TR Interview: G.I. Joe: Retaliation Writers Discuss Spoilers, Micronauts!

G.I. Joe week here at TR is gonna finish with a bang – stay tuned to the site today for the toy contest that will end things in a blast, but before that, I have one more interview, with screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who also did Zombieland.

Be forewarned: there are SPOILERS in this interview, specifically as regards the handling of Channing Tatum as Duke in the movie. They’re all safely after the jump.

Luke Y. Thompson: So here’s the chicken-and-egg question. What comes first: they tell you who’s available for the sequel and what characters you can have in it, or you guys decide “We’re not going to have Destro in it, and therefore we don’t need Christopher Eccleston”?

Paul Wernick: They give us a pretty blank slate to create a movie with characters that we needed to tell the story. Interestingly, we went up to Hasbro and went to G.I. Joe school, and they laid out all of their characters and toys and property and comics, and gave us an array of iconic characters to choose from, and we tapped into whatever we needed to tap into to tell the story that we wanted to tell. There were interesting reasons why we used or didn’t use some characters – Destro’s a good example. We – Destro…spoiler alert?

Rhett Reese: No, it’s OK.

LYT: All you have to say is he’s basically not in the movie.

PW: He’s not in the movie, and he’s not in the movie because his mask is CG, and it was too expensive to track him through the movie, and that was ultimately one of the deciding factors for why we chose Firefly and Zartan, and not Destro, and kept him down in the depths.

RR: A lot of it comes from, too, who you loved as a kid. I, as a kid, played with all the G.I. Joes, and read the comics, and my favorite was Snake Eyes, because I think as a child the black mask is something really cool, because you can imagine yourself behind the mask. So there’s something about seeing Snake Eyes as a kid that you can project yourself into that character, and kind of live the idea that you ARE Snake Eyes, or that you could be Snake Eyes, so it was obviously crucial that Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow be in it. Duke obviously was the star of the first one; he needed to be in it. Roadblock and The Rock, Dwayne, are such a great match in terms of the kind of character he is and the kind of guy Dwayne is, his look, so that was a really great fit.

Firefly – just the idea of a guy who loves chaos and loves to destroy and explode things -we have this line in the movie where Zartan says “Oh, still got all 10 fingers?” Like, you haven’t blown off a finger yet? Just that he gets off on the idea of destruction, and little things like that make you fall in love with a character and want to use him. Some of the characters from the first movie, we just felt like we didn’t want to go down that same path, so they gave us the freedom to start anew, and we did.

LYT: One of the tricks to Snake Eyes, you hit on it, every kid wants to play with him, because he’s basically invincible, but that’s got to be tough when you’re creating drama, to write a character that has no weakness. How do you deal with that kind of thing?

RR: It’s funny, that’s part of it, except in Storm Shadow you have a wonderful rival for him who can kind of match him punch-for-punch, so in that sense, he’s super-heroic and there’s a super-villain to match him, so that’s nice. But the toughest thing about writing Snake Eyes is the fact that he is behind a mask and he never talks. It’s very hard to work him into scenes where there are other characters talking, because he just kind of sits there like a bump on a log and it starts to seem a little ridiculous. You can’t have him out in public, because that wouldn’t make sense. You have to weave him into the story in physical ways, where he can be doing something, as opposed to ruminating.

PW: That’s why the whole monastery scene is such a showcase for Snake and Storm.

LYT: Even though the first film was really successful, did you get the sense that there was a realization that the fan base wasn’t happy with it, and they wanted something a little truer to the cartoon and comics that they had grown up with?

RR: A little bit, yeah. It’s certainly not our job to judge the first movie. It did very well, and I think it had a lot of fun thrills and spills. I do think that the hard-core people were a little disappointed that it didn’t quite match the vision in their heads from childhood. So we tried to be a little more faithful to that, and make it just a little more gritty and “real world.”

G.I. Joe, the first film, felt like it was happening in some sort of alternate reality, Earth was very high-tech and science fiction-y, and we were off on submarine bases, and under ice, and things like that. We wanted to make this of this world. We wanted to have a United States President and White House, and make it feel like it was happening in today’s world. I think those were the biggest talking points going in.

LYT: Did you guys know that The Rock was cast when you wrote Roadblock?

PW: No, no, he was cast after we had written the role – and cast perfectly!

LYT: Was there ever a temptation to write a scene where he talked only in rhyme?

RR: (laughs) No, we thought about doing a little bit of the rapping-rhyme kind of thing, but ultimately we thought it was just borderline silly. He brings a very specific thing, and we felt it might sound wrong coming out of him, so we decided not to go there. That’s one of those decisions you have to make, where you’re sacrificing a little bit of the faithfulness to what was there in favor of making it feel a little more grounded, in that particular case. You’re always having to make decisions like that, like how loyal do we want to be to what it was, and yet how much do we want to make sure it fits in the overall tone of what we’re doing now.

LYT: I remember back when there was a Masters of the Universe movie in the 80’s – one of the big issues Mattel had was that they couldn’t kill any of the major characters. Without spoiling specific ones, obviously characters do die in this. Did Hasbro have any say? Did they have any objection? Were there some characters who couldn’t die and some they would allow to die?

