When movie fans first heard word that Justin Bieber: Never Say Never director Jon Chu would be heading-up G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the sequel to Stephen Sommers' 2009 live-action G.I. Joe adaptation, the collective reaction online was pretty snarky - with even the most generous film-lovers being somewhat skeptical.
Then came word that Chu and the production team would be dramatically slashing the star-studded cast to streamline the sequel - with high profile actors and actresses, such as Rachel Nichols, Marlon Wayans, and Dennis Quaid, all finding themselves excised from the franchise (at least for now). However, much like the potential improvements headed to Michael Bay's Transformers 4, Chu's hybrid-sequel-reboot approach has begun to inspire a lot of confidence in the upcoming film (as evidenced by reactions to the official Retaliation trailer).
Chu is a big fan of the G.I. Joe franchise and while he enjoyed Sommers' take on the characters, the director (along with producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura) definitely felt there were opportunities to bring his installment a bit closer to the gritty G.I. Joe film he'd want to see. Speaking with MTV, Chu elaborated on one especially important refinement - Cobra Commander:
"There are a couple things I really wanted to do in this movie. One of those things was reinvent Cobra Commander, to do it the way I remember him and take him to the next level. To me, Cobra is one of the most iconic villains of all time. I just wanted to know that was him. I wanted to make him more badass than ever."
"We got to design him from the ground up. Creating the mask, we went through 35 revisions and how his voice was going to be, how reflective it was going to be. He's definitely a huge presence, and I can't wait. I'm sort of trying to hide a little bit, so people when they come don't know what to expect from Cobra, which is sort of the fun part of it."
- WARNING: SPOILERS for Stephen Sommers' G.I. Joe below -
It's easy to understand where Chu is coming from with regard to Cobra Commander - given the flat-out bizarre "origin story" the character was given in the first Joe film. While the introduction of the character certainly worked to tie-together all of the main players, there's no doubt that for such a fan-favorite villain many moviegoers found Sommers' Cobra Commander to be a letdown.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt faithfuls may have been disappointed to hear that the rising star wouldn't be returning for the sequel, and fans remain split over whether or not his portrayal of "The Doctor" was a high or low mark in the film, but it's easy to understand why Chu went for the traditional helmeted Commander - since the character has to be forboding enough to sell that Cobra, not just the man himself, is a ruthless terrorist organization.
- END of SPOILERS for Stephen Sommers' G.I. Joe.
Of course, with a revamped and dangerous new villain, Chu needed a few kick-butt heroes. Speaking about his favorite characters (one returning Joe, and another new recruit), it's easy to see that Chu was the Hollywood equivalent of a kid in a candy store - of course it doesn't hurt if you can enlist Dwayne "Rock" Johnson:
"I loved Snake Eyes, of course, and I love Road Block. Those two to me were the coolest duo out there. To me, it was Roadblock and Snake Eyes together that was the kickass team [...] It was a dream to be like, 'All right, now we really get to make Roadblock the guy. Who would be the perfect Roadblock?' Of course, Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson and being able to have Ray Park return as Snake Eyes and have them be on two different adventures all across the world is awesome."
While some fans, who no doubt felt as though Sommers' Joe was too spread out with too many locales, faces, and plot lines running at once, might be intimidated by Chu's assertion that Retaliation will chronicle two separate adventures and span the globe - the director promises that, while there is a lot of jet setting, everything comes full-circle:
"As any 'Joe' adventure is, it spans the world, and it's an adventure that ranges from you're in Pakistan one second to Japan the next second and Korea another one, Washington, D.C. You're definitely jumping around and it also collides at a certain point."
G.I. Joe: Retaliation will be in theaters on June 29, 2012.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for further updates.