G.I. Joe: The Movie (1987)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Zone Troopers

9 Deaths of the Ninja

Sakura Wars

G.I. Joe: The Movie

Lava Lamp

Our rating: one LAVA® motion lamp.

Cobra... fighting excessive
dignity since 1983.
The danger of revisiting cartoons we thought were cool when we were kids is that we invariably find them to be really, really uncool. We grew up in that special time of American history when about 90% of all cartoons were "inspired" by lines of toys, so there's a lot of uncoolness to be revisited. There were shows like The Transformers, M.A.S.K., and Masters of the Universe. There were also the girlie shows like The Smurfs, My Little Pony, and Strawberry Shortcake. We know most of the people who are reading this are men, but we know you watched the girlie shows too. Don't try to lie to us.

You remember that episode of The Smurfs in which Papa Smurf's annoying assistant Smarty Smurf tried to break into Gargamel's castle...?

Ha! Got you! If you're anywhere in the 25-30 age range, you just thought to yourself, "Papa Smurf's annoying assistant was Brainy Smurf, not Smarty Smurf!"

Before the Rock there was...
Sgt. Slaughter!
One of the biggest toy-related shows from the 80's was G.I. Joe, based on the popular line of 3 3/4-inch action figures. Before the 1980's, G.I. Joe figures had been much larger, and the packaging always made bizarre claims about the figures within. For instance, certain dolls had "realistic hair," which in fact resembled real hair not at all. And in 1974 G.I. Joe acquired a "kung-fu grip," which meant that his hands were made out of soft rubber, not a particularly useful attribute for anyone wanting to practice kung fu. But in the 80's the line was retooled into smaller figures that fit into expensive, detailed vehicles. And rather than the previous bland selection of military figures, the new Joes came in a many colorful designs, and with a ready-made enemy anarchist organization called Cobra. The stage was set for a cartoon that would be uplifting and educational. Oh, and it would sell a crapload of toys.

G.I. Joe: The Movie was produced after the third season of the cartoon, and it was essentially an attempt to tell a slightly more epic story with a little more violence and slightly better animation. God help us, we think this was intended to go to theaters. Instead it went straight to video and was subsequently shown as 5 separate episodes on TV.

Destro and Cobra Commander,
the Pinky and the Brain of the 1980's.
The movie starts out on the right foot with an incredibly exciting opening sequence. Cobra attacks the Statue of Liberty and G.I. Joe fights the terrorist organization off. All the while we hear this way-cool theme song:

Crashing through the sky
Comes a fearful cry
Cobra! (Cobra!), Cobra! (Cobra!)
Armies of the night.
Evil taking flight
Cobra! (Cobra!), Cobra! (Cobra!)

Nowhere to run
Nowhere to hide
Panic spreading far and wide
Who can turn the tide?
G.I. Joe!
A real American hero.
G.I. Joe will dare!
G.I. Joe!
A real American hero.
G.I. Joe is there!
Fighting for freedom
Wherever there's trouble
Over land and sea and air
G.I. Joe is there!

Can the world oppose
The deadliest of foes?
Cobra! (Cobra!), Cobra! (Cobra!)
Joes will risk it all
To end the evil call of
Cobra! (Cobra!), Cobra! (Cobra!)

Odd place for the Olympic trials.
They never give up
They never say die
Walking tall with banners high
They sound the battle cry
(Yo Joe! Yo Joe!)
G.I. Joe!
A real American hero.
G.I. Joe will dare!
G.I. Joe!
A real American hero.
G.I. Joe is there!
Fighting for freedom
Wherever there's trouble
Over land and sea and air
G.I. Joe is there!

The sequence ends with Duke, G.I. Joe's field leader, taking the bomb Cobra intended to use to blow up the statue and attaching it to bottom of Cobra's helicarrier. The helicarrier blows up and Cobra Commander begins screaming, "Cobra -- retreat!" at the top of his lungs.

That was the problem with G.I. Joe. As world-class militaries went, Cobra was the Washington Generals to G.I. Joe's Harlem Globetrotters. Not only did Cobra lose to G.I. Joe five times a week, they never, ever even managed to successfully shoot any Joe with their laser rifles. It was pathetic. The Joes, for their part, enjoyed rubbing it in. One of the Joes, Lady Jaye, threw javelins. For crying out loud, javelins against enemies with laser rifles! We're pretty sure she had boxing glove javelins in there somewhere.

