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Directed by Jon M. Chu, G.I. Joe: Retaliation finds the real American heroes once again clashing with Cobra, a ruthless terrorist organization bent on world domination. Channing Tatum, star of 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra returns to active duty as Duke, but the Paramount Pictures sequel also introduces plenty of new blood to the franchise, including Dwayne Johnson as Roadblock.
Screenwriters Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, the duo behind Zombieland, recently spoke with Spinoff Online about the Paramount Pictures sequel, as well as their script for Fox’s long-brewing Deadpool movie.
Because the G.I. Joe toy and comic empire has been around for several decades, Wernick and Reese had a large universe of eclectic characters from which to pull. “We obviously chose some characters that were tent-pole G.I. Joe characters that you couldn’t not choose, like Snake Eyes and Storm [Shadow],” Reese said. “Other characters, it was just sheerly the fun we thought that that particular character’s energy would bring to the movie, like Firefly (played by Punisher‘s Ray Stevenson), who just loves to blow things up.”
Destro, nefarious Cobra weapons designer played by Christopher Eccleston in the 2009 film, doesn’t participate in the action this time because of the cost of animating the character’s face. “They just said, ‘If you want Destro, you’ve got to make a real compelling case to keep him, because he’s very expensive,’” Reese explained.
The one late addition to the roster was General Joe Colton, the original G.I. Joe, played by action star Bruce Willis. “Hasbro and Paramount and people associated with the movie had found that when you asked people, ‘What do you know about G.I. Joe?’ Everyone would say, ‘Well, I’m not sure who G.I. Joe is,’” Wernick said. “They thought it was a person, and this idea of actually humanizing G.I. Joe with such an iconic actor like Bruce Willis, it was just a perfect fit.”
The writers’ reactions to The Rise of Cobra helped them find and set the tone for its sequel. “We’re not here to judge the first movie, by any stretch, but it was not of this day and this time,” Wernick said. “It felt very sci-fi/fantasy,and what we wanted to bring to it is a little bit more of the grounded.”
Although it’s in many ways a reboot for the franchise, Retaliation does carry over a major plot element from the first film, with Cobra agent Zartan wreaking havoc in disguise as the U.S. president. “The freedom to be evil, we thought that was a great gift that the first movie gave us,” Wernick said. “And yet, we did want to clear the decks a little bit in terms of some of the characters that were there and give it a kind of refresh.”
The duo confirmed that toymaker Hasbro was involved in every step of the development process, with Wernick even giving credit to CEO Brian Goldner for coming up with the idea for one of the film’s coolest new gadgets, Firefly’s explosive swarming bugs.
One of the most rewarding parts of the job for the writers was visiting Hasbro’s Rhode Island headquarters for a three-day G.I. Joe school, where they received their very own action figures. “I’m in desert gear and Rhett’s in Nordic mountain gear,” Wernick said.
To illustrate how excited they were to join the G.I. Joe action-figure ranks, Reese showed off a photo of both toys on his phone. “Truly, like the greatest moment of my life,” he said.
While The Rise of Cobra was widely panned, Reese — whose first movies were made at age 11 using his G.I. Joe action figures – said he was never worried about writing the sequel. “I certainly wasn’t outraged by the first movie,” he said. “I thought it did G.I. Joe justice in many ways, but I just think you don’t have to fake it, when you really did love it as a kid.”
When the conversation turned to the pair’s script for X-Men: Deadpool, which has director Tim Miller and star Ryan Reynolds attached, both men smiled.
“It’s our favorite script,” Reese said.
“Ryan, Tim and us are more committed to it than any other project,” Wernick added, sharing that Miller put together a three-minute test that Reynolds voiced and motion-captured.
“It’s been a little bit of a struggle at Fox because it’s a hard-R [rating],” he continued. “The good thing is it’s not expensive in terms of all the other superhero movies that are out there.”
Curious fans can find the screenplay online. Although they’re unsure how it was leaked, Reese shared they are ultimately OK with the security breach, as they’re proud of the script.
“We’ve got a few tricks up our sleeve to push that ball up the hill, so we’ll see what happens,” Wernick teased.
“To us, that’s the one that we’ll crawl over broken glass to see made,” Reese said, “no matter how long it takes.”
G.I. Joe: Retaliation opens Thursday.