto film.

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I still own a large amount of the original toys from my childhood and was converted to the ways of G.I. Joe (or Action Force as it was originally for us Brits) by Hasbro’s shrewd cross-pollination in the Transformers comic by firstly creating a cross over story, then by printing Action Force in the same comic. I couldn’t escape it and grew to love the comics and the toys, but more important than any nostalgic memory from the 80s (of which I have way too many) is the very real and strong friendship that was forged from a mutual love of all things Joe.

My longest standing best friend (for well over 20 years now) I met when he was introduced to me as “a new kid I’ve been put in charge of to look after for the day”  by another friend of mine. Yet all it took was a quick “I like Action Force and have some of the toys”/”I do too” conversation between myself and ‘the new kid’ in the mid-80s and here we are all these years later, still best friends and still sharing a love for the Joe comics and toys. We just don’t play together with them as much these days!

So at long last there will be a big screen version of the mighty G.I. Joe, poised to go one of two ways with, it transpires, its strengths sharing an awful lot in common with its potential weaknesses. And as the month draws near for its arrival, here are the things that will make or break the film for me as an expectant fan…

HOPES

Ray Park as Snake Eyes

Snake Eyes has always been my favourite character for many reasons, whether it’s his complicated relationship with the equally cool and lethal Storm Shadow, his selfless saving of fellow soldier Scarlett from a burning helicopter, which left him hideously deformed and mute, or the fact that right from issue one of Larry Hama’s original comics he was instantly iconic and deadly.

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Now the amazingly talented and equally martial arts oriented Ray Park is going to be playing him and I could not be happier with the casting choice. Park has excelled at using body language and movement to convey characters, from the obvious example of Darth Maul to the less obvious fight doubling in Sleepy Hollow as the Headless Horseman (just remember how awesome the axe spinning was in the scene where Casper Van Dien was put out of his misery). I also read that he’s studied the same martial art as Snake Eyes and even studied his characters’ movement from the TV series/comics, showing, if nothing else, that he’s dedicated to doing his part.

I’m also thrilled that they’ve chosen the second version of Snake Eyes’ costume as it was the look I spent the most time with as a kid, so as long as Snake Eyes is kept at the forefront of any action, then that’s at least one star for the film. 

The Power of Quaid (and other casting choices).

Dennis Quaid is fantastic. I’ve always thought so since growing up with him in the likes of Innerspace and Enemy Mine (which are still as good as I remember) and who continues to keep me enthralled in anything he does. I’ve recently been buying up a whole load of his films, including the likes of Dragonheart, Vantage Point and Wyatt Earp, to the point where the man is now on the verge of getting his own section in my DVD collection. So Quaid adds a second ace to the G.I. Joe sleeve for me, though his appearance does come with a condition – that in order to gain another star for the movie he must get angry, shout, and punch something.

Backing up the mighty Quaid are a whole host of interesting casting choices, including the ever-so-slightly-incredibly-beautiful Rachel Nichols as Scarlett, who can add another star to my opinion if her relationship to Snake Eyes is referenced and played as respectfully loving. While Jason Gordon-Levitt’s casting as Cobra Commander remains a mysterious and intriguing prospect, I’m pleased to see director Stephen Sommers’  stalwarts Arnold Vosloo as Zartan (perfect) and Brendan Fraser making an appearance, though more’s the pity that Fraser wasn’t at the top of the cast list. 

Quality merchandise

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This is actually less of a hope and more of a reason that, regardless of how the film turns out, there are already reasons to be grateful the movie adaptation got given the green light. I’ve always been an avid collector of any movie-related toys, to the point where I’m finally having to sell off a large chunk of them in order to get through the door to my flat, but Sideshow Toys have already separated me from more of my money by making a series of 12″ figures in a new G.I. Joe line, that includes Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow and Cobra Commander.

The figures are based on the comic designs and are things of beauty (should you appreciate such things) and I suspect that they were only commissioned based on a new generation of potential collectors being introduced to the world of Joe, combined with those of us old enough to know better having our geek flame reignited. This year has also seen the original comics reprinted in graphic novel form, which contain ten comics per book and for this alone I couldn’t be more grateful. 

Stephen Sommers

Sommers is a director who knows how to have a good time and in a summer filled with movies that seem to forget the word ‘fun’, I have high hopes that he can make a film I enjoyed as much as The Mummy. I’ll even defend The Mummy Returns for still being a good laugh, having a child actor that I didn’t want to maim and for making Rachel Weisz fight in ‘that’ ancient Egyptian costume… sorry where was I? Oh yes, I’m also aware that The Mummy Returns suffered from some of the worst CGI ever, but I still had a blast.

Also, in case you’ve forgotten, go and watch the Deep Rising trailer again and fondly remember the sights and sounds of Treat Williams reciting a Star Wars line and a woman being sucked down a toilet – full scream ahead indeed. 

That they won’t shout “GO JOE!”

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Or for that matter “FULL FORCE”. Don’t do it. 

FEARS

The accelerator suits

Just as the X-Men had their visual identities stripped from them with the introduction of their near identical costumes, so too will the Joes, if the trailer is anything to go by. With the X-Men it made more sense to replace bright coloured lycra with something more subdued, but the G.I. Joe characters they’ve picked hardly wore pink in the first place and yet in the clips and posters have all been issued with the same generic looking outfit, and that is a shame.

More than that though is that it now looks like rather than just relying on skill, strength and awesome vehicles to fight the good fight, they will now all be enhanced individually with their own accelerator suits, meaning that any fighting they do will be less physically impressive and more ‘oh look a CGI character just did something unreal’. If Snake Eyes is given an accelerator suit I will spit blood, it’ll be a pointless waste of a skilled athlete – like giving Tony Jaa a wire. 

Duke, Destro and other odd character decisions

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After watching the new Star Trek film I was amazed how well Chris Pine had managed to avoid coming off as too irritating in a role that required quite a lot of balance, so I’m naturally apprehensive of the choice to cast Channing Tatum as a character that should really have been cast older. Duke was always a figure of authority but Hollywood’s obsession with making everyone younger has yet again come into play. Presumably Quaid is expected to play both roles of authority but who knows, we’ll just have to wait and see.

I’m more worried about Christopher Eccleston as Destro, who apparently wasn’t the first choice, as despite being a fine actor has yet to convince me as a big screen villain (I’m looking at you Gone in 60 Seconds and 28 Days Later). His voice in the trailer has already filled me with a dread that he simply won’t have the gravitas to pull off the character, either tonally or physically (despite keeping with Destro’s Scottish heritage) and if there’s some kind of scene where Destro is disfigured in order to don the mask (he should already be wearing it as it’s a family tradition) I won’t be amused.

Then the bizarre choice of Said Taghmaoui as Breaker. I love Breaker as the constantly gum-chewing, all-American boy that he is and Taghmaoui, acting kudos aside, is certainly not that. I never understand casting choices of that nature, when there is such a wide range of diverse characters to choose from, why not choose Dial Tone instead? If you’re going to change the character why not pick a better facial match with a similar specialist skill? Maybe they just don’t care about Breaker’s character as much, in which case why use him and waste Tagmaoui’s talents in a less important role? Here’s hoping he chews gum.

And that brings us to Marlon Wayans. I just worry that he’s going to play Ripcord as a comedic character, when his recent CV of comedy would be best read from a punching bag with him trapped inside.

And finally… 

Stephen Sommers

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I haven’t forgotten Van Helsing.

G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra is released on 7th August.