G.I. Joe: The Movie, 1987.
Directed by Don Jurwich.
Featuring the voice talents of Michael Bell, Don Johnson, Chris Latta, Burgess Meredith and Bill Ratner.
G.I. Joe must battle against an ancient civilization determined to enslave mankind.
Back in the mid-80s, toy giant Hasbro planned to bring their three most popular children’s animated series – G.I. Joe, The Transformers and My Little Pony - to the big screen. However, due to disappointing box office returns on The Transformers: The Movie and My Little Pony: The Movie (both 1986) the decision was made to scrap the theatrical release of G.I. Joe: The Movie, and the feature was instead released direct to video in 1987. For those unfamiliar with the franchise, “G.I. Joe is the codename for America’s daring, highly trained special mission force. It’s purpose – to defend human freedom against Cobra, a ruthless terrorist organisation determined to rule the world.” The cartoon G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (or in Britain, Action Force as it was rebranded for the VHS compilation releases) ran for two seasons between 1985 and 1987, with the feature length movie bringing the show to a conclusion.
The film begins with a mystery woman breaking into Cobra headquarters and revealing herself to Cobra Emperor Serpentor as Pythona, a member of Cobra-La, an ancient civilization with advanced scientific knowledge and bio-organic technology. Pythona instructs Serpentor to capture the Broadcast Energy Transmitter (BET), a new device that G.I. Joe are testing in the Himalayas, and soon Cobra launch a full scale attack. Naturally their efforts end in defeat, with Serpentor captured after G.I. Joe leader Duke bests him in a duel, and Cobra Commander leads his troops in retreat. With a number of G.I. Joe operatives including Snake Eyes, Quick Kick, Shipwreck and Lady Jaye in hot pursuit, the bad guys eventually make their way to the rebuilt Cobra-La, where their leader Golobulus (Burgess Meredith) reveals himself and imprisons the Joes. Golobulus reveals the secret origins of Cobra and, being disappointed by Cobra Commander's continued failings, exposes the masked menace to a deadly biological weapon - a batch of mutative spores that slowly transforms the Cobra leader into a large snake.
Cobra Commander manages to escape with the aid of Joe operative Roadblock and they make their way back to the main Joe HQ, where newcomer Lt. Falcon (Don Johnson) is responsible for guarding Serpentor. However, Falcon is tricked by Zarana into abandoning his post and the Dreadnoks and Golobulus' henchman Nemesis Enforcer rescue Serpentor, with General Hawk blaming the irresponsible Falcon and subjecting him to a court martial. Falcon is sent to the 'Slaughter House', a brutal training programme run by Sgt. Slaughter (who apparently moonlights as a Joe in addition to his WWF wrestling duties) and his 'Renegade' team of soldiers, while the Cobra forces prepare to launch another effort to gain the BET, which Golobulus intends to use to hatch hundreds of the mutated spores and enslave humanity. Cobra launch a massive offensive and Duke is critically injured by Serpentor after he tries to save Falcon (his half-brother), with the Joe leader slipping into a coma. Enraged, Falcon and the Renegades (assisted by Cobra Commander, whose transformation into a snake coincides with the humanisation of his character) head to the Himalayas for a final showdown with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.
G.I. Joe: The Movie is packed with action and provides opportunities for many of the original characters to shine, but - as with The Transformers: The Movie – fan favourites like Snake Eyes, Flint, Shipwreck and Storm Shadow are criminally underused, with much of the focus on new recruits such as Lt. Falcon, female ninja Jinx and the 'Rawhides', and the Cobra-La agents. There are a number of excellent battle sequences although the plot itself is somewhat outrageous with Cobra's history retconned to fit the Cobra-La storyline and Serpentor's cry of 'Cobra-la-la-la-la-la-la-laaa' pushing things to the ridiculous (although in fairness, the writers had intended to replace the name 'Cobra-La' in later drafts before Hasbro executives decided it should stay). Duke's fate is also a little disappointing as the character was originally set to die until the outcry over Optimus Prime's death led the studio to redub the animation, and even my younger self felt that the 'happy ending' where he awakens from his coma off-screen felt tacked on and forced.
Back in the day I was a big fan of both The Transformers and G.I. Joe, with the latter proving to be my particular favourite in terms of both the comic books, toys and cartoon series. However, while G.I. Joe: The Movie still manages to fill me with childhood nostalgia, it is clearly some distance behind The Transformers: The Movie in terms of overall quality. The movie has it's moments (and can also be picked up on DVD for virtually nothing) but fails to build upon the very best of the series, and for classic G.I. Joe action I'd recommend checking out the five part miniseries A Real American Hero or Arise, Serpentor, Arise! instead.