“Your record is a shameful parade of insubordination and gross dereliction of duty. We searched your files in the hopes of finding SOME act of merit to offset the maximum penalty. We found… none!”
Racism, sexual harassment, gross misconduct – and that’s from the good guys!
G.I. Joe The Movie (1987)
Directed by Don Jurwich
Written by Ron Friedman
G.I. JOE is probably the best cartoon to come out of the 1980s, and one that I believe still holds up today. America’s “daring highly-trained special mission force” filled my mornings before school with their battles against Cobra, “a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world.” G.I. JOE was right up there with THE TRANSFORMERS as a cartoon I tried to never miss, even if most of the time it was an episode I had already seen.
But it was because of the 1986 TRANSFORMERS animated movie that this flick ended up not getting a huge theatrical release. The 84-minute commercial for new Robots in Disguise didn’t really do well in theaters, so instead of a big roll-out for a G.I. JOE animated film, we got a direct-to-video release and a film chopped into episodes in rotation with the rest of the cartoon series.
It was probably a good decision. This movie is a mess.
The movie centers around the discovery of an ancient sect of insect people who ruled the Earth until the Ice Age and the evolution of man sent them into hiding. The race, known as Cobra-La, eventually sent Cobra Commander out into the world to create his terrorist group to bring about their return. But the Commander is a buffoon whose troops are constantly committing open treason against. So with the advent of new Cobra Emperor Serpentor, Cobra-La has come out of hiding to steal a microwave energy transmitter to superheat spores in orbit that will turn all humans into mindless snake people, like what they did to Cobra Commander.
Until I watched it again today, I legitimately blocked most of that out of my memory of the movie.
It’s up to G.I. Joe to stop the nefarious plot, but not the Joes that we had grown to love from the cartoon, because most of them had been either captured by Cobra or injured during a raid on their base after they were fooled not once BUT TWICE by Cobra women trying to infiltrate them, once by Dreadnok Zarana and the second time by the Baroness. The Joes are really dumb.
Instead, because the movie is meant to sell new toys, we get to follow a whole new batch of rookie Joes who have to team up and thwart the Cobra-La plan. Let’s take a look at our new roster:
Lt. Falcon – G.I. Joe field leader Duke’s half-brother is insubordinate, commits multiple acts of sexual harassment and neglects his duties to the point where Cobra is able to rescue the captured Serpentor. Duke keeps him from getting a court martial and is repaid by getting one of Serpentor’s snake-sticks in the heart while rescuing his brother, reminiscent of Megatron killing Optimus when Prime tries to save Hot Rod in the TRANSFORMERS movie. Falcon is punished by being sent to train with future Iraqi sympathizer Sgt. Slaughter.
Jinx – A female ninja who trained under the Blind Master and who fights better when she can’t seen. Is sexually harassed by Falcon and ends up making out with him at the end of the movie because it was the 80s. Jinx is probably the biggest badass of the bunch of new recruits.
Tunnel Rat – A Brooklyn-born Chinese American who knows how to use the sewers for recon. He talks like a stereotype of a Brooklyn-born Chinese American.
Law – Portrayed as an over-the-top Hispanic stereotype with a dog named Order, the duo get some time to flummox drill sergeant Beach-Head when Order keeps trying to return a bomb that Beach-Head is trying to get rid of. Hilarity ensues when Beach-Head says he hopes they both get fleas.
Big Lob – An African-American former basketball player who speaks only in basketball commentary. This is clearly needed to offset the lessened profile of Roadblock, who frequently talks in rhyme. Even Hasbro, which made the G.I. Joe toys, felt that Big Lob was too over-the-top and didn’t release an action figure for him. The character didn’t get an action figure of his own til 2010.
Chuckles – A big, strong, blond white dude. They were popular in the 1980s. Every group needed to have one. He makes zero impression in this film otherwise.
Slaughter’s Marauders – The off-the-books trio that Sgt. Slaughter trains based out of Parts Unknown. Falcon is tossed in with them in exchange for not being court-martialed. The team is comprised of Mercer, a former Cobra Viper who saw the light; Taurus, a Turkish former circus acrobat; and Red Dog, a Samoan football player who was kicked out of the game for unnecessary roughness.
So this rag-tag group of losers has to storm the secret city of Cobra-La, turn off the Broadcast Energy Transmitter and save the world. They have to defeat a heavily-armed encampment full of Cobra troops that looks like a cross between the Flintstones and Avatar. These Cobra-La guys took down SNAKE EYES! They should have zero shot at winning here. But Mr. “I Was Once A Man” Cobra Commander manages to lead a blind Roadblock to the Joes and Falcon manages to stab Cobra-La overlord Golobulus in his monocled eye and then overheat the spores to save the world. Meanwhile, Sgt. Slaughter and Jinx straight up murder Cobra-La baddies Nemesis Enforcer and Pythona by pitching them straight into the abyss. War is hell, I suppose, but this is all pretty violent for a cartoon where no one died ever.
To give us more of a happy ending, it’s announced that Duke is out of the coma he fell into when he got speared by Serpentor’s shoulder snake. Of course, Duke doesn’t owe his life to Doc or Lifeline. He owes his continued existence to Optimus Prime, whose death caused such a backlash that the studio got cold feet at killing the Joe leader. I don’t think it would have had nearly as much effect as killing Optimus, but whatever.
The movie is pretty ridiculous, but at the very least, it provides me with my favorite version of the G.I. Joe theme: