After I reviewed both G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and the sequel Retaliation, Adam offhandedly suggested whipping up a retrospective about the 1987 animated film G.I. Joe: The Movie, in order to complete the triumvirate. Heck, I’d already watched it a couple of times earlier this year, so it didn’t take much arm-twisting on his part. To the WABAC Machine, Mr. Peabody.
G.I. Joe: The Movie, penned by Ron Friedman and directed by Don Jurwich, was arguably a victim of poor timing. It was the third of three feature-length films produced by toy giant Hasbro between 1986 and ‘87, but after the first two – Transformers and My Little Pony – tanked in theaters, G.I. Joe was released straight to home video and broadcast on television as a five-part miniseries in hopes of kickstarting a third season of the Sunbow cartoon, but that never came to fruition when the show was canceled, and the toyline’s popularity, having reached its peak that year, was also on the decline. Still, who could forget that nifty three-minute title sequence that included the repetitive cry of “Co-BRAAA!” in the opening theme?
But the film’s misfortunes weren’t entirely beyond its control. The cast, featuring one of the biggest TV stars at the time in Don Johnson, plus Burgess Meredith and WWF musclehead Sgt. Slaughter (“And this is for the U.S. of A!”), wasn’t exactly a selling point, likewise the convoluted plot about the Joes having developed a gadget called the Broadcast Energy Transmitter, which looked like a giant rolling solar panel that simply shot lightning bolts skyward to the tune of Star Wars sound effects and was touted as being the answer to the world’s energy crisis (just how it would do that was never explained), but its only capability displayed was making vehicles move around by themselves like the world‘s largest RC controller.
As for Cobra, they were egregiously transformed in Friedman’s script from your everyday terrorist organization to an ancient race of bug-people from somewhere called Cobra-La, a name that was whipped up by the filmmakers as a filler until a permanent title was determined, but Hasbro was enamored enough by it that they ordered it to be kept in. This civilization was reigned over by Golobulus (Meredith), who floated around in what looked like a hollowed-out cantaloupe and had a bone to pick with Cobra Commander due to the latter’s failure to defeat G.I. Joe. He schemed to steal the B.E.T. (successful) and use it to activate a bunch of mutating spores way up in space that would turn everyone on Earth into mindless zombies (unsuccessful). The whole nutty Cobra-La concept understandably went over like a lead balloon with fans, and only a few years later Golobulus was killed off on, of all things, a trading card. However, it also gave us Cobra Commander’s iconic “I was once a man” after having been transformed into a giant snake as punishment.
As for Our Heroes, the movie ripped a page from Transformers by having a young, abrasive new hotshot at the forefront; in this case, it was Lt. Falcon (Johnson), a Green Beret who was depicted as Duke’s half-brother and whose arrogance and irresponsibility resulted in Cobra attacking Joe headquarters and his getting sent away by the brass to have his butt whipped into shape by Sgt. Slaughter in time for him to save the day at the end. (And speaking of Duke, you may recall that he originally died after being stabbed right through the heart by one of Cobra boss Serpentor‘s giant green snakes, but a last-minute script rewrite had him merely falling into a temporary coma instead after audiences had gone apeshit over Optimus Prime’s demise in Transformers. Hell hath no fury like a rabid fanbase scorned.)
Naturally, since there were still toys to sell, there was a host of new Joe characters who were useless to the story yet also its saving grace. The best of the bunch was a group of recruits called the Rawhides, who were basically the movie’s version of the Bad News Bears and notably included female ninja Jinx (who briefly appeared in Retaliation); the Hawaiian shirt-wearing, missile-throwing undercover agent Chuckles (my personal favorite; I still remember to this day picking up his figure at the Toys ‘R Us in Redwood City); and ex-jock Big Lob, who constantly flapped his gums in third-person sports-commentator speak but didn’t even get his own action figure until 2010, as a collectors’ club exclusive. That’s 23 years, folks.
If this were an actual Filmbalaya review, G.I. Joe: The Movie would rate three stars simply for its mediocre storytelling, but it‘s actually held up pretty well over time, and it seems almost redundant to say that it’s light years ahead of its live-action counterparts. If you’ve been convinced into waxing nostalgic after listening to me ramble, it’s currently available in its glorious entirety on YouTube. Yo, Joe.