When Paramount Picture′s high-octane action film G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra hits theaters, one thing will immediately be clear: This isn′t your father′s G.I. Joe.
Set 15 years in the future, the film, which stars Sienna Miller, Rachel Nichols, Channing Tatum, Marlon Wayans and Dennis Quaid, draws its premise from the more recent G.I. Joe comic book and cartoon series. It centers around an elite, multi-national task force and features high-tech weaponry, futuristic flying machines, larger-than-life villains and heroes and massive set designs. There′s barely a whiff of the army commando the original action figure was modeled on.
G.I. Joe [see Photos | Videos]
And that′s just as well, says the film′s director, Stephen Sommers, who had no interest in making a war movie. “I grew up with the armyman and I didn′t want to make an army man movie,” says Sommers, who has directed such big-screen blockbusters as Van Helsing and The Mummy. “I like doing big, visual movies and taking people to worlds they′ve never seen.”
As Sommers learned more about the characters in the G.I Joe pantheon, he realized the film offered a unique creative opportunity. A long-time fan of early James Bond movies such as Dr. No and Thunderball with their exotic locations and awe-inspiring sets, he began to see G.I. Joe as his chance to make the equivalent of 20 Bond movies rolled into one.
“I loved James Bond as a kid, but nowadays James Bond has become very much like Jason Bourne,” the director says. “I love the Bourne movies, too, but G.I Joe is that rare franchise that takes place all around the world, with wildly colorful characters, very strong females, and all kinds of gadgets and weaponry and romance. It′s just this big, fun world.”
The highly-trained men and women of G.I. Joe, a top-secret, international special operations unit, are called upon to save the world from the evil Cobra Organization. The globe-trotting action takes the characters to Washington D.C., Paris, Tokyo, Egyptand even beneath the polar ice cap.
For producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura (Transformers, the upcoming Salt), it was the richness of the G.I. Joe characters as depicted in the comic books that sold him on the project.
“Most comic books are about a central character and the villains he chases,” the producer says. “But all these characters have known each other for a long time, and so you have more back stories, love affairs and longstanding grudges between themall this stuff you don′t normally find in comic books.”
Shooting the cutting-edge special-effects extravaganza presented new challenges for much of the cast. For Miller, Tatum and Wayans, for example, it marked the first big-budget action movie of their careers, and proved to be extremely physically demanding. The trio had to hit the gym hard and go through six weeks of fight training under the guidance of the ace team that choreographed the fight scenes in The Matrix.
Miller′s character, the villainous Baroness, becomes engaged in a fierce battle against Tatum′s character, Duke, with whom she shares a long and convoluted romantic history.
“Initially, I was terrified because I didn′t think I was going to be capable of doing anything that physical,” says Miller, best known for her acclaimed performances in dramas such as Factory Girl and Alfie. “But in the end it was great. I really enjoyed it.”
The physicality of the role even resulted in some minor injuries for the actress. “I slipped on a rubberbullet and had to go the hospital because my hand swelled up,” she recalls with a laugh. “I fight in six inch heels, so it′s, a precarious situation to begin with. But it′s just my general klutziness I think. I will have some form of mild accident just walking down the street.”
Tatum and Wayanswho plays Duke′s G.I. Joe comrade, Ripcordalso had just six weeks to complete weapons and fight training and get into peak shape for the shoota challenge they turned into a friendly competition.
“I had to put on 20, 25 pounds of muscle, and Channing had to get chiseled,” says Wayans, the writer and star of comedy hits including White Chicks, Little Man and Scary Movie 2. “So we were in the gym every day, running, working out, testing each other. The preparation was probably more intense than any other movie I′ve done.”
But the actors agree it was the strength of the script, written by Collateral scribe Stuart Beattie and Four Brothers writing duo David Elliot and Paul Lovett, that made the project irresistible for them.
G.I. Joe [see Photos | Videos]
Nichols, who was most recently seen in J.J Abrams′ Star Trek as the scantily clad “green girl,” says her character, Scarlett, was very enticingly writtenin part because of her budding romance with Ripcord.
“Scarlett is this fantastic tomboy who goes through a bit of a change during the movie,” explains Nichols (Shopgirl, Charlie Wilson′s War). “She′s a weapons specialist who can fire a crossbow and do anything, but when she meets Ripcord,for the first time in her life there′s a guy that′s flirting with her. That′s very foreign to her.”
The futuristic setting meant the actors got to play with lots of cool-looking weapons and other gadgets. Probably their least favorite among these were the “accelerator suits,” high-tech performance-enhancing exoskeletons the G.I. Joe operatives wear into battle.
“We called them the devil′s condom,” jokes Tatum (Fighting, Step Up). “It took about 45 minutes to get into them and if you sat still for even 30 seconds, they made your hands and feet numb. We had to wear them all day, and it was absolute torture the entire time. But they looked great on screen.”
It wasn′t all blood, sweat and tears for the cast and crew, however. Many of the actors spent much of the production in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, which doubled for Paris in the movie. One of the film′s most seasoned actorsDennis Quaid (Vantage Point, The Rookie)was denied that pleasure, however.
“Everybody else got to go to Prague, but I got to be in Downey, California for a couple weeks,” quips Quaid. “No resentment, though.”
Quaid plays the leader of the G.I. Joe unit, General Hawka character he describes as a cross between General Patton, James Bond and Hugh Hefner.
“This is a 21st Century state-of-the-art action film,” Quaid says. “It′s a wild thrill ride that just pins your ears back. It′s the kind of movie I like to go to.”