Can the franchise be saved… does it need to be?

As news of the G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra sequel leaked out of Hollywood, I began thinking a bit about exactly how The Rise of Cobra impacted the G.I. Joe brand and where do we go from here…  sure, there is a strong collection of the fandom (myself included) who really enjoyed the first film, but I don’t think you’ll find many people who thought it really evolved the franchise in a good way.  The best many folks can say is “it didn’t suck, and it was mindless fun”.  Personally, when it comes to summer popcorn, I don’t need anything more than that, but considering how defined I was by Larry Hama’s work on G.I. Joe back in the day, I started thinking that maybe “mindless fun” shouldn’t be a barometer.

Then I saw this thread on HissTank.com, and it got me thinking even more about the sequel and how the brand can evolve from The Rise of Cobra, and how it can maybe save itself, so to speak.  Personally, I don’t feel like it has to save itself, but many fans have already written it off, and with Paramount enlisting the aid of a pair of writers that have zero connection to the original film, I can imagine a scenario where they try and “rebuild” the film, so to speak.  In my mind, there are a few ways they can improve on the mythos without just white-washing it and starting over.  Click the “Read the Rest of this Entry” link below to read my thoughts, if you are so inclined.

I actually think when he’s not defending himself from folks on the site, Omegawrath actually makes a lot of sense and brings up some good questions and arguments.  This is kind of where I see the faults from the first film and how they could be addressed in the sequel.

  • Duke – In the first Rise of Cobra film, Duke was a perfect storm of fan anger and hatred.  Most of the longtime Joe fans are not really big on Duke as it is, but throw in a pretty boy actor (who was a wooden, emotionless actor at that), totally change the core of the character, mix in some lame relationship with The Baroness and Cobra Commander, and you can be assured that Duke is the butt of many fan jokes.  Out of all potential issues with the first film, this might be the hardest to overcome.

Hardest, but not impossible.  We all know by now that Duke is an important character to the G.I. Joe mythos, at least in Hasbro’s eyes and the public’s eyes.  He’s been the face of the franchise since the Sunbow days, so he can’t just be written out…but I think he can sort of blend to the background.  He’ll have to have a part in the G.I. Joe sequel, but if they can introduce some new characters, take the focus off his backstory and just let him be a soldier, I think they can move forward with the character and get fans to sort of forget everything they can’t stand about him.

  • The Baroness – The first lady of Cobra got the most defaced in many fans eyes with her portrayal in this film as nothing more than a brainwashed former fiancee of Duke who was never really evil, and never really captured the essence of the Baroness character.  The end result of the Baroness was especially disappointing, because I felt like Sienna Miller did a great job portraying her, but the core of the character was so damaged by her lame backstory in the film that it watered down any possible coolness.

And yet, I think this is still salvageable.  Make her a sleeper agent.  Say she’d been working for MARS and Cobra all along and posed as Duke’s girlfriend to get in closer with the US Military.  The “brainwashing” was just a cover, and she pics the perfect time to reveal herself and make the movie going audience realize what a duplicitous woman she really is.  Sure, there are enough plot holes there to drive a few buses through, so don’t make it a focus of the story, just use it as an excuse, “retcon” the non-evil brainwashed version, and move the hell on.

  • Marlon Wayans as Ripcord – I know many folks had a problem with this, but honestly I didn’t at all.  I had no issues with the race change or the character change, and the comedic aspects flowed well and didn’t come across at all forced.  There were a number of issues with the Rise of Cobra, I didn’t think this was one of them.

I honestly don’t think much needs to be fixed here.  Like it or not, most folks’ familiarity with G.I. Joe is from the Sunbow cartoon, which had it’s fair share of humor, and I think audiences are going to expect that  from G.I. Joe.  Comic fans, I’m sorry, but you’re not getting gritty realism and humorless military action here, and really, Wayans’ role as Ripcord was a welcome one.  There will always be a segment of the fandom that laments the change to the character, but Ripcord was obscure enough that it impacts very little in the grand scheme of things.  If I had any complaints, it’s that Scarlett somehow got attached to him, and that doesn’t really work for me (or for many of the comic faithful).  If I had any advice to offer, forget about that little kiss in the Night Raven, and just continue her relationship with Snake Eyes.  It doesn’t have to be over the top, just the same looks and mannerisms as the Rise of Cobra, and things will be fine.

  • Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow – Personally, I think the Rise of Cobra captured these two characters to near perfection…but I can’t really get over the whole orphan Snake Eyes thing.  That just didn’t really work for me, and didn’t seem to work for others, especially with the idea that Snake Eyes only took a vow of silence.

Easy fix.  Forget it.  Just don’t mention it.  We all know Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow know each other, so flash to Afghanistan, or some other modern day military theater.  Don’t mention the long history of Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, but understand that they’re already very close.  The perfect way to introduce Stalker without using his code name, which (rumor has it) had too many negative connotations to be used in the film itself.  Typical military action, typical Storm Shadow/Snake Eyes rivalry…  they get ambushed by a team of mercenaries led by Zartan, Storm Shadow somehow gets humiliated (possibly to the point of dishonorable discharge?) while Snake Eyes is gravely injured and loses his voice and face.  Simple as that.

  • Cobra Commander – I know I’m in the minority here, but I LOVED Cobra Commander in the film…I loved him as The Doctor, and loved him even more when he finally became The Commander, even though he had a unique look that didn’t mesh with anything else we’d seen before.  But there is plenty of fandom hate out there for him, and there’s nothing that really identifies this character with what the public is used to, so some changes should probably be made.

First of all, make no mention of the whole “Rex” thing.  Please, just let him be Cobra Commander and hope folks just kind of forget about the whole “former best friend of Duke, Baroness’ brother” idea, because that was…well…  dumb.  But really, I think that’s the only thing holding him back.  He established himself as ruthless and evil in the first film, Gordon-Leavitt has the voice, has the mannerisms, and has the acting chops to bring him to life.  All he really needs is a change of uniform.  Sure, behind the mask, he looks like Darth Vader, but as long as his mask isn’t transparent, that makes no difference.  Somehow work that hood and work that mirrored faceplate into the costume and the rest will come together.  The personality is already there, in my mind.

  • The Science Fiction – Lots of fans…and I mean LOTS of fans want G.I. Joe to be all Blackhawk Down all the time.  They want pure special ops, black ops, straight-laced military action, no ifs, ands or buts.  However, that’s never been how G.I. Joe operated.  Even in the earliest days of the comics, there was a very strong science fiction and fantasy bend to the mythology, and that needs to stay, but I do think a better balance can be achieved.

Rather than the obnoxious, over the top, CGI-laden stuff like the Accelerator Suits, simply inject science fiction into every day battle.  To some degree it needs to be a showpiece, but it doesn’t need to be the entire focus of the marketing campaign like the accelerator suits were for the Rise of Cobra.  I mean, look at the Cobra Gunship.  There was never a huge focus on that particular ship, it never drove the ads, it was just kind of there, but people really loved it, it fit the story, and it fit the “10 minutes in the future” concept of the film.  Stuff like that works.  Keep the action-packed military operations, but continue to inject a heavy dose of science fiction, it really needs to be there for this to have a G.I. Joe film.  A note to Paramount writers and producers, if you’re reading this…  play all 4 Metal Gear Solid games.  Then play them again.  Then watch all the cinematics.  THIS is how G.I. Joe could be done on a motion picture scale.  Inject some more humor, make the story a bit less political, but Metal Gear Solid maintains the most seamless blend of military and future-tech that I’ve ever seen, which is what G.I. Joe’s foundation has been for twenty-seven years.  Learn it and love it.

  • The whole script thing – Or the fact that there really wasn’t one?  And that’s not a dig, either, that’s a documented fact.  Beattie was still slamming through final edits on the script while the film was shooting.  And people wonder why some of the dialog is stilted and the flow is off-pace.  The writer’s strike won’t be here the next time around, and according to rumors, Paramount has already tabbed the guys behind Zombieland as the next screenwriters, so things are off to the races there already.

Not sure there’s much to say about “fixing” this, other then if you’re writing a “Real American Hero” story, please study “A Real American Hero”.  Not Devils’ Due.  Not Valor Vs. Venom.  Not Sigma 6.  I love Sigma 6, and I love the Sigma 6 elements in the Rise of Cobra film, but I know damn well I’m the minority and the exception to the rule.  95% of folks who know G.I. Joe, don’t have a clue and don’t give a damn about Sigma 6.  So if you’re going to invest 350+ million bucks in the film, maybe some better source material could be chosen?  Ya think?

Study, study, study.  Read the Marvel Comics.  Watch the Sunbow cartoons.  Appreciate what made the characters work on the page and on the screen over the past twenty-seven years, not over the past five.  Get a feel for the “vibe”.  You can marry the Sunbow style and the comics quality…it’s possible.  I believe it.  You just have to have the right guys writing the treatment.

Imagine if you will…  the sequel opens:

1 – A large concrete gate in front of a state-of-the art prison slides open…there is a name plaque:  “Blackwater”.

2 – Futuristic convoy trucks emerge from the prison, soldiers in military garb sit behind the wheels.  They’re driving through a deep canyon, a winding, remote road.

3 – A streamlined military jeep pulls along side, Duke, Ripcord, and Snake Eyes inside, escorting the convoy.  The Baroness is in the back seat.

4 – Some pithy dialog.  Mentioning the prisoners, Cobra Commander and Destro.  The Terrorist world has been quiet with them imprisoned.  Almost as if waiting…

5 – Baroness looks at her watch.  Waiting?  No more waiting.  She presses a button.

6 – The rocky sides of the canyon explode, showering the convoy with debris.  Fantasy-laden flight pods are encased within, manned by fully equipped blue garbed soldiers in thick flack vests and mirrored facemasks, proudly emblazoned with the Cobra symbols.

7 – Another rockface explodes, revealing a sloped-armored tank that should look familiar to anyone.  Standing in the turret is a moustached man with an eyepatch, who raises a cybernetic arm and proclaims… “COBRA!  ATTACK!!!!”

With some quality special effects, this could be a tentpole moment in a summer popcorn film.  Nothing extravegant…nothing we haven’t seen on weekday afternoons after school, but seeing it in live action makes all the difference.  Rocket trails, machine gun fire, some flashy explosions, lots of Joes running around (cameos, anyone?).  This stuff ain’t rocket science, I think we just have to have the writer (or writers) who appreciates what G.I. Joe has been about.

Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoyed G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.  To me, it was a cool 90 minute thrill ride that was definite “mindless fun”.  But upon further review, should a hobby I’ve devoted 27 years of my life to be praised for being “mindless”?  Perhaps not.

9 thoughts on “Can the franchise be saved… does it need to be?

  1. Justin said : Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. To me, it was a cool 90 minute thrill ride that was definite “mindless fun”. But upon further review, should a hobby I’ve devoted 27 years of my life to be praised for being “mindless”? Perhaps not.

    I’m not sure if anything ever posted anywhere has summed up my feelings any better than this.

    And I know that to some degree it seems like I’m being pressured by public opinion, but after Rise of Cobra, I’ve started hiding I collect Joes, for the first time in my life. It’s just humiliating. Because to most people it seems that by having this mass collection of Joes I went gaga over some goof movie aimed at six year olds.

    Mindless pop-corn fun is NOT good enough. Look at the early comics. Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, the RipCord/Zartan/Candy storyline, Invasion of Cobra Island, the awesome jungle issues. I’ll never want GIJoe to NOT be fun, or be gritty and real like Blackhawk Down or Saving Private Ryan, but why can’t it be something I walk away from saying “holy crap that was awesome?” Throughout my life I’ve walked away from countless movies that made me feel that way. When I walked out of RoC I was smiling saying to my wife, “Okay that was bad, but it was kinda fun.” That’s how I feel when I watch the old Joe cartoons with their goofy crap. But for a big budget movie to just accomplish the same thing a 2 decade old kids cartoon did, that’s not good enough.

    And I think that what most people seem to just gloss over is that it is very hard as a longtime fan, not to feel that by changing so many elements of the GIJoe mythos, the people involved with the RoC movie basically said, what has gone before was cute, but we’re gonna change things so they work better to what we want. How arrogant and disrespectful to every fan who’s been with this franchise since the start to just say, I know you guys love all this, but hey we don’t care, here’s our version. It’s made all the worse by the fact that their version of things stunk.

    And yes, honestly, if they move it back to a more traditional GIJoe in the sequel there is a chance I might go see it (or at least rent it later). I just can’t get behind the general sentiment that something is better than nothing so support the scraps they give us. Not for something I love as much as GIJoe. I won’t buy into second rate, when I’ve seen what it can and always should be.

    But maybe that’s just me.

  2. I read that post too Justin, and I have been giving it lots of thought.

    I think we all can agree, ROC was not our ideal Joe film(even if you liked it, it could’ve been better) There was a lot in ROC for Joe fans to like, but also a lot that infuriated us…or left us just scratching our heads.

    I propose a list of what I’ll call “unreasonable demands”…I cal them this as I am unwilling to budge on them…these things MUST be done in the sequel.

    unreasonable demand #1) Scarlett and Snake Eyes relationship must be restored. To Many, incluing myself, THIS is the emotional core of GI Joe. These two are soulmates, and should remain so. To do away with this so that Maron Wayans can flirt with the hot chick is such a waste.

    Scarlett leaning on Snake Eyes in the briefing room; that to me was more thrilling than seeing the SS FLAGG.

    unreasonable demand #2) Do NOT base the plot around Duke. Here’s a news flash for Hasbro: Duke is not the main character of GI Joe–I don’t even know if there IS a main character in GI Joe, but if I had to pick one, it would probably be Cobra Commander or Snake Eyes… and you know what? Some of us don’t even like Duke, never have and never will. I have never been a Duke hater, just kind of indifferent towards him(Except on the Sunbow Cartoon. Sunbow Duke rocks.) but we’ve hade so much Duke shoved down our throats, I am at my breaking point. Indeed,in the “Resolute” artwork article on this very site, I went off on a diatribe about how sick I am of Duke, when I should have been talking about how cool the Zartan art was.

    I didn’t always hate Duke…Hasbro made me this way, oh yeah, and Channing Tatum…

    Bad enough the whole movie was about Duke, but to have him played by this goof. I wince on screen every time I see his…ughh…”acting”. How did they cast this guy, pick his name out of a hat? It’s bad enough he was completely physically wrong for the part, but the guy makes Keanu Reeves look good.

    And the whole movie was basically about how awesome Duke is. In fact, since we don’t actually see the rise of Cobra, I would argue the movie should have been called “GI Joe: How Awesome is Duke?” My answer? Not very.

    So yeah, make Duke’s part smaller… or recast. Or hey, do both!

    unreasonable demand #3) The Baroness. Make her bad again. I don’t care how, just make it happen. I am not really so worried about this one. It’s inevitably going to get fixed… But it shouldn’t have been broken in the first place.

    I was really digging the Baroness in ROC too… She was one of the characters I felt the movie got 100 percent right(Well, other than the accent.)…up untill it was revealled that she wasn’t really bad. Rex just brainwashed her with nanomites to…uh, I dunno, get revenge one Duke or something… LAME!

    I hear in the movie novel, Ana reveals to Duke that she remembers the evil things she did and enjoyed doing them…maybe the film makers can use this

    unreasonable demand #4) Return Cobra Commander to a more traditional appearance.

    I have note spoken to one person–NOT ONE–who thinks the movie design of CC was an improvement over the original. I’m not talking about fans either, I’m talking about the general public. Oh yes, people remember the original Cobra Commander. We need to see him returned to his former glory.

    Oh, and while I’m at it, drop the stupid Darth Vader voice Rex uses at the end.JGL did a fine Cobra commander performance throughout the film, and you guys ruined it at the end with that Darth Vader Voice… “CALL ME…COMMANDER!!!”…no, I don’t think I will.

    So those are my unreasonable demands. Thanks for letting me ramble on like this!

  3. It’s not just you man, you hit the nail on the head; I feel exactly the same way.

    I am not a hater, nor am I an apologist. I love GI Joe, have since I was a kid. But everything leading up to this movie told me it was going to be terrible. Stephen Sommers? that guy had NEVER made a movie I liked. So I kept my expectations low and you know what? I really enjoyed this movie. It was cheesy, campy, stupid, fun…

    …but you’re totally right. We deserve a better one next time out.

    Paramount, Hasbro, whatever forces are reading this–Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I am willing to bet that if Sommers works from a better script, he can make a GI Joe movie we can ALL be proud of… Just obey the Unreasonable Demands…

  4. Ok, So, I too agree, but, I also disagree.

    To be honest, after having seen what happened to Transformers, I went in with really low expectations. And, I was pleasantly surprised. I went in with one thought in my head, and one only, “This is the action movie where they can do almost any retarded thing they like, and it would be contextually fine.” And they did, and it was ok.

    The Reactive Armor was not total garbage. I kinda liked it, and it does have a modern tech base. You can look up robot armor that is in development.

    Scarlett and Ripcord… uhg. Ok, this is an easy fix. It was a fling. they happen when you are young. Ripcord is a dog, I am sure he can screw up a relationship.

    Duke is a 2 dimensional character. I am not hater either, but I am a do not care. Best thing Duke ever did was almost die on the end of Serpentor’s snake made spear. (Sticks to Snakes in the reverse?) At least until we got Resolute.

    The Baroness thing was lame. Or was it? Maybe it is a plan. You do not go from Army Science Guy to Cobra Commander over a bad mission. You need to start out an evil S.O.B. to become Cobra Commander. So, he gets a hot kinda evil chick, sets her to seduce Duke to get close to something. Maybe it was willing, maybe it was his 1st attempt at brain washing who cares. Set it up so Duke “eescapes” and “rescues” her so that when their plan “fails” and they are “captured” and imprisoned in the Pit, they have a mole to set them free, let them get something they need from the Pit.

    Let us also take a minute to consider the psychology of Cobra Commanders mask. Classically he wore a flat reflective mask. It screams “Look at me!” but what did you see but a distortion of yourself looking back. Who knows what it hides. An identity? A scarred face? It does not mater, he is evil. The new mask also screams “Look at Me!” but the new mask almost makes you look away in horror. He is gross. Maybe he needs to realize he needs a different mask to be the center of attention.

    Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow. Storm Shadow got cut all up and fell into the freezing water. There was no body, he is not gone. It is the 1st rule of comics. He can use ninja magic to lower his metabolism, and the cold water retards bleeding. He can totally get away and survive. And then show up to help Major Blood and Baroness to spring CC and Destro.

    GI Joe is a team, and not always Team Duke. In fact, Duke often said “You guys go do this, while these guys will go do that.” He was not a big field guy as I recall… Lets do that this time. Duke sends Flint to do crap. And we have like 200 characters that we can send to do stuff. You know, I would almost like to see a MASS device like hunt. Something that shows off the various troops in their various specialties.

    On the other side, Cobra is all about the subversion of the people. They would recruit you based on your own sense of isolation and alienation. CC had a very political ideal in front of his plan to take over. I would like to see more of that.

    RoC did a lot of stuff right. Cobra should have energy weapons. That was awesome. Joes shouldn’t necessarily have the same level of tech, but, it should also be bleeding edge.

    And, finally, I would LOVE to see a HISS tank roll up. When I think back to the old school Joes. I think about Sky Strikers and Rattlers, and HISS tanks.

    Oh, one last thing. The Vipers look too much like insects. Fix that.

  5. How to save the franchise and the film?

    Hmm… with the film I’d almost go with a complete and utter reboot. Seriously, find a writer who understands how to write a military adventure drama and not some pithy diatribe about “lost love”. The minute I read that was Stuart Beattie’s pitch for the film I knew this movie was in trouble. Sure, it was a decent summer B-movie but it was an ultimately forgettable film. It wasn’t nearly as bad as Transformers 2 or Terminator Salvation but it certainly was not even close to Star Trek. Rise of Cobra had some good concepts but bad characterizations and horrible acting (Channing Tatum, I’m looking SQUARELY at you) along with almost ridiculously over-the-top sequences pulled the film squarely in b-movie territory to rest alongside movies like Mega-Force and Street Fighter.

