Snake Eyes and the rest of the G.I. Joe team return to the big screen this weekend in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the sequel to 2009's live-action debut for the team in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. This time around, the good guys find themselves on the run from the terrorist organization Cobra after the G.I. Joe squad is framed, ambushed and left for dead in the desert.
Not only is it a new dynamic for the cast of colorful characters that make up the G.I. Joe team, but the franchise itself has a new director in Jon Chu (Step Up 3D) and a new set of screenwriters in Zombieland duo Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. Tasked with reigniting interest in the big-screen adventures of G.I. Joe after The Rise of Cobra left the franchise drifting in uncertain waters, Reese and Wernick have provided a "soft reboot" of sorts that sheds unnecessary baggage from the first film and introduces a new, slimmed-down, back-to-basics team.
We spoke with the Retaliation screenwriting team about the task of getting G.I. Joe's big-screen adventures back on the right path, mining the team's long history, and why certain characters made the cut and others were left out.
Oh, and with The Wolverine in the news these days, we also made sure to get some updates on that Deadpool movie we're still eagerly hoping to see someday.
Movies.com: Given where the G.I. Joe franchise was at after The Rise of Cobra, how did you approach Retaliation when you first got involved? How did you decide what to keep and what to drop?
Rhett Reese: Well, the first movie gave us the idea of Zartan disguised as the U.S. president, and we loved that idea. It's like giving your teenager the keys to your Lamborghini and letting him to drive around in it. That was our jumping-off point. Hasbro and Paramount were really supportive of us pitching them from a blank slate, though. They let us do what we wanted. So, as a child I loved G.I. Joe and had all of the old action figures. My very first home movies were made with the G.I. Joe action figures. I loved the Larry Hama run of the comic book, too. So we wanted to return to what it felt like to play with G.I. Joe toys as a child – the expansiveness of that – combined with a slightly grittier, realistic take. [Retaliation] isn't as science fictiony as the first movie. So that was our mandate, and we set out to create a story that jumped off this idea of the bad guy as the president and the other guys in prison and needing to break out of prison, and them striking out at the G.I. Joe team. And that became the first draft of G.I. Joe: Retaliation.
Movies.com: You mentioned you were a fan of the comic books. Did they provide some inspiration for the film?
Paul Wernick: Well, a perfect example is the “Silent Interlude” story from the comics. The monastery scene [in Retaliation] was inspired by “Silent Interlude.” It's almost a direct lift from the comic and Larry Hama's story. So absolutely, the comics and the characters are so iconic and so great, and we just wrote a movie that we would want to see. It was a return to our childhood a little bit.
Reese: [Laughs] If I could go back and have a talk with my 11-year-old self and tell him what we're doing right now, he would be doing back-handsprings through the street.
Wernick: We were just looking at some of the Retaliation toys they have out, and there's a 12-inch Roadblock. You press his belt buckle and he talks, and we were laughing because we wrote some of those lines. We were pressing his belt buckle and he was saying our lines. It's just amazing.
Movies.com: Your 11-year-old self would be the coolest kid in school if everyone knew what you'd be doing years later...
Wernick: [Laughs] I've got a nine year old who couldn't be more excited about seeing G.I. Joe. He's the hit of his school. Today, he wrote me a list of all the characters that he wants to see in the next G.I. Joe movie.
Movies.com: But what about this movie? How did you decide which characters to use in Retaliation, given the hundreds of characters you had to choose from?
Reese: It was really a case-by-case basis. To be perfectly honest, the reason Destro isn't a bigger character [in Retaliation] is that it's so damn expensive to animate his metallic face. Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow were no-brainers, though – there are certain characters you must include. Having Duke in the movie was a reflection of the fact that we love Channing [Tatum] and he was willing to be in the movie, so Duke made sense. And then suddenly you have these serendipitous moments when you have a character named Roadblock and a star named “The Rock” and it's not hard to imagine one being like the other, so we just slowly built it out from there. There are some characters we didn't use in Retaliation that we would've liked to, like the Baroness, but we also got to work in some characters that we weren't sure we would have a chance to, like Jinx and Firefly. It's a mixed bag. We went with the ones we thought would be the most entertaining.
Wernick: And if we're fortunate to do a third movie, we're hoping that the Baroness makes a return.
Movies.com: It sounds like you already have some ideas about where a third movie could go.
Reese: The Hollywood tradition is not jinxing the current movie by starting to plan the next one in your head. That being said, though, we do have some ideas that we threw into a brainstorm file. It's not too coherent yet, but could become so if necessary.
Movies.com: With everyone talking about The Wolverine lately and that universe of characters, we can't help but wonder about your Deadpool script. There's a lot out there about it already, so maybe you could just tell us about your vision for the character. Is there a certain storyline from the comics or a version of Deadpool that you were focusing on with your Deadpool script?
Reese: Not particularly. Bizarrely, when Deadpool came to us we didn't know anything about him. He was a more recent character and he didn't plug into our childhoods. We haven't been reading comics as religiously recently, other than the ones we get sent to possibly adapt into movies. So we had to do our research on him and learn him from the ground up. The real help there was Ryan Reynolds, because he was a guy who did grow up with the character and knew him. He steered us off things that were not too Deadpool-like and turned us on to things that were more Deadpool-like in the comics. We developed the script with him. It's not a secret, though, because our script leaked onto the Internet. Our script is out there.
Movies.com: How recent is that script, though? It leaked a while back, so there have been changes since then, right?
Reese: It's not the most recent script, no. It was the first draft.
Wernick: But it will give you a good idea of what we wanted to do and what we had in mind.
Reese: We have more recent drafts with some new characters we added because we loved them. They're minor characters. But that first draft isn't too far off where we are now. People can find out what it's like, but what they can't do is find out what Tim Miller's brought to it. He came on board, and in order to convince the studio to make it, he created a three-minut-long test sequence from the script.
Wernick: Ryan did motion-capture for it and voiced it. It's the most phenomenal three-minute piece of video you'll ever see.
Movies.com: You two have been preaching the Deadpool gospel for so long now, do you think we're any closer to seeing this movie get made?
Wernick: This project has become our passion project. Of all the scripts we've written – including Zombieland – the script that we're most proud of and the script we are pushing like hell to see made is this one. And we've got a few tricks still up our sleeve and we hope to bring it to life someday.
Reese: [Laughs] One word: Kickstarter! No, I'm kidding…