The second season of Fox's
Temptation Island isn't shaping up too well...
After the title sequence, it's all downhill for the movie. The plot starts at Cobra's Terror Drome, which looks like it shares a swamp with the Legion of Doom's headquarters. Serpentor, who is Cobra's "emperor," is giving Cobra Commander yet another dressing down for his incompetence and cowardice. But before the weekly ritual can be finished, a bio-mechanically enhanced woman (think Guyver, except that she doesn't kill anybody) breaks into the base and confronts Serpentor. Somehow he recognizes her, and he decides that he has to capture a new piece of technology called the B.E.T. or Broadcast Energy Transmitter.

As luck would have it, G.I. Joe is in the Himalayas testing that very piece of equipment. Serpentor leads a Cobra attack on the Joe's force, and of course gets his butt thoroughly kicked by Duke. With Serpentor captured, Cobra Commander is screaming "Cobra -- Retreat!" at the top of his lungs for the second time in 15 minutes. (Metal plated aristocrat Destro gets big laughs for saying, "What coward called retreat?" when he hears the order.) Cobra Commander leads the remains of Cobra into a secret valley. The pursuing Joes, led by Roadblock, are all captured by the denizens of the valley, who are strange bio-mechanical soldiers. The woman from the beginning of the movie, Pythona by name, is there, and she informs Cobra Commander that he is going to be tried for his crimes against Cobra-La.

....And season two of Boot Camp looks
like it's in trouble already.
Because Roadblock's unit is missing (insert your own joke here), Duke and General Hawk decide to accelerate the training of the new recruits. The new recruits are the lamest military rookies ever, even by the standards of G.I. Joe. These lame-os include Big Lob, who speaks in sports metaphors (and was so pathetic that he was never made into a figure), a martial artist named Jinx who can only fight with her eyes closed, and a guy codenamed Chuckles who wears a Hawaiian shirt and never talks. If these are people who made the cut, can you imagine what the people who were rejected were like? Codename Fumbles, who only has three fingers left because he kept dropping grenades. Codename Spud, whose only military experience was watching Operation Desert Storm on CNN. And Demi Moore.

Sadly, the new recruits occupy a large part of the movie. Also in the new batch is Lt. Falcon, as voiced by 1980's phenomenon Don Johnson. Hot off his recording career ("Heartbeat... looking for a heartbeat!" A heartbeat is a sound, you idiot! Stop looking for it!), Johnson plays Lt. Falcon as one of those reckless, rule disdaining military officers that 1980's cinema loved to celebrate. Oh, how times have changed. Today the news features a Navy commander disparaging a Chinese jet pilot as the "Chinese version of Maverick," despite the fact that the Navy endorsed Top Gun when it came out in 1986!

"New Coke -- It burns!!!"
Falcon's attempts to get into Jinx's tights result in Serpentor's escape from G.I. Joe lockdown (with the help of agents from Cobra-La). Serpentor is taken back that secret valley, and is presented to Golobulus (Burgess Merideth), the leader of the colony. From him we find out that Cobra-La is the last vestige of a pre-human (perhaps alien) civilization that used organic technology. Forced to retreat from the world at large by the Ice Age, the Cobra-La civilization was supplanted by humanity. Cobra Commander was a disfigured noble of Cobra-La who was ordered by Golobulus to raise an army and conquer the outside world. We know how that turned out. In the present, Golobulus exposes Cobra Commander to some mutating spores and throws him into a pit. Golobulus plans to expose the entire a world to the spores via orbiting pods, and he needs the B.E.T. bring the pods to maturity.

Serpentor makes another sortie against the G.I. Joes defending the B.E.T, this time backed up by Cobra-La's technology. For once the battle goes against G.I. Joe, and Cobra-La captures the B.E.T. In fact, things go so badly that Serpentor even manages to kill Duke by throwing a snake-javelin (again with the javelins?) into his heart. At least, Duke should be dead. The javelin clearly penetrates a fatal distance into Duke's chest, and there is a lot of blood. The wound is clearly untreatable, because it jumps from side to side on Duke's body depending on who is animating him at the time:

Duke appears to die in Scarlett's arms, but some sloppy overdubbing tells us that "He's gone into a coma." Because that's what happens to people who take a spear through a chest. They go into a coma.

"Man, you're ugly!"
All that's left is for the remaining Joes to invade Cobra-La and stop the spores from turning all of humanity into drooling animals. Hmm... sounds like spring break in Cancun.

Being nearly 15 years from the series, we found ourselves a little confused by some of the elements of the movie. If we had never seen the TV series, we can only imagine how confusing it would be. What is G.I. Joe's chain of command? Who are all these characters with monikers like Alpine, Gung Ho and Quick Kick, most of whom are mentioned by name only once?

