Jon Chu, 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation' Director, On Making A G.I. Joe Movie That Feels Like A G.I. Joe Movie

03/26/2013 09:57 am ET | Updated Mar 26, 2013

Know this: Whatever your preconceived notions are about "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" -- especially if those notions are based on what you saw in "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" -- Jon Chu, the director of this "G.I. Joe" sequel, is actually a G.I. Joe fan. So, yes, gone are the skin-tight black G.I. Joe uniforms from the first film. Also gone is the monstrosity of an outfit that was designed in place of the iconic Cobra Commander uniform. (It's replaced here by an outfit that looks like the iconic Cobra Commander uniform.) In other words: Chu was concerned with making "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" feel like G.I. Joe again.

In "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," the story picks up at the end of the first film. Criminal master of disguise, Zartan, is still in the White House and masquerading as the president. Zartan orders the execution of what turns out to be most of the Joe team that we met in the first film -- which leaves just Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Snake Eyes (Ray Park) left to figure out what just happened.

In what might be one of the nerdier interviews that Chu has been subjected to during this round of press, we discussed the intricacies that go into creating a sequel to a movie that, let's say, hamstrung the director with misused characters (ahem, the Baroness) and inane storylines (too many to mention). Chu also cleared up misconceptions about reshoots during the film's eight-month delay (which was used to convert the film to 3D) and hints at the storylines that he loves from the Larry Hama comic book that we may see in future Joe installments.

So your movie is finally coming out.
I know! Can you believe it? It's been a long journey and I'm excited that we finally get to share it and get feedback and hear what people have to say.

With the delay, were you worried that it would get pegged with the stigma that something was wrong?
Yeah... I mean, we had to do it. And, ultimately, we couldn't respond to all of that stuff. There's no way to prove that it was or was not well, so we didn't respond. Especially when we're on Twitter and we have direct access to everybody, it was really hard. I think I just went off Twitter for, like, two weeks. I was like, "I can't. I just want to Tweet back. There's no way to win on this one. No matter what I think, no one is going believe it anyway." So we just kept our heads down. We have 3,000 individual shots that we need to make 3-D and the pressure's on to make sure the 3D helps our movie and isn't half-ass.

There are a lot of rumors. Were there any re-shoots or any new scenes shot after the delay was announced?
Zero. Zero. We didn't do any re-shoots from the delay on. We had done a two-day shoot, like, five months prior, just to add a little bit of comedy. We wanted funnier things. We wanted some more fun things to let the audience be in on the joke a bit more.

Like the scene in which Dwayne Johnson and Channing Tatum are playing video games?
We did do the video games. We did do some closeups in the battlefield to help communicate some of the relationships more. But that was literally months and months before.

What was your opinion when you first saw "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra"?
I loved it. I had a lot of fun with it ... because, to be honest, I hadn't thought about G.I. Joe in a while. So when I saw it again, I was like, "That's right, G.I. Joe is so fun. It's this mix of ninjas and military that is so unique." I saw it opening weekend. But it wasn't necessarily my G.I. Joe, it wasn't the G.I. Joe that I grew up with. There were a lot of things where it was, "If I had done the movie, it would have been like this. A little here; a little there." But I still enjoyed the movie immensely. And, obviously, a lot of other people did.

It made a lot of money.
Yeah. So it was a fun place to come in and, in a weird way, it felt like an advantage to see how someone else did it first to know what I was attracted to and what we could do to make the experience more like the Joes that I know.

I do feel like you were painted into a corner a bit with the ending of the first movie. Were you like, "Okay, Cobra Commander is a prisoner in an underground tube somewhere. I need to fix that."
[Laughs] I mean, I'm not going to deny that it's hard to come in on a second movie, because there are things built in, for sure. And if you want to get him in the silver mask. "How the heck do you get Cobra Commander into a silver mask? He's locked up in this prison that they already established. Wait, Storm Shadow is dead? You have to bring him back! What's going on with all of these people?" But I can't deny that without that first movie, we wouldn't be able to make this movie. The first movie set up the ninja backstory, so I didn't have to go back there and explain stuff. I can go straight into the Himalayas and see a scene that I always wanted to see on the screen.

There were definitely things that were difficult to move around and puzzle pieces we needed to figure out, and that was a constant struggle -- even through editing -- of how much to lean on that first movie, plot-wise. And the reality is, we couldn't even depend on that -- people had seen the first movie -- because we wanted this to be something that anyone could come in on. So we had to play both sides. We are constantly trying to explain stuff and build stuff. Even the studio, they're like, "So why is the good ninja in black and the bad ninja in white?" I'm like, "Because it's Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes!" They're like, "We don't get it! And why does that guy have a mask on? Is he a robot?" I'm like, "No! He's not!" It was very frustrating because even the studio didn't understand the brand.

