Cartoons Go To the Movies – G.I. Joe: The Movie!

So, I did the Movies Go To the Cartoons review, and Cartoons Go To the Movies is the logical followup. Seeing as we’ve been tracking Sgt. Slaughter, let’s see him through to his apex and the end of the Sunbow era of G.I. Joe. I saw this in the UK as Action Force: The Movie with the ridiculous dubbing of any line alluding to G.I. Joe or Yo Joe or even Sgt. Slaughter (we got the less brutal Sgt. Slammer), but the original is far better.

As above, the intro involves the famous battle around the Statue of Liberty, seemingly produced at the end of season 1 but with characters like the Vipers and BATS and AVACs in mind already given their appearance. Cool theme tune and suitably epic overall (Cobra… CO-BRAAA!). Cobra’s flying fortress is destroyed and freedom reigns.

To the movie itself, which doesn’t have an original score or soundtrack beyond the opening like Transformers: The Movie (which we’ll get to), but sounds fine. The animation is great too, but it’s not quite up to the same level as Transformers gets. Serpentor berates his assembled generals for their continued failure while an intruder enters the Terrordrome on Cobra Island. Cobra Commander gets to wear his cloak and bejewelled cane like a pimp, but Destro, Baroness and the usual suspects stick the knife in when he tries to stand up to the Cobra Emperor. He does almost get to get some immediate revenge on Serpy by allowing the mysterious trespasser to pass him, but it’s not an assassination attempt they have in mind – instead, after dispatching Cobra troopers and Crimson Guards, the beguiling Pythona, who has green skin, Wolverine fingernails, and a shaved head except for a single ponytail, reveals her own involvement in the creation of Serpentor and sets him a new mission.

Meanwhile, G.I. Joe are supervising protection of machine called the Broadcast Energy Transmitter (the BET), and, wouldn’t you know it, Cobra comes to steal it. Serpentor, who has mysteriously acquired the ability to draw out the snakes around his neck and turn them into spears, tangles with Duke but gets fried by the main projector of the BET and captured. CC calls the retreat and takes the rest of Cobra off to somewhere he strangely knows in the Himalayas. This leads to a further battle and the debut of Nemesis Enforcer, which is a stupid name but nevertheless works perfectly, and the Royal Guards of Cobra-La to save Cobra and capture some of the Joes.

I’m conscious of falling entirely into recap mode, so I’ll switch to making more general comments on my favourite bits of the movie as well as those I find problematic. Best to start on the side of the villains, with the secret civilisation of Cobra-La being revealed. I never had a problem with it, and I love Dick Gautier as Serpentor, but I always felt sorry for Cobra Commander, who was constantly undermined regardless of whether it was by Destro or Dr. Mindbender or Tomax and Xamot. As Joe had already firmly established science fiction leanings, why not make him a mutated member of a biologically different race who wears the mask to hide the multiple, spider-like eyes on his face? I felt bad for him being made the whipping boy when Serpentor was just as culpable and his forced transformation into a snake is horrifying, although it makes and gives him probably the most memorable bits of the moment (“I was once a MAAAAAAN!”).

On the heroic side, we have new recruits the Rawhides, who get a training sequence with Beach Head, who as always is played as grumpy rather than intimidating. Tunnel Rat is probably the coolest of the gang and the one who got the most further use, as part of the Renegades show from a decade ago, but Jinx has been given some pedigree and a much more developed Chuckles has played a part in some of the best Joe stories from IDW. Here, he’s just a tough lummox who never speaks. Big Lob is probably annoying to some, but I like him.

Absent from the training is Falcon, played by Don Johnson as the main new character of the show, and given the role of half-brother of Duke. He unwittingly takes a disguised Zarana through Serpentor’s prison setup so she can record all the access points and security measures so that the Dreadnoks and Nemesis Enforcer can bust him out. Alpine, Bazooka and Gung-Ho take a beating, meaning Falcon has to go through a tribunal for dereliction of duty, sending him to the Slaughterhouse.

The Slaughterhouse is of course Sgt. Slaughter’s training base, where he’s got his own new recruits, the Renegades (unrelated to the series mentioned above). Writer Buzz Dixon has said that Mercer, Red Dog and Taurus are supposed to be loose analogies for Paul Orndorff, Jimmy Snuka and the Iron Sheik. They’re fine, pretty much just heavies, but Mercer being an ex-Cobra Viper is an interesting twist and Taurus is given a little bit of a goofy streak. The rebuilding of Falcon into something more appropriately matching a Joe really needed a Winner Takes It All-like song for a training montage, but it’s fine.

I realise that I’ve neglected to mention the other guest star of this movie, Burgess Meredith, as the megalomaniac ruler of Cobra-La, Golobulus. He’s an eloquent and dramatic speaker with enough bass in his voice to fit the muscular (but covered in crustacean armour) physique. He floats around in a pod-like chariot most of the movie until the conclusion where he departs it to show the bottom half of his body is a snake-like tail. Like most strange concepts of shows of the era, it’s not fully explained but readily accepted. His master plan is to use the BET to aid in the hatching of mutative spores that will turn all of mankind into reptilian slaves.

Of all the Joe mini-series and this, I think this is the best paced one, with no dragging at any point or longing for the end because it’s not written as a five-parter, it’s written as a movie. There’s a LOT of travelling back and forth between both sides, although people get places really quickly. It’s not boring at any point!

As I begin to wrap up this mixture of points, one thing that can’t go without mention is the “death” of Duke, with a scene that’s clearly intended to be his demise at the hands of Serpentor, giving Falcon the chance to redeem him at the conclusion. However, the bad reaction to the death of Optimus Prime, necessitating his return, meant they didn’t go all the way and overdubbed some late lines of “He’s gone into a coma!” and “Duke’s come out of his coma!”. I don’t take too much offence to it, but no way you’re not taking a spear to the heart, especially one made out of a snake with poisonous fangs, and surviving!

The conclusion sees the Joes and Cobra having a massive battle including Cobra-La itself coming to life, with bridges and towers revealed to be giant insects, before it boils down to Falcon, Jinx and Sarge against Serpentor, Pythona and Nemesis Enforcer. Serpentor, on his malfunctioning air chariot, goes flying through the window after the mutated and fully ophidian Cobra Commander gets his final revenge (for now) on him by taking out one of his snakes that’s trying to crush Falcon. It’s the cape in the propeller trick that’s used similarly in The Incredibles. Pythona goes flying over the edge of an abyss after missing a lunge at Jinx. Nemesis Enforcer follows her after several slams, elbows and punches from Slaughter – kinda wish he could’ve put the Cobra Clutch on him or Slaughter Cannoned him into the abyss.

Golobulus then comes into action, with the plan of breaking Falcon’s back, but instead takes a ceremonial dagger to the eye and scarpers off, although never to be seen on film or screen again. The BET is used to fry the mutation spores in space, Earth is saved, Cobra is defeated, all is right with the world… for now.

When you’re talking about animated movies of this period or anything to do with selling toys it’s easy for most to scoff, and my university days as a Film, Television and Radio Studies student were filled with reading books and articles full of snide remarks before the era was given a new appreciation, but this film is really fun and kids of the time were really able to develop an emotional connection to it. It probably doesn’t match everyone’s expectation for a Cobra origin story, but I accepted it. It was a show that knew who it was, with little moments like long time gripers Wet Suit and Leatherneck watching each other’s back in a big battle and Flint helping Lady Jaye up after she falls, being worth their weight in gold. My recent watch of There’s No Place Like Springfield makes me think it’s a bit better than the movie, but I always enjoy watching this and will continue to.