Hi folks, Russ Sheath from AICN Comics here and I was lucky enough to spend some time talking with Jon M. Chu, director of the upcoming G.I. Joe Retaliation.
First off, I’ve got to say that its easy to tell that Jon Chu ‘gets’ G.I. Joe. Starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Bruce WIllis, G.I. Joe Retaliation is this summers sequel to 2009’s Rise of Cobra, a movie that while commercially successful, was met with a less enthusiastic response from both critics and fans of the 30 year old mythos.
The reaction to G.I. Joe Retaliation however, has been nothing short of remarkable. With each successive trailer and image checking all the right boxes for fans and ‘civilian’ movie goers alike, all indications point towards this being the movie G.I. Joe followers have been waiting to see.
Snake-Eyes with no lips? Check.
Cobra Commander looking like the terrorist leader we all know and loathe? Check.
Great visual effects, epic action and ninjas fighting on the side of a mountain? Check.
Two of the biggest, most charismatic movie stars on the planet? Check and check again.
There’s no doubting that G.I .Joe is reloaded, breathing new life into a franchise that had stumbled when it was barely out of the stalls. Retaliation proves a grittier, dirtier and more realistic Joe - ready for battle.
With Johnson, a global superstar of screen and wresting, reveling in his new found reputation as ‘franchise viagra’ and Bruce Wills being...well...Bruce Willis, the question on everyones lips is: "Who is the film’s director, Jon M. Chu?'
With nine movies to his name including Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and 2008’s Step Up 2: The Streets, there’s no doubting Jon Chu’s experience as a director - but you may be forgiven for exercising ‘the peoples eyebrow’ when he was announced as the vision behind an action adventure movie, let alone a summer tentpole franchise such as G.I. Joe.
Despite the obvious pressure of helming this new vision of the G.I. Joe universe, Chu appears naturally at ease, proving endlessly enthusiastic about his role as gatekeeper into the cinematic world of G.I. Joe. Chu discusses his task with authority, in a way assuring you that he is not only respectful of the source material, but is also a fan.
Talking about the relationship between Snake Eyes and Scarlett, Cobra Island and the potential difficulties of introducing Serpentor to the Joe universe, Chu describes the mythos in a way that you don’t get from a ‘G.I. Joe 101’ lesson one afternoon at a toy manufacturer. You get it from a ‘relationship’ with the source material.
I spoke to Jon Chu, and as a huge G.I. Joe fan, I could have happily talked for much longer about story telling, his love for the source material, and his vision for the future of G.I. Joe.
Sadly, the first few minutes of our conversation were lost in the transatlantic static (Cobra scrambling?), but I began with congratulating Jon on the reaction that G.I. Joe Retaliation has received so far.
I asked Jon about how he came to direct GI Joe Retaliation and how that translated from a background in dance and music films.
Explaining that he doesn’t have a dance background but is rather a story teller, Chu said that he regarded action movies, much like his movies about dance and music, are all about movement.
The static unscrambled, I asked Jon: What are the challenges when shifting onto a production that is so much larger and more complex than the films he has previously been involved in?
Jon Chu (JC): There’s a lot of action sequences. It’s been a fun thing to learn with explosions and things that I’ve never worked with before. Thats all logistics, we have a great crew and they really helped me, but all it came down to once the camera was turned on, was the actors and that lens. That’s what we really focused on.
There’s a lot of action sequences, and you are dealing with things like safety issues on a huge set where you have 600 people waiting for your next call and you have actors waiting to fill their part of the story. There’s a lot of companies involved. That was a challenge.
Everyone pretty much from the beginning of this movie agreed on the type of movie we were making and what we were trying to do with it and that made everything a lot smoother.
Russ Sheath (RS): What genres interest you the most, can you see yourself trying different things in the future?
JC: Right now I love and I’m addicted to the action-adventure movie. We are literally creating a world, and as a story teller its the first time I’ve done this from the ground up. I’ll be playing around in this world for a bit and we’ll see what happens. Of course I want to try all different kinds of genre.
RS: Can you shed some light on what your priorities were to ‘fix’, if thats the correct term, from the first movie?
JC: You know, It was never about fixing, for me it was all about doing ‘our’ version. The thing about G.I. Joe is that it’s reinvented over and over again, sort of like Batman or Spider-Man, in a way.
What were the Joes that I always wanted? I wanted people to ‘feel the punch’ and ‘feel the power of the punch’ in this movie. These guys get hurt, they get scratches and they have wear and tear to them.
They aren’t just a group, each one is an individual. I always loved that each one had a different personality. Snake Eyes had one personality, Roadblock had another. Flint had another. Duke had another, and each one had their own flaws and ways to ‘get there’.