I feel people are going to be happy that Cobra Commander looks like Cobra Commander again. I knew Joseph Gordon-Levitt wasn't going to be in this movie, but last year at Toy Fair you had told me that the character wasn't going to be the same guy. And he doesn't feel like the same guy, but he is the same guy.
Oh, no, he is the same guy. I think it was a miscommunication. I remember reading that. But, again, it's hard to correct things when it starts to roll. And I was like, "I don't know how to stop this wave from moving. People will watch it and know it later."

Though he does feel like a different guy, which I think is good. I mean, he doesn't talk about being Rex or anything like that.
Our intention was that it is the same guy.

He's got a great voice now, too.
The voice was hard! We did so many different versions. We did the high-pitched version. We did the distorted digital version. I'm still self-conscious, "Did we do it right?" Because we knew that when you commit to the voice, you commit to the voice. And it was a different style of Cobra Commander that had been there before.

The high-pitched voice would have been tough. Christopher Collins, who also did the voice of Starscream in the "Transformers" cartoon, had a very unique thing going on.
Yes. Yes. And how much presence Cobra Commander was going to be in this movie. We had so many other characters already built in, I just kept trying to push that we needed to have Cobra Commander be the main guy that they fight at the end. There were just too many things. And maybe this is just the setup for how powerful his growth into who we know -- and we can see, later, how much of a fighter he actually can be ... if we ever get that opportunity.

I knew Christopher Eccleston wasn't going to be in this movie. But was there any thought of just recasting Destro?
Yeah, we could have. Again, it was one of those things where we were caught between a rock and a hard place. We can throw Destro in there, but then you really have to deal with Destro. And that's another bad guy, and we really wanted to have Firefly. We really wanted to have Zartan. We wanted to have Cobra Commander. To have another guy in there, it was just too much. Even acknowledging Destro was a struggle. At some point we were like, "If we don't acknowledge that he exists in this movie, no one will question why we're not using him in this movie." But we could not get away from, "Everyone is going to wonder what the f*** happened to Destro. We have to throw it in there." Just to acknowledge that he exists in our world.

And I won't give anything away, but if there's a third movie, Cobra Commander isn't in an underground tube. It will be easy to bring him back.
Yes. Even with that, we had scenes where we kind of see what happens -- that we pulled at the last second, to not leave things too much dangling or committing too much to something. But we know where he would be headed in the back of our minds.

The first movie mishandled Baroness.

Was it nice to know there were still some good villains left that you could do what you wanted with? Like Firefly.
Yes. Firefly was one of my favorites growing up. So that was fun to be able to reinvent him, and Ray Stevenson brought so much to him. We would talk about the philosophy of Firefly. We had this backstory of him with explosions and he has a religious idea about explosions -- it's not about destruction: It's about distribution of energy, it's about creation. When you destroy something, you create chaos. And he had installed wires into his skin and could ignite bombs and deactivate bombs by his touch. And, again, we couldn't fit all of that into the movie.

Major Bludd is still out there to be used.
Major Bludd is still out there. There's a ton that we could tackle.

It's great how Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes' relationship is taken from the Larry Hama "G.I. Joe" comic. But it's a shame the relationship between Major Bludd, Destro and the Baroness can't be explored.
I always loved the love story between Scarlett and Snake Eyes as well. To me, that was an epic story and how do you do that? Because the last movie created this whole thing about Marlon Wayans and Scarlett. And we had some ideas. Maybe some of these are code names? The Joe code names? Maybe Baroness is a rank, not a person, necessarily. There are plenty of ways ... to get those stories back in. Because I definitely love those stories because they are so rich, and it would be a shame to just abandon them or forget about them just because they ended up in a movie I was not a part of. We are definitely brainstorming ideas on how to get around things like that.

I feel you may have already answered this indirectly, but if there's a third movie, do you want to direct it?
I honestly haven't thought a lot about it. Other than like, "What are we doing here to build a foundation?" Because I think part of what we had to do was restrain ourselves from trying to do too much. We may be trying to do too much already, because all of these characters felt like it was always a struggle -- "Pull back. Pull back. You cannot just throw up on the audience like this -- all this stuff you've ever wanted to do." So, how I dealt with it was like, "Well, I'm building Flint and Lady Jaye's relationship just a little bit." And that satisfies that little part of me that didn't want to ignore it. And we have him with a beret just at the very end, just so you can build it later. But you don't have him in it the whole time because that would be a little bit weird.

So I'd love to. If the audience wants it, it would be an honor to continue to be part of the G.I. Joe tradition. I think it is an honor just to be a part of it, because it's such a big brand, it's bigger than any of us and any of our movie stars, to be honest. So I would love to, and I think there's a lot more to do, given that opportunity.

Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.

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