As we all know that 80’s Saturday morning cartoons were candy coloured, sugar-dusted forms of unsubtle psychological manipulation used in order to sell toys to kids, maybe we shouldn’t be quite so enamored of them.
Oh but it’s so hard though, isn’t it? Nothing triggers a mental portal that flings you screaming back to your childhood quicker than hearing the theme tune to a show you watched when you were knee height to a HISS tank and when the toy companies cottoned to actually making cinematic feature films (as opposed to simply boxing up the pilot on VHS – God, I’m old) it was open season on such properties to make their bow up on the silver screen.
The unwavering titan of this short lived era was, of course, Transformers: The Movie, a stonking, INCREDIBLY 80’s sci-fi actioner that became incredibly notorious very quickly when it revealed it’s dastardly plan to sell new toys by publicly slaughtering most of it’s orginal cast much to the horror of parents who were wondering where the money for their child’s inevitable therapy sessions was going to come from. Despite My Little Pony, The Care Bears and He-Man & She-Ra also getting big screen outings with noticably smaller bodycounts, the fad proved to be somewhat short lived at the time but one more title managed to slip through… The teutonic, family rated war mongering of one G.I. Joe.
After a storming opening sequence that’s essentially an unrelated mission detailing G.I. Joe beating seven bells of processed shit out of serpent obsessed terrorist organisation Cobra as they try to blow up the Statue Of fucking Liberty (surely one of the most absurdly patriot animated sequences I’ve ever seen), we start the movie proper. The leadership of Corba is at loggerheads with hysterical dome-faced screecher Cobra Commander lobbying to depose the genetically enhanced warlord Serpentor, a man so dedicated to the snake bit he wears a cobra cowl and drapes live snakes around his neck like a venom spitting feather boa (feather boa constrictors perhaps? HIGH FIVE!). The rest of Cobra’s “elite”, most of whom dress like their on their way to the most spectacular Pride March ever, side with the more ridiculously attired of the two (Serpentor – but it was a close race) but before Cobra Commander can be ousted an intruder enters their compound. She reveals herself to be Pythona (these names!) a member of the lost city of Cobra-La, a society overtaken when apes evolved into man (think Atlantis but with a really unhealthy snake fixation) and that Cobra Commander is actually a member of their race sent out to conquer the world for them. She approaches Serpentor with a plan that involves stealing an experimental energy creating device from under the nose of G.I. Joe, a special task force where everyone has exactly one special skill and a really stupid code name (for example, the Asian member is a karate expert named Quick Kick… Hey, don’t look at me, I didn’t write it.). After an endless succession of battles Cobra manages to secure the invention, imprison a fair amount of Joe’s and set in motion the doomsday plan that Cobra-La’s ruler, Golobulus, has had in mind all along. The only thing that can stop this plan is for a couple of conveniently timed training camps to pass their rag-tag member for battle and lead them on as many suicide missions the film needs to pad out it’s middle section. Among one of these new batches of action figur- uh, I mean teams, is Falcon headstrong half-brother to Commander Duke, who’s repeated screw ups leads to not only the energy machine being taken in the first place but also the near fatal wounding of his sibling at the hands of Serpentor. Eventually it all ends up in a huge battle royale as the Joe’s take on the combined might of both Cobra and Cobra-La on the villain’s home turf with the fate of humanity at sake – can Falcon stop being a pig-headed himbo long enough to be instrumental in saving the day or will Cobra finally be successful in realising their not-well-thought-out goals?
The last of the 80’s, animated toy movies out of the gate, G.I. Joe never got the sparkly big screen releases it’s fellow Hasbro funded ilk, especially as it was virtually unheard of outside it’s native America (in England it was renamed Action Force which sounds remotely like a porno) and it was notkced that it’s blatantly ripping off the plot of Transformers: The Movie. They’ve got a point, as the exact same formula of wiping old characters off the board in favour of shiny new ones is overwhelming obvious although in true G.I. Joe spirit no one actually dies even though everyone fires guns as wildly as a trailer dwelling patriot on the 4th of July. Even thought the film has a bodycount lower than the A-Team’s, the film originally was even going duplicate the childhood flaying death of Optimus Prime with Duke succumbing to being stabbed in the chest with a snake (look, just go with it) but the filmmakers changed their mind at the last minute
(notice we’re TOLD that Duke’s gonna be ok at the end and we never actually see him recover).
The established cast (of which there is about 50!) do their jobs well but still have to share vocal duties with guest stars such as Don Johnson, Burgess Meredith and… WWE wrestler Sgt. Slaughter (?) which means the film hardly has time in it’s very busy schedule to focus on fan favourite characters like Snake Eyes or Storm Shadow, although fans of the consistently rhyming Roadblock are fairly well served (choice dialogue: “Mess with me and there’s no doubt, I’ll turn your eyeballs inside out!”)
Of course, logic is a noticable no show here (was we expecting any different?) with plot holes becoming yawning charms and virtually everything having stupid monikers – oh sure, I understand that cartoons have to feature ridiculous names but even by this yardstick “Golobulus” is fucking pushing it – but the movie, almost admirably, has absolutely no interest in explaining itself and revels in having an utter lack of self awareness.
How the fuck does Cobra manage to finance endless failed missions? Why do Slaughter’s team of Renegades insist on screaming “YO JOE!” in the middle of a stealth mission? And why, for a supposedly advanced race, do the people of Cobra-La have the most convoluted uses for their creature based technology to the point that they rival even The Flintstones when it comes to casual animal slavery. Is a wristwatch really not as accurate as a “time worm” which essentially involves said invertebrate crawling up a stick, or an actual red carpet not easier to maintain than one formed of freakin’ crabs?
As fun as it all is to poke holes in the shows of yesteryear, the influx of new characters that steer the plot means that ironically the second half of the movie doesn’t really feel much like the classic G.I. Joe fans are used to – in fact frenzied Statue Of Liberty opening or even the G.I. Joe themed episode of Community manages to achieve it far better in half the time.
G.I. Joe: The Movie may be a pale echo of it’s Transformers based forbearer, but it is action packed with some legitimately great animation and set pieces locked within it’s impressively, yet needlessly dense story.
May not be as spectacular as it could be, but at least it doesn’t completely blow.
And not blowing is half the battle…