In 2009, "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" was financially successful enough to gross over $300 million worldwide. What "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" was even more successful at, however, was alienating fans (which includes this reporter) of the G.I. Joe series. Though fun (at times), that movie does not resemble G.I. Joe. At all. Director Jon Chu wants you to know that "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" -- the sequel to "Rise of Cobra" starring Bruce Willis and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson -- is nothing like its predecessor.
On Monday, at the American International Toy Fair, I had the chance to speak with Chu, who -- as opposed to the first film's director, Stephen Sommers -- considers himself a G.I. Joe fan. I consider myself a G.I. Joe fan, too. Here's how that (slightly nerdy) conversation -- involving the new Cobra Commander, the possible return of Destro, and how a famous G.I. Joe comic book story, "Silent Interlude," fits in with the new film -- all went down.
I love that your favorite characters are Firefly and Grunt. I feel Grunt is a very "circa-1982" character.
[Laughs] I'm not sure that he's my favorite character, but I do love Grunt. To me it was in the cartoons and things like that, he would just appear randomly.
The comic book did a whole issue devoted to him leaving G.I. Joe.
Yes! That's right. But Firefly, come on; how can you deny Firefly?
He does get short changed. I think because the Firefly and the Storm Shadow action figures were originally released at the same time. People love Storm Shadow. But I did hear that Firefly being in this movie was your doing...
Yep. One of my favorite characters and I had to have him in this movie. We do a different take on Firefly -- no doubt -- so he's not exactly the "Firefly" Firefly that we know. But he's a force to be reckoned with. He's a bad-ass and he still kicks some serious ass.
You're a G.I. Joe fan. In a perfect world, would you rather have just rebooted this franchise from scratch considering the first movie is nothing like G.I. Joe?
Yeah, I mean, for any filmmaker you want to start with nothing.
But Stephen Sommers didn't know anything about G.I. Joe and you do know a lot. That has to be a difficult to step into.
It's hard, but I think everybody felt like we wanted to do a sort of re-attitude toward the movie. And that's part of the tradition of G.I. Joe, that it reinvents itself every several years. So it's sort of inline with what had been done, you know, whether it was in the cartoon or if they changed the theme song to another theme song. To me, all of those different transitions are what makes G.I. Joe so great.
What was the biggest hurdle that was established in the first film that you had to work around?
Oh, we had many times that we were like, "Wait, what year did that movie take place? God dang it." And we're still discussing some things. But, it's part of the challenge.
And Cobra Commander had to be an issue.
Yes, Cobra Commander was an issue. But I know we couldn't lose Cobra Commander.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is not in this movie. Under the mask, is this the same character that Levitt played?
No. [Smiling] But we figured out a way that's pretty nice. And you get the Cobra Commander that you've always wanted. Or, to me, what I always wanted: a bad-ass villain. He's one of the most iconic villains ever. I'm even following him on Twitter -- he's so funny.
Was that one of your first commands as director? "Cobra Commander has to look like Cobra Commander."
Yeah, definitely, no doubt. That and no lips on Snake Eyes. And no laser guns. And as much real, physical stunts as we can. I don't want to shoot on a green screen. Of course we had to do some green screen, but, for the most part, we got to shoot a lot of practical stunts.
Will this more resemble the Larry Hama comic book or the animated series?
You know, I always see the Joe kingdom as three different eras. The original twelve-inch Joe --
Which Bruce Willis represents...
Yes. And then the Larry Hama comic book. And then the cartoon. The last movie I see as more like the cartoon version. I think we're more like the comic book.
Did you read the comic at all?
Yes. I wouldn't say that I'm an aficionado on all of it. But, yes, for sure.
It's an interesting story: how Cobra runs an entire town called Springfield.
And I love all of the Cobra "cover companies," things like that. We do a couple of things like that in the movie to help show that Cobra's organization is growing.
And we may see Destro?
[Smiling] You may see a little glimpse of Destro. We'll have to see. Speaking of the comic book, I love "Silent Interlude." It's one of my favorite. Obviously that changed everything for Joe. We do a little homage in our movie to "Silent Interlude." I'm very excited for the fans to see what we do with that.
The comic used bullets, the cartoon used lasers. I do feel that just hearing that the lasers are gone, it's already more like the comic.
Yeah, and just being able to see people as real human beings. Flawed human beings that get hurt and do get scratched up. And every time they make a kill they scratch little thing on there -- and you see that throughout the movie.
It seemed to work out that there were enough popular characters left to start over with that weren't used in the first movie: Flint, Roadblock, Lady Jaye...
I thought it worked better than I thought it would. I thought I'd come across like, "Well, we need Scarlett back for this thing." Or, "We need Baroness." It's really hard to make a Joe movie without Scarlett and Baroness, but we figured out a way to get through this and we we figured out other ways.
For people like me. For people who were huge fans of G.I. Joe growing up, that went to see the first movie and thought, "That wasn't G.I. Joe. Never again." What do you say to them?
I'll say, just give us another shot. That's what we tried to do with out trailer and all of the material that we're going to release is, "This is not the last movie. It's a different attitude." And just bringing Bruce Willis and Dwayne together, in itself, hopefully, indicates a change of tone and in the movie. When you have Bruce and his sense of humor, but with his real kick-ass presence. And with The Rock, he's the ultimate action hero. Bringing those two together I would hope shows that we're serious about it. Not a thing where we're just trying to get a franchise going up again.
Mike Ryan is the senior writer for Moviefone. He has written for Wired Magazine, VanityFair.com, GQ.com, New York Magazine and Movieline. He likes Star Wars a lot. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter