Liz Tells Frank What Happened In the 1987 “G.I. Joe” Movie

Dear Frank,

About two years ago, just as casting was heating up for Stephen Sommers’ take on the 1980s boyhood favorite G.I. Joe, I had the sudden realization that I knew absolutely nothing about it. I mean, I got that they were some sort of military group and they fought against a non-geographically-specific enemy called Cobra, but um, WHAT DO YOU MEAN THAT NO ONE’S NAME IS JOE? (I had other questions, but that was a big one.)

This gap in my pop culture knowledge has always disturbed me, especially since, when I tried to watch the Sommers movie, I was too embarrassed for everyone involved to last more than fifteen minutes. So when faithful reader Sarah asked if you needed to be told about the original G.I. Joe movie, dating from 1987, I leapt at the chance to improve the education of both of us.

G.I. Joe is an interesting experience in that it first EXPLODES YOUR BRAIN. The film immediately starts with this out-of-context battle scene on the Statue of Liberty, underscored by a full-on musical number about the elite military task force that fights against a bunch of duders named Cobra. There are lasers and helicopters and insane animation and I really can’t explain it. Just watch:

Then, credits! And we travel inside the Cobra headquarters, where a bunch of the Cobra bad guys are discussing how much Cobra Commander sucks and how he’s the reason they never beat the G.I. Joe team. Meanwhile, some crazy snake lady is breaking in to tell the main guy — named Serpentor or something, I don’t know–

This feels like a good opportunity to be clear about something: Never before have I seen a movie so calculated to sell a large assortment of action figures. There are approximately 68 characters in this movie, each of whom receives the flimsiest of introductions (or none at all) and is otherwise defined by their race, sex, weapon of choice, or outfit. This includes the Mexican guy who says “andale!” a lot, the ‘fro-ed out basketball player who wears his jersey even in the thick of battle, and the Asian karate lady who wears a shirt with a Chinese dragon on it. Every one has a strong accent. Every accent is TERRIBLE.

This is my way of saying that because I did not grow up with these characters (not because I’m a snob, but because I was busy watching She-Ra and Rainbow Brite, which weren’t much better in this regard), I have little to no interest in who any of these people are — even after watching their adventures for an hour and a half. In other words: This might be pretty short.

–Anyways, the snake lady tells Serpentor what his destiny is, which is apparently to return to Cobra-la, a long-lost kingdom of snake people that now want to take over the world by making all the humans into snake people (or something like that).

This is a problem for G.I. Joe, because of their strong anti-snake status (this movie is ROUGH on snake fans, let me say), and also because in order to make their serpentine dreams come true, Cobra steals something called the Broadcast Energy Transmitter, which the Joe team was testing at the beginning of this movie. This section included my favorite chunk of dialogue:

Scarlett: “Let’s find out if we’ve wasted a billion taxpayer dollars.”
Duke: “This could solve the world energy crisis!”

(Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.)

So while most of Cobra is on board with this snake people plan, Cobra Commander gets slammed for all of his failures and turned into even more of a snake person than he apparently already was (UGH DUDE KEEP THAT HELMET ON!).

But then Cobra Commander helps some captured Joe people escape from Cobra-la… Okay, so here’s another problem I had while watching this movie — I ended up completely tuning out anytime there was a laser battle. (Laser battles can be cool, sure, but these laser battles left me completely cold for some reason.) This means that, by my math, I didn’t really watch about 30 percent of the movie, and missed some important plot points. Like the fact that a bunch of Joes got captured by Cobra and were being held captive inside Cobra-la? Yeah.

There’s also a big subplot where this guy Falcon let an undercover Cobra skank take a tour of the G.I. Joe facility and thus gain valuable intel that lead to a prison break/laser battle of some sort. So he had to prove that he was Joe material after all (apparently one of the things that makes you Joe material is being able to keep it in your pants, though at the end Falcon ends up hooking up with the Asian karate lady, so who knows what’s that’s all about). I guess he does that when he successfully leads a raid against Cobra-la to stop their snake people plan? Yeah, by the way, Cobra does not successfully turn the world’s population into snake people. AND THEY ALL LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

I know there are a bunch of G.I. Joe superfans who are reading this and are like, WTF, how can you not tell Frank about Duke nobly taking the snake-to-the-heart meant for Falcon and nearly dying? Or Sgt. Slaughter appearing as himself? The reason, Frank, is that I tried, but I honestly couldn’t care.

I don’t want to say that the reason I couldn’t engage with G.I Joe is because I’m a girl. That said… This is definitely boy stuff.


About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor, and has been talking about television on the Internet since the very beginnings of the Internet. She is currently Senior TV Editor at Collider, and her work has also been published by the New York Times, Vulture, Variety, the AV Club, the Hollywood Reporter, IGN, The Verge, and Thought Catalog. She is also a produced playwright, a host of podcasts, and a repository of "X-Files" trivia.

Posted on December 6, 2010, in All the Spoilers, Movies and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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