...a simpler time when Reagan was president, the Berlin Wall was coming down and there was actually excitement to watch giant, transforming robots fight each other while real American heroes took on evil forces and ninja turtles ate pizza.
Yes, modern filmmaking has not been too kind to the fond Saturday morning memories of yesteryear. And while it's too late, at this point, for Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to offer us a good movie reminiscent of everything we loved about the originals... it's NOT too late for GI Joe.
It's true, back in 2009 we got GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra from Paramount Pictures (and subsequently its quickly discarded sequel GI Joe: Retaliation in 2013) but plans for a new installment seem to be slow going, if not (hopefully) all together stopped. Much like Michael Bay's excessively despised (yet oddly incredibly profitable) Transformers series, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra was everything you DIDN'T want in a GI Joe movie.
The radical terrorist group known as Cobra was replaced by an army of mind controlled soldiers under the subjection of a whiny American science officer with absolutely zero motivation for turning evil... the real AMERICAN heroes became a more PC friendly global task force based in the Egyptian dessert... the Scarlett/Duke/Snake Eyes love triangle was replaced with Ripcord getting in on the red headed action... The Baroness (the very picture of an Eastern European extremist) became Duke's American ex-fiancee... and, of course... the Delta Six Accelerator Suits...
"What's it accelerate?"
GI Joe: Retaliation, to its credit, at least really tried. Cobra Commander was much more appropriately Cobra Commander-ish, they offered us more ninja fights (which is what a lot of people seem to think GI Joe revolves around), Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson carried that film on his back as the most charismatic actor in the film (of which he often is in all he does). They even brought in Bruce Willis to play Gen. Joe Colton...
...sadly he basically just showed up to read some lines and cash a paycheck...
But hey! They got Bruce Willis!
Unfortunately, the hole dug by The Rise of Cobra was just too damn deep. They tried to erase the existence of that movie by killing off almost everyone involved with it, except Snake Eyes and Cobra Commander. Duke's death was incredibly uneventful and everyone else was apparently killed off camera. DJ Cotrona's portrayal of Flint was severely wrong (playing him more like Don Johnson's Lt. Falcon from GI Joe: The Movie) and the overall execution was just very bland.
Even series "star" Channing Tatum had some harsh words to say, recently, about his experience with GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Variety (and other media outlets) reported on an interview Tatum gave with Howard Stern wherein he said:
Look, I'll be honest. I [bleepin]ing hate that movie.
So why do we want another installment to a franchise that has such a mediocre, and in some cases downright hated, critical response? What we really need, in this day and age of rebooting everything when things go south, is for someone to retake control of the franchise and bring us a fresh start. If we can reboot Spider-Man every two years then we can easily throw The Rise of Cobra and Retaliation into the waste bin and start anew.
So what can make a good GI Joe movie?
Fortunately, we got a really good GI Joe movie a while back in the form of the animated web serial, GI Joe: Resolute.
Written by fan favorite comic book writer, Warren Ellis, Resolute offered us the best modern day version of the real American heroes. Amazingly choreographed action scenes (yes...you can choreograph animation), intense drama from its core characters, a compelling threat from Cobra (they blew up Russia with a laser from space) and an anything can happen scenario as indicated by the off the bat deaths of Bazooka and Major Bludd.
GI Joe is a pretty rudimentary formula. Good guy team takes on bad guy team with the fate of the world in the balance. Throw in the military and some sci-fi technology and you have the makings of a pretty great, albeit generic, summer blockbuster. But why does GI Joe need to be a generic popcorn movie?
Those bases are currently well covered by Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the less than stellar past offerings of the Joe franchise. DC and Warner Bros. are currently taking a new approach to superhero movies with their notion of filmmakers making "great movies ABOUT superheroes" instead of the stereotypical superhero movie.I say the same approach can be taken with GI Joe.
Don't make another bland (yet flashy) big budget action figure commercial. Let's bring back Warren Ellis to script a gritty, character driven action drama that relies just as much on the backstory and dialogue as it does the explosions and fancy weaponry. If you really want to go all in then maybe you get Warren Ellis to tag team the script with Larry Hama (original comic writer and all around chief architect of the Joe universe).
And who could direct such a venture?
DAVID AYER as The Director
There are a great many action directors out there that could easily pull off a generic, guns blazing foray into the world of Joes vs. Cobra. At one point in time I would have considered Michael Bay a terrific option given his love of explosions, CGI, sepia toned American flags and the US Military. But then Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles happened and I decided that Mr. Bay (although still a good director with his other offerings) isn't allowed near my childhood anymore. It's not that he can't make a good movie. He really, really can! It's that he seems to quit caring when he's hired by a studio to sell toys.
David Ayer, on the other hand, is one of those directors that really cares about his craft. He takes action and really plays up the emotional toll that it has on its characters. He's one of the best there is when it comes to establishing an ensemble. Seriously, check out Sabotage. It's not the best Arnold Schwarzenegger movie in the world...but it does a great job with showing what a nitty gritty ensemble film about corrupt DEA agents can be.
He's got DC and Warner Bros. Suicide Squad on the horizon, which will really test his mettle with a property of this nature (it looks good, btw). And with writing credits like S.W.A.T. and the original The Fast and the Furious under his belt I'd say he's got what it takes to really show us what the Joes can do.
What would the plot of the reboot be?
That's one of the easiest questions to answer. The plot, quite honestly, would be your typical GI Joe plot. A radical group of anarchists have come together to form Cobra. A secret terrorist organization hiding in plain site under legitimate corporate faces like M.A.R.S. Research and Development (Destro's government contracted weapons supplier) and Extensive Enterprises (run publicly by Tomax and Xamot). When a plan goes into motion to steal and unleash a new invention known as the M.A.S.S. Device, a special forces unit of the US Military (known as the GI Joes) must combat the threat. Yes, the GI Joes would go back to being an American team. They are, after all, real American heroes. The global task force was a nice idea and all but it's just not fitting. The Joes are American just like the Oktober Guard were their Russian counterparts.
So there you have it. Sounds pretty routine, right? That plot would speak volumes to the legions of fans that have been salivating for the perfect GI Joe movie. What would make it different and unique would be Ayer's attention to detail on the character development and interaction (as well as the action, of course). Subplots like Snake Eyes vs Storm Shadow, the Duke/Scarlett/Snake Eyes love triangle and Cobra's subtle manipulation of the world from within the shadows would play heavily into the context of the film.
And now it's time for the cast!
NIKOLAJ COSTER-WALDAU as Duke
I know...I know. He's not American. How can a real American hero not be American. Well, truth be told, that's not really important anymore. A lot of the best actors aren't born American anymore. A lot of them are British, French, German and...you know...Canadian. As long as they can play American then that's all you need. And this Denmark born actor is exceptionally great at what he does. Best known as Jamie (Fookin') Lannister on Game of Thrones, he's proven to be great as a loyal leader and skilled fighter. And it really helps that he's got a spot on likeness to Conrad "Duke" Hauser. He's sure to kick the mustard out of everyone!
JESSICA CHASTAIN as Scarlett
Academy Award nominated actress Jessica Chastain isn't shy of her own intense action dramas, having starred in Zero Dark Thirty, as well as the sleeper horror hit Mama and Christopher Nolan's space epic, Interstellar. Rumor has it she's even expressed interest in joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She has the perfect look, demeanor and skill to be a more realistic and intense version of Shana O'Hara. And the will she/won't she dynamic with former co-star, Waldau, and silent ninja assassin, Snake Eyes, would be right up her acting alley.
SCOTT ADKINS as Snake Eyes
I met Ray Park (the original/current live action Snake Eyes) at a comic con in Philadelphia and I told him that I couldn't have picked a more perfect Snake Eyes. That was true at the time. A lot of people say that any stunt man can play Snake Eyes because he doesn't talk and you never see his face. I'd beg to differ. I think that because he doesn't talk then you need someone who can do terrific body language acting. As a professional stunt man turned actor, Ray Park did that in spades. He was perfect. But seeing as how I'm not casting people who have already played their respective roles I had to dig deep and find someone whose talent could rival that of Park's. Enter Scott Adkins. He may not be a household name but he's been racking up the action star credits on Direct to Video flicks (like Universal Solider: Day of Reckoning) but he's got his fair share of big theatrical ventures: like Zero Dark Thirty, The Bourne Ultimatum and a significant role in The Expendables 2. Not to mention a starring role in the Ninja trilogy. Adkins is a terrific martial artist and stunt man with just the right amount of acting credibility to do Snake Eyes proud. Sorry, Ray, but I had to pick him.
