Long before G.I. Joe: Retaliation was bumped from a summer 2012 release date for the purpose of post-converting the film into 3D, we attended a set visit event while the movie was shooting just outside of New Orleans – at the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility. For decades, the facility housed the construction of Saturn rockets and enormous tanks for space travel but, back in October 2011, the 832 acre compound was home to a number of highly-detailed Hollywood sets – including a maximum security prison vault and Blind Master’s cliff-side monastery, to name a few.

According to executive producer Herb Gains roughly 65-70 percent of G.I. Joe: Retaliation was shot in or around the NASA facility – including external shots that will double as the Korean DMZ – no small feat considering the globe-trotting adventure that will be depicted in the final film.

That said, while the NASA facility served as a solid backdrop for much of the project, helping producers work with greater efficiency, whether or not the project can reignite the G.I. Joe movie brand, after mixed reactions to Stephen Sommers’ The Rise of Cobra, will be up to director Jon Chu and his team – along with the high-profile ensemble cast.

Check out the latest trailer for G.I. Joe: Retaliation below to see the fruit of their labor:

As indicated in our Retaliation set visit preview, Chu and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura have been adamant that their new G.I. Joe film will offer a satisfying balance between sequel and reboot – a tricky tightrope but one that the filmmakers believe will ultimately deliver the best possible film experience for G.I. Joe fans and casual moviegoers alike.

According to Bonaventura:

By process of elimination or by process of feeling our way through it, came to this sort of balance. It’s interesting because, I’ve watched a lot of the footage, and it doesn’t feel like we’ve stepped away and yet we have. It’s a really interesting thing. I can’t really explain it because it was a sort of ‘feel your way through it.’ One of the things we wanted to do was we wanted to try to bring an uptick of machismo to the cast and with Rock and Bruce we sort of got a lot right there […] I think all of those things have brought a different flavor, and at the same time, it’s Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow and we’re fighting the same battle – a new and improved Cobra.

Leading up to G.I. Joe: Retaliation‘s March 28th 2013 release, we’ll be posting individual interviews with the film’s cast and crew, including: Director Jon M. Chu, Dwayne Johnson (Roadblock), Ray Stevenson (Firefly), Ray Park (Snake Eyes), Byung-Hun Lee (Storm Shadow), Elodie Yung (Jinx), DJ Cotrona (Flint), as well as Lorenzo Di Bonaventura. Stay tuned for those but, in addition to roundtable interviews with the filmmakers and cast, we toured two separate filming locations – moving from set to set around the Michoud Assembly Facility as well as an outdoor second-unit shoot near the Fort Pike State Historic Site, which will serve as a stand-in for an active military installation in the final film.

During our time at the NASA facility, we had a chance to examine several sets in various stages of construction and deconstruction. While the production had already started taking-apart the prison facility set, and were gearing up for a climactic battle in the “Nuclear Depot,” we toured the eclectic interior of the Blind Master’s monastery. In the film, the Blind Master, mentor to Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and newcomer Jinx (Elodie Yung), is played by Wu Tang Clan-member turned actor, RZA. The cliff-side hideout is a fitting backdrop for the musician/actor – given that the monastery features a colorful mix of scattered books, preserved animal remains, and high-tech gadgetry.

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In general, the set is a perfect example of the grounded approach to G.I. Joe the filmmakers have been touting – mixing the cartoonish image of an isolated Himalayan dojo with functionality that makes sense in the world of Joes and Cobra. Amidst melted candles, human skulls, and cluttered wooden storage shelves, is a very modern body scanner table (complete with an iPad indentation).

Fans can catch a quick glimpse at the Blind Master’s monastery in the latest trailer – during the hallway fight between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow – though the final film will, no doubt, allow for a much clearer look at the sharp details that were easily apparent on set.

An external shot of the monastery, the conclusion of the Snake Eyes/Storm Shadow brawl, was filmed on a separate stage. We watched as Storm Shadow attempted to choke Snake Eyes into submission – only to be caught off-guard by Jinx who doses the Cobra villain with a sleeping gas. The shot can be seen in the recent G.I. Joe: Retaliation 3D preview footage that aired ahead of Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (read our impressions of the 3D teaser) – and sets off the action-heavy cliff-side chase sequence that has been featured in a lot of the film’s marketing.

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Teasing what fans can expect from the film’s (now) three ninja characters – as well as their respective conflicts and relationships, Park said:

We wanted to make it real. Like it’s two brothers fighting, there’s a lot of aggression. Instead of flashy-flashy and doing flips in the air, we wanted to tell the story throughout the fight as well. There’s a lot of good moves, a lot of great choreography that we worked on. There’s a lot I can do with the character but I’m also working with my fellow actors, especially with Jinx. And I love Elle’s character and we’ve had this great sort of rapport since day one, and this great relationship between the two characters. Where Snake doesn’t speak, it’s sort of sold through our actions toward each other.

Next: A fiery scene with Dwayne Johnson and Ray Stevenson as well as fun facts about the film.

GI Joe Retaliation Roadblocks Tank G.I. Joe: Retaliation Set Visit Report: Knowing is Half the Battle

Leaving behind the snow-capped mountains of Nepal, we left the NASA facility and headed over to second-unit shooting at Fort Pike – where Dwayne Johnson, Ray Stevenson, and DJ Cotrona were filming a chase sequence in the hot Louisiana sun. In the scene, which is set to occur in the third act of the film, Roadblock (Johnson) and Flint (Cotrona) are following-after Cobra operative Firefly (Stevenson) – who is escaping with a very important piece of tech.

