I know—shocking, right?
I’m not here to talk about all of G.I. Joe. The franchise began in the early ’80s, and there has been a lot of it. I mean, if you’re interested, watch this collection of G.I. Joe intros—it’s just from ’83 until ’87. Spoiler alert: the opening sequences are terrible and sound like someone’s particularly lame 1940s dad just wandered into the room and started singing an intro song that he made up on the spot. It does not even sound nice at all until almost four and a half minutes in, and you realize that this new theme (to a G.I. Joe animated film) that you are hearing is singing about Cobra (the bad guys).
G.I. Joe may not be responsible for their gimmicky weapons, endless racial stereotypes, villains who openly refer to themselves as such, or for having soldiers who fight a war using primarily non-lethal weapons, or telling a story about a war in which almost no one ever dies. Those are consequences of being a television in the 1980s, sadly. People thought that they were being “progressive” by including black characters, but these characters were almost always big, strong black men. Similarly, the “progressive” move of including Native Americans kind of goes away when your token Native American is an expert tracker with a pet eagle.
But, specifically, I wanted to talk about G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra. Which I totally watched, because of course I did. Some films (The Last Airbender, Superman Returns) are too offensively awful in the face of characters and stories that I already love for me to watch. Though I watched some G.I. Joe when I was little (I was born in 1987, so certainly not all of this), this particular franchise did not fall under the “I love it too much to see its name sullied on the big screen,” category.
Which is good, because G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra (which came out in, I want to say, 2009?) was comically bad. Oh, it was visually beautiful. I love scifi technology—even ridiculous scifi technology. And I loved some of the actors (not Channing Tatum—I’m sure that he’s a wonderful person, but I just don’t have the “All-Must-Love-Channing-Tatum” gene). But mostly, yeah, I wanted an easy-viewing film with entertaining fictional weaponry. I loved the bad guys (they weren’t called Cobra at first) and their aircraft and their underwater base and their “pulse” weapons. I loved the mechanical suits that the Joes themselves had. And the ridiculous gimmicky high-tech crossbow that Scarlet carried.
Which brings me to discussing the women in the film—all two of them.
Scarlet, one of the protagonist “Joes,” is seen as intellectual but also super attractive. She is the primary love interest of the second-most-prominent protagonist. She initially rebuffs his advances for an absurd pseudo-intellectual reason which I cannot even bring myself to type—but it sounds like something that even Karl Pilkington would find simplistic. And then she changes her mind.
The other female, the one who initially looks as though she will be the “strong female character,” is the Baroness. Now, I have not seen every version of the G.I. Joe series (I don’t think that I would survive if I tried), but apparently, for the film, they made this powerful female antagonist actually a damsel-in-distress, because she was actually the protagonist’s long-lost love and is now under the influence of mind-control but only her true love for him can overcome it.
I’m okay with people mustering up the willpower to overcome mind-control. Really. It’s the rest. Taking this powerful character (typically a highly competent European aristocrat who shares Cobra’s ideals—whatever those may be—and devotes herself to the cause and plays something of a Darth Vader role in overseeing Cobra’s projects) and reducing her to a formerly blonde, long-lost love of the protagonist is insulting and a really unnecessary blow to women.
And, honestly, it says a lot about what studios believe that their testosterone-fueled lowbrow male viewers expect to see from women in an action film. And that’s really sad. Not surprising, but sad.
PS: I would be lying if I said that what they did to Baroness was the worst thing in these films. I mean, it’s not even clear why the bad guys are the bad guys. I mean, yes, they destroy the Eiffel Tower, but the Eiffel Tower is an eyesore so I won’t pretend that that got me riled up. But, honestly, from the minimal characterization that the villains received, it sounds like the bad guys want to create a more ordered, safer world. I wouldn’t start that by destroying a number of cities (with nanites—neat—which inexplicably have to be “armed” by CERN or something, which is ludicrous), but I guess that you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet? Or am I the only audience-goer who doesn’t see “wanting to take over the world” as an automatic villain trait? Whatever.
PPS: By the way, I never thought that I would say this, but I did, quite recently, discover an actually quite good GI Joe series. It’s from just a couple of years ago. They only got one season, but the animation and writing were both much better than they had to be. It’s GI Joe: Renegades, and if you’re at all interested (neither Scarlet nor Baroness are reduced to boobs-in-distress roles), I strongly recommend that you check it out. Even though I know how absurd it sounds that I am recommending anything that begins with: “GI Joe.”