'For fans, they're really going to love this, because we take them on a journey,' says Brian Goldner, who is also a bigwig at Hasbro.
By Larry Carroll, with reporting by Brian Jacks
Your grandparents remember a rah-rah line of 12-inch dolls with kung-fu grip, providing a male alternative to Barbie. Your older siblings (or, gasp!, parents) grew up with a highly stylized, action-packed, endearingly goofy cartoon franchise fueled by 3 3/4-inch action figures. You might recall anything from G.I. Joe Extreme to the Classic Collection, to pop-culture references like "knowing is half the battle."
Now, a star-powered G.I. Joe movie has begun filming. But the question remains: What will the movie's Joes be like? For the answer, we went straight to the only man who commands both Destro and General Hawk.
Brian Goldner is the chief operating officer at Hasbro, which first introduced Joe to action-minded adolescents in 1964, and is also the executive producer on the "Transformers" and "G.I. Joe" movies. " 'G.I. Joe' has just gone into filming this past week, with a great cast and a tremendous story all based on the comics and the animation," Goldner said. "I think fans, and fans to come, will really love what we're doing."
Undoubtedly, such statements are as musical to the ears of longtime fans as the TV show's theme song. But stars like Dennis Quaid, Sienna Miller and Marlon Wayans have been met with varying degrees of enthusiasm from such fans, and Quaid himself recently confirmed that many beloved characters — including Wild Bill, Shipwreck and Tomax and Xamot — won't be in the flick.
"We all really loved what G.I. Joe was about in the '80s; we loved that story arc and the concept of Joe vs. Cobra," said Goldner, explaining that the people who created those characters will return, even if some of their creations won't. Comics writer Larry Hama, Goldner confirmed, "is onboard, and he's working with us on the script.
"And you may see him in the movie," he added.
Noting that the flick, directed by "Mummy" mastermind Stephen Sommers, will largely sidestep the TV show and be more "about the comic books," Goldner revealed some of the major characters and plotlines the film will explore. "We all know of the Arashikage [ninja clan], and we all know of Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, but we need to build that story," he explained. "We all know the story of Duke, and the story of the Baroness. ... We know the story of Destro, but do we really? We need to go back and tell the origin story of how you get a Scottish arms dealer, who comes forward in history — how does that happen?"
"And Cobra Commander," he added, referring to the evil terrorist leader who fan sites have reported will be portrayed by "Brick" star Joseph Gordon-Levitt. "In effect, this is all about the rise of Cobra Commander. ... For fans, they're really going to love this, because we take them on a journey. ... We have to go through the first chapter and then build from there."
Goldner was also eager to respond to the controversy over rumors that the patriotic nature of "G.I. Joe" was being toned down in order to be more appealing to a worldwide, post-9/11 audience. "Duke, in our story, really represents the pre-1983 G.I. Joe," he said, linking Channing Tatum's character to the dolls of the '60s and '70s. "If those fans that grew up on the 12-inch Army man are looking for where their anchor should be, it's in Duke; he's the leader of the team and clearly American.
"But the story, just like in the comic books, was a story that took us all over the world," he continued. "That's all we were really trying to get at. And everything else that fans have heard, about the early ideas or contemplations, that's really gone. ... We're talking about a story that's going to take us all over the world, from the desert to under the water, to the mountains to cities. ... Clearly, the American military is involved, as are other forces. But at the end of the day, the force that matters is the G.I. Joe force, and the Pit, and all the things that relate to that."
We caught up with Goldner at the New York Toy Fair, where he was giving fans a sneak preview of the G.I. Joe toys of the future. At the front of his thoughts, however, was the real-life stars who'd soon be creating the action figures' action. "We think it's amazing to have Channing Tatum as Duke, because I think he has a different kind of fanbase," said the executive producer, who in May will become Hasbro's CEO. "Clearly, Sienna Miller has a wonderful fanbase. Dennis Quaid as General Hawk, he has a tremendous fanbase. So bringing them all together, as an ensemble cast, is going to be really dynamic and something that people haven't seen before. But it'll still be very true to G.I. Joe."
The next question would seem to be a logical one: Will the Joes we know and love be replaced by toy versions of Marlon Wayans and Arnold Vosloo? "Well, what was so magical about the '80s G.I. Joe was the 3 3/4-inch product," Goldner said, revealing that the dimensions of the star-faced toys would be along the lines of the "Real American Hero" line. "[That size] gives people a chance to get all the figures but get all of the vehicles. So it's going to be in that scale. ... Very true to where we were in the 1980s, and then we'll take it forward.
"Steve Sommers is very different," Goldner said, contrasting him with "Transformers" director Michael Bay. "But he's perfect, because if you think about his movies like 'The Mummy,' it's the perfect action/adventure movie. If you think about what we're trying to do for G.I. Joe, really bringing back that '80s G.I. Joe from the Marvel comics — those first 155 issues are really our focus. If you think about that, you'll understand what we're trying to get at with all those characters and all the intricate relationships.
"I don't think you'd see this movie as wacky," he promised, alluding to some of the more eccentric characters from the cartoon show. "I think you're going to see this movie as being inspirational for younger kids and totally in the sweet spot for the guys who grew up on G.I. Joe."
In August 2009, we'll see it with our own eyes. In the meantime, "G.I. Joe" continues to shoot all over the world, with a budget so huge that it makes the U.S.S. Flagg aircraft carrier play set look like something you'd get at a 99-cent store.