For the time being, it’s unclear how much Firefly will fit into the final film plot – considering that he hasn’t featured prominently in the film’s posters or trailers. Much of the movie’s current marketing has played-up the new Joes as well as the Cobra storyline yet, on set, Stevenson’s Firefly was presented as contributing a major role in the events of G.I. Joe: Retaliation – including a hand-to-hand-to-gun-to-gun brawl with Roadblock. More than likely, the lack of Firefly-focused marketing has little to do with the character’s screen time, and instead, an intentional campaign to push the film’s A-listers (especially Johnson and Bruce Willis) front and center.

Our time at Fort Pike was mostly spent watching Stevenson and Johnson (along with their stunt doubles) running down a pathway toward the river – where Cobra fan-boats were waiting to carry Firefly to safety (and kickoff a river boat chase). Still, the actors weren’t the only stars on set – two very memorable props were on-hand: Roadblock’s M2 Browning machine gun (shown in the character’s teaser poster) as well as the Joe Colton tank (seen at the end of a recent Retaliation promo clip).

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Speaking about the .50 caliber M2 Browning, Johnson had difficulty containing his excitement:

That thing, it’s a beast […] Yeah, I get to fire this. The cool thing about that gun is it’s never been seen before on film, held, hand-held. Until I come along.

We didn’t see the actual tank or machine gun in action but, based on the context of the scene (as it was explained to us), the action at Fort Pike should include a lot of fan-service for G.I. Joe fans.

In the mean time, a few fun facts about G.I. Joe: Retaliation:

  • In addition to the headline stars, other fan-favorite Joes make an appearance: Clutch (played by Jim Palmer) and Mouse (Joseph Mazzello), to name a few.
  • The Bruce Willis character, Joe Colton, is the “original” G.I. Joe.
  • Characters from The Rise of Cobra that do not appear in Retaliation will not be mentioned – to avoid alienating viewers that didn’t see the first film.
  • Retaliation takes place two years after The Rise of Cobra – to accommodate for the fact the current president (played by Jonathan Pryce) is still in office (a major plot point in the original film and the sequel).
  • Instead of CGI creations, the filmmakers spent a lot of time building actual versions of the G.I. Joe cartoon-inspired vehicles featured in Retaliation.
  • The Joe Colton tank is a modified version of Howe & Howe Technologies’ Ripsaw – the fastest tank in the world.
  • The producers were interested in filming versions of the iconic Public Service Announcements from the cartoon series but were unsure of how to incorporate them – without undercutting the tone of the film.
  • Cobra Commander will be behind the mask the entire film – and was played by Australian actor Luke Bracey (and voiced by Robert Baker).
  • The producers intentionally avoided using Cobra Commander’s iconic hood – asserting that it was too reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan.
  • Retaliation features two separate storylines that intersect in Act Two: one centered on Roadblock and his team as well as one focused on Snake Eyes and Jinx.
  • Aside from a few minor changes, the script was already in place before Chu was brought in to direct.
  • In preparation for filming, Chu had the actors improv their characters and interactions – while he shot a mock-documentary about the Joes.
  • Snake Eyes and Jinx trained in the same dojo – under the Blind Master’s teaching. A breathtaking scene of the two sparring (with no sound) in the dojo is included in the final film.
  • Both the Rise of Cobra and Retaliation Snake Eyes costumes were laser scanned to fit Ray Park’s body.
  • This round, the Snake Eyes costume has been updated to allow Park greater mobility – along with making the suit look more like “Battle Gear.”
  • The filmmakers were constantly asking the question, scene to scene, “How can we give this gravity?” No doubt, a response to what many viewers perceived to be a “cartoony” tone in The Rise of Cobra.
  • The producers initially avoided the idea of shooting or post-converting Retaliation in 3D because of the added cost but Chu, who has two 3D films already under his belt (Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and Step Up 3D), shot the film as though it was in 3D. When Paramount Pictures saw the near-finished film, they decided to invest in a post-conversion.

Bruce Willis in G.I. Joe Retaliation 3D G.I. Joe: Retaliation Set Visit Report: Knowing is Half the Battle

Where as The Rise of Cobra was a cartoony and over-the-top adventure with standard blockbuster CGI style, G.I. Joe: Retaliation appears to be relying heavily on the franchise’s trademark world of hyper-reality along with gritty (and mostly believable) military action. The original film tried extremely hard to formulate complex backstories for iconic characters, creating an overly-complicated plot full of twists and turns paired with colorful visuals effects. This time, Bonaventura and his new director have stripped away any unnecessary baggage (including a major chunk of the The Rise of Cobra cast) to tell a much more straightforward action film. There’s no reason that the fresh approach couldn’t work – though it’s too early to say whether or not the filmmakers have actually succeeded. Fingers crossed we’ll all be yelling “Yo Joe!” once the film is out.

In the meantime, check back here at Screen Rant. As mentioned, we’ll be publishing a series of interviews with the cast and filmmakers in the coming days leading up to the film’s release. However, if you’re eager for more G.I. Joe Retaliation info right now, make sure to check out the G.I. Joe: Retaliation news archive – which includes the following featured articles along with much more:

G.I. Joe: Retaliation releases on March 28, 2013.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for more on G.I. Joe: Retaliation as well as future movie, TV, and gaming news.