    As far as the franchise, I’m actually enjoying what IDW is doing in their reboot of continuity. Yes, Chuck Dixon could learn a thing or two about month-to-month pacing but the characters and the story still manage to feel both familiar and fresh at the same time. I think that too many fans want the franchise squarely back in the 80’s which is a huge mistake. Resolute showed us that Joe can be both modernized and familiar and a combination of what IDW and Resolute showed us would be the way to inject some new excitement into what is starting to feel like a very tired brand.

    Heck, expand the Resolute storyline into a full live action two hours, adding in character development, and you’ve got a great basis for a real Joe sequel.

    Just my two cents but this franchise is truly starting to leave me cold.

  6. I’m glad to see you finally came to see that movie the way i saw it the very first time, justin. I think that the executives at Hasbro just go to the movie producers and say: “Ok, here’s the license, go ahead and make this movie; only thing important is that Duke needs to be the central character, Snake Eyes doesn’t speak and Destro has a silver head, ok?” I really, really despise that movie, i grew up reading larry hama’s awesome stories, separating them from being just “toys” into a hobby i enjoyed for more than 20 years! “mindless fun” is not something that should be tagged on to Gijoe, I love & respect that line so much, even as it was called “A Real American Hero” and i’m a mexican joe fan, Gijoe attracted a bunch of fans around the world and honestly, the way the movies have been lately, (goddamn transformers) i was affraid of a gijoe movie of being bad, and man, all my fears became true as i saw that horrendous flick. In my opinnion, it’s an insult to us fans to destroy the core base of this license; we, the fans, have been supporting Gijoe since it began, after all these years waiting for a decent movie adaptation they come up with THAT? thanks, but no thanks, if there’s a sequel, i won’t go near any cinema, i won’t see it, i’m not gonna support Hasbro in destroying my favourite franchise anymore. It’s a good thing you came back to your senses, justin.

  7. I like this point:

    “The Science Fiction – Lots of fans…and I mean LOTS of fans want G.I. Joe to be all Blackhawk Down all the time. They want pure special ops, black ops, straight-laced military action, no ifs, ands or buts. … ”

    I like Chuck Norris in Delta Force, but to capture an overall adventure and can-do Joe attitude I think the brains are much more needed than the brawn.
    A little James bond, a little bit Indiana Jones, a mix of National Geographic Explorer, shady businesses, global enterprises, ‘this-is-your-job-get-it-done-don’t-care-what-you-think-about-it missions ‘, and lots and lots of explosions.

    Plus, why focus the sequel on this movies stuff at all. There’s a whole world of possible adventures that any Joe(s) can be sent into. Why not totally new GIJOE members?

  8. Well I definitely agree with you on a lot of points General. I liked ROC too, but there is definitely room for improvement.
    Concerning the Baroness, I don’t see the sequel as revealing she was a sleeper agent all this time, but rather I think it would be even more insidious if she decided willingly to re-join COBRA. Perhaps forced because of Duke’s loyalties to his own government and certain officials (good cue to introduce the Jugglers) might have in store for her. The relationship between her and Storm Shadow actually was the only romantic element from the first movie that actually caught my attention. In the second film, instead of Duke or COBRA Commander, or Destro it’s Storm Shadow that she ultimately gravitates towards.
    As far as Storm Shadow’s own past and his involvement with Snake Eyes, here’s my simple idea – no more flashbacks AT ALL. No more back story, just go forward. How did Storm Shadow survive and will he continue his quest for revenge or will his brush with death force him to admit who the better man is.
    The sci-fi elements stay, G.I. Joe has always had them, they’re never going to be “Rainbow Six”. But that doesn’t mean some parts of the ROC’s sci-fi elements didn’t feel out of place (yes I’m talking about the accelerator suits).
    COBRA Commander I thought was well conceived, the only problem I found with the movie version was that garish mask. The mirror mask would be welcome, but not the hood.

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