Jon Talks “Joe”

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Jon Chu, director of G.I. Joe: Retaliation loves a good underdog story. From Justin Bieber to Step Up 2: The Streets, Chu wants to make movies about characters who never say never. This is perhaps the main connecting thread in his otherwise diverse filmography. Coming off two dance movies (Step Up 2: The Streets and Step Up 3D) and a documentary about the man who Wiki Answers confirms is Usher’s best friend (Justin Bieber: Never Say Never), Chu feels like he pulled off the “biggest con job” to get handed the reins of the second installment in the “G.I. Joe” franchise.

I recently had the opportunity to talk to Jon Chu on the phone, and he sounded both honored and thrilled to have a big budget action movie under his belt, but then again, who wouldn’t be? The film, which stars The Rock (better known by his ring name, Dwayne Johnson), opened on March 28, and has earned an estimated $72 million in the United States so far. If you still haven’t seen G.I. Joe: Retaliation, you should. I know you might have some reservations, so I’ll address your concerns now.

1. “G.I. Joe” is too cartoony for me. I don’t like cartoons because I have worked tirelessly to eradicate the magic of childhood that once existed in me.

That’s sad.

But fret not. Listen to Jon: “We wanted to make it feel more grounded.  Yes, we wanted to go fantastical with ninjas flying everywhere.  But we wanted the characters to feel that they were human, that they had faults, that you could have a beer with them, that you wanted to hang out with them, that they had camaraderie.”

You might say these G.I. Joes are more like your typical Average Joes. But you might also not say that because that was really stupid. I’m sorry.

2. Apology not accepted. But I’ve already seen five “G.I. Joe” movies. I’ve watched four different “G.I. Joe” TV series’. I’ve played three “G.I. Joe” video games. I’ve read two “G.I. Joe” comic book series’. And I’ve played with and chewed on one billion “G.I. Joe” action figures.

You bring up an interesting point. It would be easy to rely on the same formula that has kept “G.I. Joe” alive for decades, but Chu didn’t take the easy way out. “Did I want to make changes?  Yes, for sure.  I think that’s sort of in tradition of ‘G.I. Joe’ is to reinvent itself every time it changes format, or changes a person to come in – for the toys, or the cartoons, or the movie itself. “

So what can we expect from this film? Chu says, “When I was a kid, ‘G.I. Joe’ was – it got dirty with ‘G.I. Joe.’  They were in the mud, in the sand, sometimes their arm would fall off, and that was even better because that was a more interesting part of the journey.  So to me, I wanted that sort of crazy part of it that you knew this was a real world lived in.  Because as a kid, I believed it was a real world.”   

3. Just kidding. I lied. I do not even know who this “Joe” guy is. What should I do?

You should stop lying, and then you should go see G.I. Joe: Retaliation because Jon Chu’s got you covered. As he explains, “Well, we built it for people who know everything about ‘G.I. Joe,’ and people who know nothing.  That was actually, probably, maybe the first, biggest challenge of telling our story was to do that…And I think actually Dwayne [Johnson] and Bruce [Willis] help that, actually.  Because you already know that they bring a familiarity…you understand the character that they bring to the table.” 

4. I’m concerned RZA was not given enough creative control.

This is the most valid reservation brought up so far, but fortunately, it is also baseless. As Chu enlightens, “When we were designing the toy for [RZA], he actually got on the phone with Hasbro many times about – and very specific weapons that his action figure would have.  And he was very active with the costume designers – designing the exact outfit that he wanted for it.  So it was a pretty cool experience to watch him sort of embrace it.”

And the crew embraced RZA as well. “The crew painted Wu Tang signs all over our set, like in random places…It was really funny.”

5. That is really funny. Is the movie funny?

The script for G.I. Joe: Retaliation was written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (who you may know as the writers of Zombieland), so Chu explains, “The humor was very, very important to us, and when you guys see the movie, you’ll see that it is – the audience has to be in on the joke.  And if you’re not, then you think this is the most ridiculous, stupid movie you’ve ever seen.  But if you’re in on the joke, you’ll probably think it’s pretty awesome, and you just might have a fun time.”

6. I have no other concerns, and I am currently walking to the theater to see G.I. Joe: Retaliation.

Good for you. 

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