Before they were being portrayed by Dwayne Johnson and Channing Tatum, our beloved Joes starred in comics, animated series, and (most importantly) hilarious cartoon public safety announcements that were later remixed endlessly. How is it possible that the writers of Zombieland, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, missed the chance to spoof the "knowing is half the battle" announcements in their script for the excellent G.I. Joe: Retribution? Turns out they did write a PSA, but it got cut.
In our exclusive interview with Wernick and Reese we addressed the missing PSA, body massages, tone, Cobra Commander's new look and whole lot more. A few minor spoilers ahead.
Why does this G.I. Joe movie feel so different from the last G.I. Joe movie?
Reese: It's a little less science fictiony than the last one. I think the last G.I. Joe felt like it was taking place in a parallel universe outside of our own. I think our GI Joe takes place in our world — we make references to Bono [and] we have James Carville in the movie. And there are real nations that the United States is squaring off against at a Nuclear Conference. It feels a little more grounded than the first movie, I think that's the biggest difference if we were to point to something in particular.
The tone feels lot different in this one as well, it's almost jovial. These guys actually seem to like what they do, was that something you tried to infuse in this G.I. Joe movie?
Wernick: Absolutely. I think tone is one of the very difficult things to capture in a movie. And we obviously bring with us (with Zombieland and in our voice) a comedic element and a wit and humor that we try to bring to our characters. We absolute tried to infuse that into this G.I. Joe. We had some great comic actors, [like] Jonathan Pryce — his timing is better than most. To not be able to utilize that would have been a real bummer for us.
What did you love from the comics and cartoon that was imperative for you to put in this movie?
Reese: I think, above all else, a real sense of fun. As a child I always wanted to be Snake Eyes, and I always pictured myself as Snake Eyes behind that mask. We just wanted to capture that fun, over-the-top vicarious thrill of being a G.I. Joe for a young person.
Wernick: We were greatly inspired by Larry Hama's "Silent Interlude" Issue 2 sequence in the monastery, that was really a tip of the hat to that brilliant comic. That was one of those direct things that came straight from the comic and up onto the screen.
What did you hate about the comics or the cartoon?
Reese: There's a little bit of that silly over-the-top stuff like Cobra Commander's voice. That high pitched, serpent like voice, at times it boarded on the silly. Or certainly was a little more appropriate for a very young person as opposed to a young person or an adult.
Whose decision was it to get rid of the mask from the first movie and put in the traditional Cobra mask?
Reese: That was Jon Chu's decision and I think it was mostly the result of him being a G.I. Joe fan from childhood as well. And he just wanted Cobra Commander to look more like Cobra Commander. I think it was a great choice for the people who did grow up on it, it kind of stirred the echoes a little bit to see that mask.
So John Chu decided that, and then you two wrote it?
Reese: Well we wrote in there that he had a chrome mask, but it was in the character design that they drew up so that it did resemble a slightly cooler, version of one of the earlier masks from the comics. That would have been Jon's decision at the time.
Wernick: Snake took on a much, much cooler character design than in the first movie. All of us were such big fans of the comics and the lore, we tried to stay as true to it as we could. Snake had a mouth in the first one!
Reese: He had lips!
Wernick: We jumped on that quite a bit, as did a lot of the fans. This was a return to the Snake Eyes that we all grew up with and that we all fell in love with, that was important for all of us.
Why didn't you put in any classic Roadblock PSA moments? Were you tempted to throw in a nod to the famous remix of them, like have Roadblock ask "who wants a body massage"?
Reese: We love those PSAs and we love the remixing of those PSAs. But ultimately we decided that it was parody and we think it's been pretty played out. So we didn't want to do it in the movie.
Wernick: We actually had a draft [that included] Snake Eyes and Roadblock and kids playing in a washer and dryer.
Reese: That was an extra credit bonus sequence we wrote, because we we were thinking of doing a PSA. And we had Snake Eyes and Roadblock pulling a kid out of a dryer [and] saying, "that's no place to hide!" But we decided not to parody ourselves in our own movie.
Roadblock was also known for his ridiculous rhyming, did you attempt to play with that?
Wernick: We tried to stay as true to the characters as we could, but we knew that some traits wouldn't make the best character or movie. And rhyming was one of those things. Had he spoken in rhymes the whole movie, people would have probably tired of that pretty quickly. Not to mention I'm not going to ask Dwayne Johnson to do something that he wouldn't necessarily want to do, he's a pretty big dude. We felt the best movie making was to not have him speak in rhymes.
SI was happy to see that there was a BIG tank chase in this, because giant toy action scenes is pivotal to G.I. Joe, was that conscious? Are there any other classic Joe toys you toyed with bringing into this movie?
Reese: We knew we wanted to include the HISStank because it's such a staple of the Cobra weapons system. The other tank, interestingly, was kind of a serendipitous discovery. They found a guy, that tank is real that is a practical tank the HISStanks that moved around were all done on a computer, but that little whipsaw tank was actually owned by some guy in Louisiana. We saw it on the internet and ended up giving it to Roadblock. There are certain weapons systems that go with certain characters. We wanted to give Firefly a motorcycle. Roadblock, we had to give that big 50 caliber machine gun, which is extraordinarily difficult to hold. They had to strip weight out of that gun so that Dwayne carry it. Even Dwayne, as strong as he is, couldn't hand hold that machine gun. So Dwayne now owns the distinction as the only character in history to ever to hip fire one of those big 50 caliber guns.
When are Destro and the Baroness coming back? Will they come back?
Wernick: I think the answer is, anyone can come back. We didn't see Storm Shadow die on screen in the first movie, but he was all but dead. So… I think these movies allow you to be a little footloose and fancy free in terms of characters. Will you see Destro, will you see Baroness? We hope so.
What characters would you like to see in the next film?
Reese: Maybe Gung-ho — we thought it would cool to have him in the existing movie, and it didn't work out. Certainly the Baroness. Tomax and Xamot maybe the twins if they were handled properly could be a lot of fun, if they weren't too cheesy.
Wernick: I have a 9-year-old son who is very, very into G.I. Joe right now, and he put together a list of who he wants to see in the third movie. The list might surprise you Chuckles, Junkyard..
Reese: We found one that was classic The Fridge, William "Refridgerator" Perry had his own G.I. Joe and his weapon was a football on the end of a chain.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation is in theaters now.
Special thanks to Chris Radtke for his Joe expertise.