So I’m attempting to do what no one raised on a steady entertainment diet of 80s cartoons should bother trying — writing an unbiased review of G.I. Joe: The Movie. Maybe for an encore, I’ll give The Empire Strikes Back a shot?
Take 1 doesn’t go too well as I realize I’m singing along with the words to the awesome opening scene. Yep. Completely unbiased…
But upon first glance of the breathtaking opening sequence, it’s obvious that Sunbow Productions put the A-level animation team on this one as the standard endless supply of Joe green shirts in the backdrop are actual Joes with names this time.
Another opening note: Snake-Eyes somersaulting onto a Cobra trouble bubble, dumping the pilot and flipping in to fly it himself may be cooler than anything Bond, Bourne or Batman has ever done. Seriously.
Alright, I made it through the beginning after only four times rewinding, but now I’m reciting all the dialogue. How many times have I watched this movie??? I went to YouTube to find the opening as I’m writing this review. I’m weak. Don’t judge me.
The film kicks off with Serpentor (Dick Gautier) going off on his Cobra high command for their failures in overcoming G.I. Joe. Only Cobra Commander (Chris Latta) has the nerve to point out that Serpentor hasn’t exactly been setting the world on fire with his terrorist leader tactics either.
Serpentor sucked. In typical upper-management fashion, he blames his failures on his predecessor and predictably, Serpentor’s yes-men happily take his side, despite Cobra Commander protesting against these “unsubstantiated fantasies.” Say what you will about the cartoon, but kids back then needed a decent education to comprehend the dialogue.
Still, the second an intruder invades the Cobra base, everyone is perfectly happy to follow Cobra Commander’s orders. Cobra logic makes no sense. While Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow were running around for two plus seasons, Pythona (Jennifer Darling) has the best ninja sequence in all of G.I. Joe when she evades Cobra forces using speed, agility and some nifty alien gadgets.
Scarlett (B.J. Ward) is worried the BET doesn’t waste a billion taxpayer dollars. If only my tax dollars went to stuff this cool. Serpentor leads the attacks with his catchphrase ‘This I command!’ as I’m reminded that he was only slightly less annoying than Galvatron on The Transformers TV series.
Duke (Michael Bell) gets shot! Or at least his parka’s sleeve gets shot. This was a big deal as Cobra soldiers had worse aim than Stormtroopers and also provided some interesting foreshadowing from writer Ron Friedman.
Serpentor gets captured and after failing to rally the troops, Cobra Commander orders a retreat. This leadership tug-of-war is ingeniously handled and Friedman was either giving kids a lot of credit or was going out of his way to make C.C sympathetic.
Roadblock’s team gets ambushed by a group of weird new foes — Cobra La — that terrifies Cobra Commander, which we learn was for a good reason. Cobra-La made for some weird villains for the Joes.
The cartoon always allowed some measure of goofiness in a somewhat realistic slant, but this new adversary shifted the series to a decidedly more fantasy-driven tone. And their end-game of turning all of humanity into cavemen was the dumbest of all the Cobra plots we’d seen so far.
With Roadblock’s team missing, General Hawk (Ed Gilbert) speeds up the training for the new recruits — Tunnel Rat (Laurie Faso), Jinx (Shuko Akune), Law (Ron Ortiz), Big Lob (Brad Sanders) and Chuckles — provided they can endure their sessions with Beach Head (William Callaway).
This Joe training sequence provides some of the film’s intentionally funny scenes as Beach Head gets increasingly annoyed with their performance, but reluctantly respects their effort.
Not so fortunate is Lt. Falcon (voiced by Don Johnson) a goof-off who frequently skips out on his responsibilities to flirt with any random chick — the latest of which gets him in trouble with Duke and leads to the Dreadnoks freeing Serpentor in another great scene.
Johnson, still riding the Miami Vice popularity wave, lent the film some credibility since it was able to lure a big star on the project. Ditto for Burgess Meredith signing on as Cobra-La head Golobulus.
Frustrated with his attitude, Hawk sends Falcon off to the Slaughter House where series fan-favorite Sgt. Slaughter is putting his three new recruits — Mercer (Kristoffer Tabori), Red Dog (Poncie Ponce) and Taurus (Earl Boen, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) — to their breaking point. While training alongside the Renegades, Falcon begins to understand what it takes to be a Joe.
Like Transformers: The Movie, this features battles on a larger scale than the TV episodes could handle and comes across as much more important.
Similarly, both lose some momentum once a lead character dies and is replaced by a not as likable new character.
Pushing out the old to make way for the new was a common theme in the Joe/Transformers mini-series, but that strategy felt a little too contrived for the movies, especially given how the old standard-bearers are discarded.
Beyond those gripes, this is a fun old-school cartoon movie done right and one that even today’s more sophisticated youth would enjoy just as much as an adult reveling in a wave of 80s nostalgia.
Rating: 9 out of 10