G.I. Joe is about gadgets and vehicles, but at the core...and why I love this world...it’s about human beings being leaders and heroes. It was about human choices, and doing the right thing, and doing the hard thing, and that was something we really tried to focus on in this movie.
It’s defining what it takes to be a hero and leader in your class, in your city, in your country, and in the world at a time when...what it means to be a leader is being questioned all around the world. It’s a great question to explore.
Thats why Bruce plays a big part in the movie - he teaches these guys that it’s not from the outside-in, but being a soldier is from the inside-out. It’s about being a human being, and not being a soldier.
Of course, high flying ninjas and crazy fights were always going to be part of it.
I wanted, obviously, humor - and it doesn’t take it self too seriously. But at the same time, as a kid, I did believe these guys were real. I did believe they were really shooting, and I did believe that we had enemies like that. So, I really wanted that ‘in between’ aspect of it not being ‘so’ fantasy. They are real human beings, and they are just like you....just bigger than you.
RS: Can you give us something to look out for or that the fans might not be aware of, as yet?
JC: We are having a lot of fun with Cobra ‘being’ the Joes in this version. As you know, the multi-media aspect of movies now means the story doesn’t begin and end in the movie, it actually can begin way before...online...and can continue afterwards. We have stuff going on that you should be looking out for online such as the ‘Cobra Special Forces’ site, its all part of our goal.
We have a lot of little things that I don’t want to spoil, other than to look out for them.
Maybe there’s some Cobra cover companies, maybe there are characters that we are setting up here who come back in a different form. Definitely there’s some things in there which may seem like ‘nothing in this movie, but they have a purpose!
RS: Can you shed some light on the much discussed ‘Cobra Commander Conundrum’ - which admittedly sounds like an episode of The Big Bang Theory? Is that Rex who end up wearing the Cobra Commander suit, in the movie?
JC: I don’t know where all this crazy, speculative stuff came from. We were asked the question, Lorenzo [di Bonaventura, Producer) and I at Toy Fair...
‘Is that the same actor’?
I was like...
‘No, its not the same actor’.
‘Is that Joseph Gordon Levitt?’
‘No, it is not!’
But it is Rex!
We are continuing that story, there is no other Cobra Commander. We can put that rumor to rest. I was waiting for this moment to finally clarify, I’m glad you asked that.
RS: How was it bringing together Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Bruce Willis?
JC: That was insane! I never thought it would happen. Bruce and Dwayne, the legend and the icon together, in one frame and then you throw in Snake Eyes right next to them, that was pretty insane. They had a lot of fun, we were trying to keep up with them and keep the camera rolling. The things they would riff off were just hilarious. They had a great time.
RS: This is a question that you may not want to answer for fear of a SPOILER. Will we be seeing the demise of characters like Duke, or will there be the opportunity for him to come back?
JC: All I can say is: you should always expect the unexpected in the G.I. Joe. ALWAYS expect the unexpected.
Did you put the actors through a boot camp to learn about being soldiers?
JC: We worked with Harry Humphries, who was a SEAL, and we bought in a bunch of SEALS to our movie to help guide our actors and myself. So it was like ‘OK, we need to get the actors from here...to here...and then to the nuclear warhead. How would they do it’?
They would give us all the jargon and all the actions. They would, literally, choreograph that. The actors really leaned on them about how to say things correctly, and even now we are still working with them with extra dialogue and stuff. We are doing ADR and adding more and more.
RS: Do you have any favorite story lines from the G.I. Joe comic book?
JC: I always loved the relationship between Snake-Eyes and Scarlett. That love story was like Romeo and Juliet. We are planting a lot of seeds for the audience who don’t know how ninjas and the military exist in one world...with a guy in a silver mask...we have to set things up. There’s plenty of things. Cobra Island, I wouldn’t necessarily get into the Serpentor arena, but....
RS: If there’s an opportunity to return for G.I. Joe 3 would you be keen to helm that movie (should it come about?)
JC: I had a great time on this movie, and we are still finishing it up and focusing on that. For me, we are building a world...and the beginning of a world...and there’s so much more in the G.I. Joe universe we can add and if you build the foundation. We can go anywhere.
A massive thank you to Jon Chu for his time this afternoon. Follow Jon on Twitter and GI Joe Retaliation's Twitter is HERE.
GI Joe Retaliation is released on 29th June 2012 in the US and Canada and 8th August 2012 in the UK
Thanks to Justin from @generalsjoes and to Justin P for questions input.
Follow Russ Sheath @russwords on Twitter.