ANDY SERKIS as Cobra Commander
Before anybody gets all up in arms, this is more of a voice casting. Again, because you don't really see Cobra Commander's face, any well built stunt man can throw on the uniform and mask (be it the cloth one pictured here or the iconic mirrored face plate). But to really match the late Chris Latta's raspy voice, we have to go to one of the best voice and motion capture actors around. You may not know Andy Serkis too much by his face (thought that will probably change once he reprises his brief Avengers: Age of Ultron role in the upcoming Black Panther) but you definitely know his voice. Does the name Gollum ring a bell...myyyyy....PRECIOUSSSS!!! Regardless of who ultimately wears the suit, Andy Serkis is definitely who I want to hear shout "THISSSSS...I COMMAND!!!"
EWAN McGREGGOR as Destro
Destro was actually one of the finer adaptations in GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra...at least up to a point. I like the idea that he starts off the movie as a seemingly normal business man with an ulterior motive. Then he gets horribly burned and disfigured and has to cover his face. The original movie set you up for this by giving you a backstory about his ancestor being sentenced to wear a metal mask for the rest of his life. That mask then gets passed down and then James "Destro" McCullen has it in his possession as a reminder of what his life could turn into. Prett dark and dramatic stuff, right? So what happens? Well...he gets burned and horribly disfigured...and his mask is lost to the bottom of the ocean. Cobra Commander, instead, injects him with nanotech that makes it look like his face gets wrapped up in aluminum foil and then he's "kicked out of the band" and left in a prison tube for the entirety of the sequel.
I want this version of McCullen to be a pretty boy arms dealer with a romantic entanglement with the Baroness (of course) who gets disfigured and has to put on a physical mask. No nanotech. No silly necessity to have his lips move. A mask. That's it. To play him, I cast one of the best pretty boy Scottish actors around (yeah...Destro is Scottish, by the way). Ewan McGreggor is a terrific actor who can easily play the duplicity role and has never let super stardom shy him away from an ensemble picture.
EVA GREEN as The Baroness
I'm double dipping with this one a little bit because I previously had Ms. Green cast as Evil-Lynn back in my Masters of the Universe fan cast. But dammit if she's not perfect. The French actress and star of such films as Casino Royale, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and 300: Rise of an Empire is gorgeous, lethal and (by the way) European! Holy crap was an American Baroness annoying as all Hell! Eva Green is the best choice to play the Baroness because along with the aforementioned qualities she's not opposed to embracing her sexuality as a character and her mainstream career is practically made up of ensemble genre flicks.
KANE KOSUGI as Storm Shadow
Storm Shadow vs Snake Eyes is one of the highlight features of the GI Joe franchise. The poorly edited fight scenes of the other two films (a lot of seizure inducing jump cuts and close ups) were very upsetting. What we need to see on screen are two exceptionally talented martial artists just going at it with some of the best, most impressively choreographed fight scenes around. Don't put a popcorn movie spin on it. Just let them fight! To take on Scott Adkins' Snake Eyes, we need an equally talented Asian martial arts actor. The Chinese-Japanese (yet American born) son of famous martial arts actor, Sho Kosugi, is perfect for the role. Like Adkins, he's not a household name but has tons of martial arts and action flicks under his belt. As well as stunt and voice work (he's often voiced Ryu on Street Fighter anime).
HUGH JACKMAN as Flint
Nothing against D.J. Cotrona as an actor, but I absolutely hated his portrayal of Flint on GI Joe: Retaliation. It was just completely out of character. They had him as a punk kid recruit with authority issues. In actuality, Flint is one of the leaders of GI Joe (just under General Hawk and Duke) and he's the squad leader of Tiger Force. He's a no nonsense and loyal soldier. Not to mention a lot of people's fan favorite character (personally, mine is Duke. But that's besides the point). To play him we need an equally no nonsense and fan favorite actor. Enter the Wolverine, himself, Hugh Jackman. Yes, like Coster-Waldau he's not an American born actor but we're moving past that. This Australian knows his stuff. I mean, seriously, is he not the absolute best at what he does. Whether it's superhero action or a Broadway musical...Hugh Jackman is just superb. And compare those pictures up above. Just look at that scowl and tell me he's not Flint!
ANNE HATHAWAY as Lady Jaye
I love Anne Hathaway. A lot of people give her crap for some reason but I think she's fantastic. If every movie had Anne Hathaway in it then that would be okay with me. Fandom aside, The Dark Knight Rises actress has a ton of talent with an incredibly broad range of acting (from The Princess Diaries to Brokeback Mountain and capped off with her Oscar winning turn in Les Misérables) and she's not afraid of tough action roles. Add in that short cropped hair from Interstellar and she's got Lady Jaye written all over her.
