It was 1982 and the first G.I. Joe action figure that I begged my parents to purchase for me came with the codename of Flash. From the file card that I cut out from the back of his package, I learned that Flash's real name is Anthony Gambello -- and this is how I referred to him until I realized that wasn't the way it worked with a G.I. Joe character. Flash, as it turns out, wasn't a very important Joe in either the '80s cartoon series or the excellent Larry Hama Marvel comic book series, but he was my introduction to this wonderful adventure storyline of my youth. A storyline that, post 'Star Wars,' would deliver me, in theory, to my teenage years when this kind of stuff wouldn't matter to me anymore. (That theory would prove false.)
I am not alone in my love for the '80s G.I. Joe storyline, and this is why the abomination that is called 'G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra' pisses all of us off so much. And this is also why the upcoming 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation' gives us some semblance of hope.
It wasn't just that the first movie wasn't good -- it didn't even try. Look, go ahead and trash the Michael Bay 'Transformers' movies all that you want, but it's not like Bay didn't put any effort into those films. Misdirected effort? Sure. But no matter what, Bay and Paramount were invested -- there was too much money on the line not to be. But why didn't G.I. Joe get the same kind of big-screen respect? The source material for a great movie was just sitting there in the first few issues of the comic book, but, instead, we were treated to a film that inexplicably began in 17th century France.
Actually, when broken down to its core story, G.I. Joe is more relevant today than it was in the '80s. A story about a terrorist organization and a group of U.S. military personal that is assembled for the sole purpose of fighting said terrorist organization. In 1985, with the Cold War still very much real, this made absolutely no sense to me. I would lay awake at night trying to make heads or tails of the fictional scenario presented to me, "So Cobra is not even another country? It's a private organization determined to overthrow the world? And we are using our best troops for this? Not to fight the Soviets?" It's interesting that, today, for obvious reasons, this storyline seems a lot more relevant than it did 27 years ago.
The animated G.I. Joe '80s television series was a godsend for us starved-for-entertainment children, just dropped off by the school bus with nothing to do in those harsh Midwestern winters. But it was also kind of a silly show. Both G.I. Joe and Cobra used laser guns, for some reason. And Cobras' most diabolical plans usually involved machines that could control the weather or some sort of mind control device. The comic book, however, was brilliant. Gone were the diabolical plans, replaced by a somewhat more realistic terror organization that used bullets and were headquartered in a town called Springfield long before The Simpsons were. And the Joes, for their part, lived in an underground bunker called The Pit that was nestled under Staten Island. As a child, I so wanted to visit Staten Island! (Note: I've lived in New York City for seven years and have been to Staten Island once.)
This is why, to someone who is my age, 'G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra' is trash. (It even somehow managed to make Joseph Gordon-Levitt look terrible -- which is very difficult to do these days.) The characters used in the film were in name only -- most of the backstories were changed. One of the most interesting characters, Cobra Commander (Levitt), was an afterthought. Add in some explosions and the title "G.I. Joe" -- and there's your movie. It was apparent that after 'The Rise of Cobra''s somewhat financially successful release, either two things were going to happen: That was the last G.I. Joe movie we would ever see or we'd be treated to a just as awful sequel. Somehow it appears that neither will happen. Enter: 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation.'
Honestly, I hope that the 'Retaliation' in the title means that this movie is retaliating against the first movie. The first sign this movie is being taken seriously is the screenwriting team of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. This is the team who wrote the excellent 'Zombieland' and is currently working on the script for 'Deadpool' (another character that has to be saved from its prior big-screen appearance). Also, the second 'Joe' film won't have the budget that the first film had. This is a good thing! In other words: there will be less explosions and much more story. From all accounts, this second G.I. Joe film will disavow any knowledge of the first movie. Thank God.
Also, the casting is intriguing: Gone are pretty much everyone from the first film except for Channing Tatum and two other guys who hid behind masks for most of the film (Ray Park and Lee Byung-hun playing ninjas Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, respectively), now replaced by The Rock -- who is already Tweeting photos of himself on set -- and, possibly, Bruce Willis. And let's not forget The Rza will play a martial arts master, meaning this sequel is wise enough to know that Wu-Tang Clan ain't nothing to "F" with. This could be the pulpy version that we fans have been clamoring for -- more reminiscent of our beloved comic book or television show.
Look, it's hard to tell, but the early signs, especially on the screenwriting side, are optimistic. Jon Chu isn't really known for his ability to weave a gritty tale, but it would be difficult for him not to be an improvement over Stephen Sommers who directed the first installment. I promised that I wouldn't do this again: to be excited about the possibility of a good live-action G.I. Joe movie. At this point, I think all any fan of the G.I. Joe franchise can ask for is for an honest attempt to be made so that we can, finally, have the film that we deserve. (And maybe it will even include Flash?)
(Images courtesy of Everett Collection.)
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