G.I. Joe: A Real American Mess of a Movie

While all of the attention is on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen right now, this August will see another 1980s toy property come to the big screen: G.I. Joe. Sadly, you may not recognize anything but the name, because visually it seems to have very little in common with the most popular version of its mythos, and unsubstantiated rumors have been circulating that the director, Stephen Sommers, has been pulled from editing the film. How did this happen? How did G.I. Joe, one of the most basic, straightforward concepts in 1980s children's television, become such a nightmare?

1. Hiring Stephen Sommers.
Moneywise, Sommers looks like a great idea -- the first two Mummy movies made $350 million at the box office and helped the Rob Cohen-directed third installment make another $400 million by itself. And Van Helsing made $300 million worldwide. Stylistically, though... oh, boy. Rachel Weisz gave the Mummy movies a certain charm, we suppose, but they were mostly slapsticky comedies. And Van Helsing was just a huge mess: overly dramatic Frankenstein monsters and Draculas wailed about how sad they were, and Van Helsing got a wacky sidekick. Even watching the two minutes of G.I. Joe footage that've been released, you get bad jokes, awful CGI, and unrealistic violence and ridiculous costumes. It's no wonder that angry fans have gleefully spread the slightest hint that he'd been axed, although having producers with no real idea of what a G.I. Joe movie should look like certainly didn't help. Speaking of those costumes...

2. Not using the classic costumes.
The two most popular versions of G.I. Joe that have ever existed were the original 1960s military man (and his bearded 1970s adventurer counterpart), who wore green fatigues and various mission-related gear, and the 1980s cartoon and comic characters, who each had their own distinctive, usually military-inspired uniform. Now, while the names of the 1980s characters are used, as well as the name of rival organization Cobra, the number of characters in the film who resemble their 1980s counterparts can be counted on one hand: Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow and the Baroness. The rest of the Joe team have all been dressed in skin-tight black body armor, and while the X-Men movies made excellent use of that kind of redesign, the only corollary in G.I. Joe is Sigma 6, a short-lived anime version that aired a few years ago and was eventually scrapped. (That's likely where the "Delta Six" accelerator suits in the movie come from as well.) While some kids certainly watched it, it couldn't have been that big a success, or it would have stuck around -- so why not base the film on the most popular version? The one twenty- and thirtysomethings (and any kid with an Internet connection) are instantly familiar with? If the movie looks like this because Sigma Six was on TV when development started, that's going to be a huge hit in terms of the nostalgia factor.

3. Hiding Destro's mask and Cobra Commander.
Because, seriously? We love Christopher Eccleston, but if you'd told us that he was the burly, deep-voiced, chrome-masked arms dealer we saw on TV, we wouldn't have believed you. Without Destro's steel mask, he's just the ninth Doctor, so holding back images of it seems like a bad idea, especially when there's already so little in the trailers that makes us think of G.I. Joe. And we know this is the rise of Cobra, and the terrorist organization doesn't really exist yet, but a Joe movie commercial that doesn't at least hint at the existence of Cobra Commander feels wrong, somehow. Although considering that, for his apparently brief appearance in the film, they've scrapped the menacing hood from his costume in favor of various disfigurement-enhancing masks, maybe the less we see of him the better.

4. Letting the computers do the work.
Ask anyone, and they'll tell you that practical effects are much more realistic-looking than CGI effects. Because they're, duh, real. So when we see two guys running around in these "accelerator suits" dodging missiles and climbing up buildings like spiders, it really takes us out of the moment. Also, accelerator suits? The G.I. Joe I remember didn't need no stinkin' accelerator suits. We'd rather that money went towards creating some of the distinctive vehicles the Joes used to use to get around -- although, again, it would have been better if they'd just built them from scratch.

5. Taking the America out of it.
Obviously, a movie is going to bring in more money if it can appeal to a global audience. All of Sommers' films have made more than half of their revenue from overseas box office. But in pursuing that global audience, they may have lost their focus. When the film was first announced, "G.I. JOE" was revealed to be an acronym, for "Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity." The headquarters was said to be in Belgium, and the international cast -- Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Saïd Taghmaoui and Karolina Kurkova -- seemed to represent a global fighting force. Now, the G.I. Joe brand has had its international versions (it's called Action Man and Action Force in the U.K.), but the core fan base in America (half your box office, remember) knows G.I. Joe as a "Real American Hero," the cartoon's catchphrase and primary theme song lyric. Since then, the headquarters has been moved back to America, and the "Real American Heroes" line has been spoken in all of the trailers, but I think we'll continue to see the residual effects of globalization throughout the film, particularly in the film's massive Eiffel Tower action sequence.

What do you think of the G.I. Joe movie? Anybody actually looking forward to it, even after all we've seen?




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