PW: When we first pitched the idea of some of their characters dying – we won’t reveal who – we were nervous, because this was a brand that Hasbro had built from a long time ago, and invested a lot of money in, and here we were basically clearing their bullpen of all these beloved characters. And yet they really embraced it as this starting anew, and while this is a sequel, it is also a launch of something brand new with new characters. We felt, and they agreed, that it was the perfect way to reboot the franchise in a way that also carried with it the storyline of the President into the second movie.


RR: Storm Shadow kind of dies at the end of the first movie, too, so in a weird way, unless someone REALLY dies in front of you, you can still maybe bring them back.

PW: Even if they die in front of you.

RR: You can still reboot it. It depends on whether it really is a through-line. I don’t think if you are having one movie completely depend on what happened in the one before that you can do that. But in some respects, they did it with Storm Shadow – they did kind of kill him off. Maybe he didn’t die, but he fell a long way, after being wounded, into icy water. He probably would have died in real life. Luckily, we’re dealing with G.I. Joe logic.

PW: And there are some characters that we do want to bring back that were in the first movie that we may want to see in the third movie.

LYT: Are you guys going to do the third movie?

PW: We’ll see how that all comes together. You know – box office, everything plays into that, but it would absolutely be something that we were interested in pursuing.

LYT: Do you guys know if there was ever any talk of Joseph Gordon-Levitt being Cobra Commander again?

RR: I don’t think so, because given what we wanted to do with Cobra Commander in the second movie, which was to have him be behind the mask 98% of the time, I don’t think it made sense financially to have him come back.

PW: I don’t even think he wanted to do it.

RR: Yeah, he had kind of blown up since, in terms of his career, and I think it just made more sense to re-voice it, and redo it without him, I think for everybody concerned, even though he’s awesome, and we would love to work with him! It’s just for this, it didn’t make a ton of sense.

LYT: Dancing around spoilers here a little bit, the original animated movie had a big issue where Duke is taken out of the story, and then they had to say he was in coma the whole movie because they didn’t want kids to be distraught that he died. It seemed like there was a little bit – was there a deliberate nod to that?

RR: No, actually, I haven’t seen that movie, sad to say, but no – there was no deliberate nod to that. There was – I think these are spoilers – there was a ton of rumor-mongering that went on last summer when we went pushed the movie, that the reason we were pushing it was to bring Channing back to life, essentially. That was just rumor-mongering. It was sort of vaguely talked about at one point, because audiences really do hate the fact that he dies, they get really bummed out, but I think the DNA of the movie is that he dies. That’s the whole point. It’s about avenging him.

So there wasn’t a frame of film shot during that nine month push where everybody thought there was stuff being shot, so that was all nonsense. Just the idea of bringing him back, it never got to a serious place where we were actually considering it. It was too important to the movie that he actually did die there. There are some people who get bummed out, because of course, they do; they love him. Why wouldn’t you get bummed out? That’s natural. But no, it didn’t come from that, the animated movie. That’s not where it came from.

LYT: Did you know that whole deal from the animated movie, how it was a big thing? Because they killed off Optimus Prime in the Transformers movie, and they were going to kill off Duke in the G.I. Joe one, they did not expect the massive backlash from killing Optimus, so they changed it and made Duke in a coma.

RR: I guess that in theory could have happened here; we could have had him in a coma. But that would have probably been even more of a record scratch, in the sense of “He’s been alive the whole time!” Probably wouldn’t have gone over great.

LYT: In your minds, what happens to characters like Scarlett and Ripcord? It’s not like they’re killed off in the raid. They’re not even part of the team at the beginning of the movie.

RR: We do have a little bit where he says G.I. Joe headquarters was destroyed, Command was destroyed, so it implies there was some off-screen killing going on, perhaps. It’s also possible that they moved on from the Joes in the intervening time and they were off doing other things. We just kind of ducked-and-covered and ignored it a little bit, because if those characters show back up with the same actors, people might start asking those questions, so it’s probably unlikely that they’ll show back up, at least with the same actors.

PW: I think they did imply that the G.I. Joes were obliterated, off and on screen, we obviously saw in the Pakistani and Indus valley all the destruction, but it is implied that across the world, the G.I. Joes were wiped out.

LYT: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about the Micronauts movie that I hear you guys are working on. What’s going on with that?

RR: It’s a pretty big departure from the comic, and beyond that we can’t say much, because Bad Robot has a real shroud of secrecy over projects, I think for good reason. We’ve had a lot of fun writing it. We’ve written a couple of drafts, so we’re just waiting to see if it becomes a movie or not. We had a lot of fun.

PW: It’s not what you think.

LYT: So it’s not necessarily happening for sure, yet?

RR: No, we’re not sure. It could happen, it could not. Which is the case with literally every Hollywood movie. You never really know until the green light committee weighs in, ultimately.

PW: Until it comes out.

RR: Until it comes out in theaters, you never know. We were five weeks away from G.I. Joe coming out, and they said, “Guess what? It’s going to be nine months from now.” So you can never really count on anything for sure.

LYT: What about the various Zombieland expansions – talk of a second movie, a TV series?

PW: We’re doing a TV series on Amazon. We were just in Atlanta for the last three weeks shooting a pilot. It is thrilling and awesome and we think it’s true to the tone and feel of the movie, and we couldn’t be more excited.

Yeah, look for it soon. It’s going to stream to the world in about a month.

LYT: Does that rule out a second movie?

RR: In the short run it does.

PW: In the short run, but it could bring on a second one at some point.