Serpentor is particularly hard to get a fix on. We vaguely remember the character from the series. Destro and Dr. Mindbender finally decided that even a bunch of dead people could lead Cobra better than Cobra Commander. Destro scoured the tombs of history's worst dictators, like Napoleon, Attila the Hun, Vlad the Impaler and Cecil B. DeMille, and Serpentor was created from the combined DNA. This being a Cobra operation, though, they screwed up, and the resulting "Emperor" decided to dress up in an inflatable snake suit and get defeated by G.I. Joe five times a week. In the movie we find out that the idea to create Serpentor was actually implanted in Mindbender by Golobulus. But that doesn’t really explain why the Cobra-La people welcome Serpentor to their valley so enthusiastically. Golobulus is definitely down on humans, and that's all Serpentor is, genetic engineering or not. And he's still incompetent.

"This is the best bong ever!
This I command!"
This movie is quite the artifact of the 1980's. Anyone not intimately familiar with the decade will probably not know what to make of credits like "Sgt. Slaughter as Sgt. Slaughter." This being an 80's cartoon, various characters also have bizarre speech impediments. Roadblock always talks in rhyme, except when he forgets. After being mutated, Cobra Commander begins to sound like Gollum. And Serpentor insists on adding "This I command!" to sentences that aren't really commands. Here are some examples of his mismatched imperative statements:

"None may challenge Serpentor! This I command!"
"I must possess the Broadcast Energy Transmitter! This I command!"
"I want their heads! This I command!"
"His sacrifice will be in vain. This I command!"

How does the Tele-Viper read that?
There are some odd moments where G.I. Joe: The Movie is ahead of its time. Tunnel Rat (whose special G.I. Joe ability is to know what a tunnel looks like when he sees one -- and it actually comes in handy at one point) says "Ay Caramba" years before Bart Simpson would make it t-shirt worthy. And though the bio-mechanical technology was pretty obviously inspired by Guyver (Golobulus' henchman Nemesis Enforcer even has elbow blades), it wasn't well known in the US. We remember finding the idea quite intriguing at the time, and we were disappointed that Cobra-La never showed up anywhere again.

The saddest part about G.I. Joe: The Movie is that it is probably the best G.I. Joe project. The animation of the movie is very inconsistent, at best good, at worst little better than the TV series. The story tries to be a little more serious than usual, but the plot is so unfocused we don't really care. Why give so much screen time to lame characters like Chuckles and Jinx? Why does the plot boil down to the usual "raid the base and shut down the doomsday machine" cliché? This was probably the last chance for the G.I. Joe animators prove their shows were more than toy commercials, and they blew it.

Extra bonus review: P.S.A.s!

"I swear, the warm water isn't my fault!"
The new DVD of G.I. Joe: The Movie from Rhino contains twenty-five public service announcements that ran after episodes of G.I. Joe. If you saw the show more than once, you remember these. Some 10 year old kids would do something stupid and end up in peril, a G.I. Joe character would show up, interfere with the process of natural selection, then lecture the kids on how to stay safe. Then one of the kids would say, "Now I know." The Joe would reply, "And knowing is half the battle." (For G.I. Joe, the other half of the battle was overcoming shame.) The point of this was to help the show qualify as "educational" according to the FCC's rules for quality children's programming. Personally, we always thought G.I. Joe was educational. After all, we learned that that people always jump out of a tank before it gets hit by a missile and no one ever gets hit by bullets during a firefight.

"Now we know not to do what
we see on Jackass!
Thanks Blowtorch!"
But that wasn't good enough for the FCC, so they tacked on these 30 second P.S.A.s. After watching 25 of them in a row, we were struck by something. No matter where these kids were, a G.I. Joe, in full costume, just happened to be around to save them. In the one titled "Impulsivity vs Planning Ahead" Quick Kick is on the scene so quickly that he is able to catch a kid just as he falls out of his collapsing tree house. In another episode, Deep Six, in fully articulated deep-sea diving suit, just happens to be diving in what looks like a neighborhood watering hole. You don't have to be Fox Mulder to see where we're going with this. Obviously, the Joes were sabotaging everyday household situations in order to play the hero. Look at "Fire in the Home." A kid decides to cook something with his parents put of the house. He fires up the stove, puts on a frying pan, and then the curtains catch on fire. From what we can see of the set-up, these curtains should catch on fire every time the stove is turned on. Then Blowtorch (G.I. Joe's expert on flame-throwers) comes into the kitchen from another room in the house and lectures the kids on getting out of a house as soon as a fire starts.

So there you have proof that G.I. Joe started more household accidents than they prevented. Now you know. And knowing is half the battle.

Review date: 04/22/2001

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