Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Real American Hero

    In 2013, after a year of delays to reshoot and add in 3D effects, the sequel to 2009's G.I.JOE: The Rise of Cobra was finally released. It was entitled G.I.JOE: Retaliation.
    It was originally slated for a June 2012 release but pushed back into the following spring instead. The rumor at the time was that some of the film executives had seen the finished product and decided it needed a bit of fixing and also that since 3D was such a big deal now, it could use with that addition as well. (The delay came after the initial trailers had already been put out to theaters and the toys were well into production by Hasbro, the company that owns the property. After the delay, several stores put the toys out anyway since they had the stock in-hand).
    The post production 3D conversion rumor appears to have been a fact while the re-shoot rumors may or may not be true (I’ve never actually seen anyone connected with the film confirm they really happened. All I saw was fan sites stating it like a fact). Regardless, the film was delayed by nine months.
    The film is an interesting project all on its own. Numerous articles cite the film’s director, Jon M. Chu, as stating that he wanted it to be a stand-alone film and/or soft reboot. Several fans disliked the first movie since it deviated some from the established concept, making the Joes an international force and having more James Bond like elements rather then militaristic ones.
    When watching the film, it’s clear the film is a sequel to The Rise of Cobra. Cobra Commander and Destro are prisoners of the Joes; Storm Shadow returns from the dead; Zartan is still impersonating the President... Duke is the same actor; Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow’s back history employs much of the same footage from ROC.
    And yet it clearly isn’t.
    Now, the Joes are an American Special Forces unit. Only “One man can give that order” (to kill the Joes), which is in reference to the U.S. President. Cobra Commander has an established hierarchy in place for Cobra when he returns from imprisonment (Firefly tells him, “Welcome back, Commander”, implying that he was already waiting not just hired new). Also, Zartan lead Storm Shadow down the path of servitude to Cobra when he was young (which would be odd if Cobra didn’t even exist yet).
    The film is full of contradictions. Much of the second film is thematically more in-tune with what Joe fans want to see (Cobra Commander looks right; Storm Shadow changes sides; both sides have cool futuristic tanks; Firefly has a similar costume to his 80s incarnation; Zartan’s powers work more like the ARAH comic, etc.) But in many places the story decisions imply it should be a reboot while others imply it is a sequel.
    It seems likely Chu went into the project with a clear vision to make a reboot film, ignoring the first one completely as he’d stated in earlier interviews. But then somebody, most likely Hasbro, decided to the two films had to connect for continuity (for obvious marketing reasons). Perhaps they reasoned viewers would be confused how and if the films related. Recall the two Ghost Rider movies–both star Nicholas Cage as the titular character but are intended to be separate films. Also, the Ang Lee Hulk film and Louis Letierre’s The Incredible Hulk were originally intended to be a series but the latter film was made into a reboot instead.
    I can understand their logic here and agree with the decision. To write-off the first movie is silly. No, not everyone liked it (judging by the fanboy vitriol online) but I don’t think it was that bad of a film actually (different then what was expected, yes, but not necessary bad per se). To throw away the first film makes it worthless in a sense and for the casual viewer (i.e. most people) it would be confusing. What if Paramount chose to the bundle two films together later? What if Hasbro wanted to re-use some of the first film’s toys? Also, it was only a few years in-between the two films (contrast this with Superman Returns–a film that came out nearly twenty years after Superman IV. Now there’s a film that never should’ve tried to connect with its predecessors and needed to be standalone).
    In-story, it’s hard to rationalize the contradictions. I suppose Zartan could’ve been in a position to poison Storm Shadow’s perspective and did so with the idea of using him in the future–which he did when Cobra was eventually formed. Perhaps the U.S. conceived of the idea of the Joe team and after the ROC debacle, downsized it back to a U.S.-only operation. Or perhaps there are other Joe style teams in other parts of the world? This would account for why we never got a clear explanation where most of the first movie’s cast was. Maybe the Cobra organization was fully formed before Cobra Commander went to prison and Destro was duped into believing it was all his plan all along? Maybe they needed his monetary and/or technical resources long enough to subvert them for Rex’s personal army (aka Cobra).
    In the end, I like both of the films for different reasons. Both are at least decent films about our favorite soldier heroes. Retaliation has more familiar RAH elements but I think ROC might have a slightly stronger story overall (that is, a better thought out or composed plot while Retaliation felt a bit weak in places).
    Chu is coming back for the third outing apparently. Truth be told, I’d rather have a new director come onboard and see what new take they bring to it all. Keep it different from film to film and allow those differences to add some new flavor to each story.


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