KURT RUSSELL as Gen. Hawk
You want a real American hero?!?! You got one! Having starred in such sci-fi/action classics as Escape From New York, Big Trouble in Little China, Stargate and Tango & Cash...Kurt Russell was tailor made for this flick. Now, to be fair, I actually thought Dennis Quaid's turn as General Hawk was the most inspired casting to come out of that movie. But for this take on GI Joe you need someone with some true grit (and I mean that...Kurt Russell is honestly the closest we've had to a John Wayne in quite a while). And now that he's kicking back and doing some ensemble stuff with Tarantino then he'd be a likely catch to jump on board. Plus, David Ayer wrote his cop thriller, Dark Blue. And did you know that the Tombstone star was born in a town called Springfield? (Real GI Joe fans will get that...)
TERRY CREWS as Roadblock
I mean...c'mon...seriously? Okay...I'll take a second and throw some more praise out there for another actor. God bless Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson for what he did with Roadblock on Retaliation. For real. Johnson is an amazing actor and complete A-List action star and he took a second tier character from a cartoon and comic series and made you really care about him. Here's a slow clap, Mr. Johnson. You've earned it...
Clap. Clap. Clap......Clap.
But Terry Crews is absolutely perfect for Roadblock. I guess, to be fair, Terry Crews is perfect for everything. But not only did he have the heavy machine gunner part down perfectly in The Expendables films but he's also got the comedy skills to play the team's rhyme master gumbo chef. And he looks spot on the part. I mean you don't get more perfect than that.
CILLIAN MURPHY as Tomax and Xamot
Also known as the Crimson Twins, Tomax and Xamot head up the legitimate face of the Cobra empire as CEO's of Extensive Enterprises. They also lead the Crimson Guard and feel each others pain as part of some weird twin connection. Focusing more on the CEO aspect, Cillian Murphy is the obvious go-to guy for this dual role. Not only does he look the part but with roles ranging from Batman Begins to Inception, he's got the dead eyed secret bad guy thing kind of down. I can see him bringing a lot of validation to a couple of, honestly, the franchises least valuable characters.
DON CHEADLE as Doc
If there's one thing that Don Cheadle excels at it's being the man to call when you need to build an ensemble. Whether he's robbing a casino with Clooney and Pitt (Oceans 11), making porno and stealing money from a dead diner owner (Boogie Nights) or strapping on some armor and saving the world as War Machine (Iron Man films and Avengers: Age of Ultron), there's basically nothing he isn't willing to do. Plus, Doc is one of those complex characters who's perfect for Cheadle's range of acting. He's a pacifist doctor caught up in the on-going war between the military and terrorism. Mr. Cheadle...we have a new franchise for you.
TAYLOR KITSCH as Zartan
This one was a pretty easy choice because Zartan is a Cajun mercenary and this former John Carter star famously played the Cajun mutant Gambit on the easily forgotten X-Men Origins: Wolverine (a role he might very well get back with recent word that Channing Tatum has left the upcoming Gambit solo movie). Despite a few lackluster films and box office takes, Kitsch is an exceptionally talented actor who (with the right direction) could easily do Zartan proud.
LEW TEMPLE as Dr. Mindbender
Remember in GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra when you thought that The Doctor (the guy who made all of the technology) was Dr. Mindbender? Only to have him be Cobra Commander? And then the weird scientist from the "origin story" flashback turned out to be the real Dr. Mindbender (as revealed in a useless throwaway line of dialogue)? Yeah...what a waste of character. Dr. Mindbender needs to be a more integral part of the Cobra operations. Perhaps, this time around, portrayed as more of a disgraced and slightly insane experimental scientist. Also, there are three defining physical characteristics of Dr. Mindbender: his bald head, the monocle and his sweet, sweet mustache. The first two are easy. For the sweet, sweet 'stache we have to turn to veteran character actor Lew Temple (The Walking Dead) who has a self-proclaimed "career mustache." I mean...c'mon...it only makes sense.
Phewwww! So there it is, folks. If you hung with me this long then you are a trooper and I thank you. GI Joe is a topic near and dear to my heart and I really want to see it done some justice.
Don't forget to follow me on Twitter (@ThisIsJamesT) for all things rant and ravey and maybe check out my Instagram (@TheRealJamesThomas) for the epic visual chronicle of my road to screen writing.