With G.I. Joe: Retaliation’s new trailer blasting onto our screens, there’s a whole new world of Cobra scheming, Bruce-and-Dwayne buddy mayhem, weaponised ‘tec, mysterious ninjas and exploding avalanches for us to chew over. So what’s Cobra's devilish plan? What happens to Channing Tatum’s Duke in that opening reel? And what in the name of the Olympics is happening to London? Who better to talk us through the carnage than Retaliation’s director, Jon Chu? We engaged Empire’s satellite to track down the Step Up 3D and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never man to a Hollywood lot where he promised us “a big action-adventure summer movie” that will introduce G.I. Joe to a new generation. But what was it like going from Bieber to Bruce?
Justin Bieber and Bruce Willis have a lot more in common than you’d think! It’s fun to do that jump as a storyteller. I was never a professional dancer before I did the Step Up movie but I love to throw myself into a world, absorb it and fall in love with it. I grew up with ‘Joe’ - I had all the toys and used to watched the cartoons every afternoon - and this movie will introduce it to a new generation.
We’re calling these ‘Fireflies’. When we sat down with Hasbro for the first time, they said: “Weaponry and vehicles – that is G.I. Joe.” We brought some of their designers on our design team and we started designing stuff, stuff that we loved and stuff that we wanted to revamp, and we just picked the things that looked interesting. That was one of the most fun parts of the process.
I wanted Roadblock in the movie too because he’s such a cool, fun character. When we paired Dwayne (Johnson) up with the character it was like ‘BANG!’. The same went for Joe Colton (Bruce Willis), the original Joe, so you have all these different generations of Joes together.
The opening sequence was one of the first things we shot. We bring all the Joes together and some shit goes down. We shot in Baton Rouge of all places. There’s this open desert area in the middle of all that swampland and forest.
All I can say [about Duke] is that you never know what’s going to happen in G.I. Joe, and just when you think you know, you may not. Will there be a third-act curveball? I don’t want to give away too much away - just expect the unexpected!
We did throw The Rock down a well. We built it with all this water underneath and I gave Dwayne a small GoPro camera and told him to drop right when he falling, hoping that it would go slightly faster than him and get him as he was falling. On the first try it was absolutely perfect – like something out of Alice In Wonderland – all with this $200 camera the size of your palm.
Just roll all the cameras and get what you can! When you have an icon and a legend, and you’ve never seen them interact on screen before, that’s a lot of fun. They have a one-liner off in the movie. Bruce doesn’t just do his own thing. He started making fun of Adrianne (Palicki) in the scene as Joe, and Dwayne didn’t know what to do with this. He was laughing but not really bringing it to the scene, and then he went in on it too and she was giving it back to him, and that was great. She could come back faster than both of them.
We wanted to strip away some of the gear. The Joes have to start from the ground up because they don’t have the advantage of the weaponry; Cobra has everything. They’re without weapons so it’s about ‘What does it mean to be a soldier?’
Jonathan Pryce plays both the good guy and the bad guy, Zartan, and his energy would definitely change as he switched back and forth. In one scene you’re rooting for him; in the next, you totally want him to die. I’ve got a lot of respect for that guy. Zartan is indulging in every scene. When I asked what the big idea in the film was, they said: “The Joes have to assassinate the President of the United States.” Cobra are now the Joes and they’re seen in the world as a force for good.
Jonathan is kinda like evil Zartan in real life. His humour is so funny but I first met him I thought he hated my guts! He’s totally flat and he doesn’t give you an inkling that he’s joking.
We figured that America cities have had it a lot in movies so we tried to work out which city hasn’t been blown up on screen. We have a bunch of English people in our VFX crew and they suggested London, so we said “let’s do it!” The other option was to have the Parisians just finishing rebuilding the Eiffel Tower and then blow it up again!
I don’t want to give too much away about our homage [to the ‘Silent Issue’], or what Storm Shadow and Snake-Eyes are going up against or what’s going on in the scene. It’s not an entirely silent interlude but we decided to have an 11 minute fight scene with no dialogue. Did I think it would work? I don’t know, but we wanted to try it. It was one of our longest sequences to shoot - it spanned weeks. It was a very complex scene, but it was worth it because this is something that no-one’s seen before. We wanted to have at least one thing that no-one’s seen before, with a character that no-one would expect to see, in every action piece in the movie.
Snake Eyes was always one of my favourite characters - I used to draw him on my school notebooks. To get him and Roadblock and Joe Colton into the same frame is awesome.
Retaliation is part Saving Private Ryan, part 007, part Indiana Jones, part Kung Fu Hustle. We always thought of this as a mash-up film – G.I. Joe was always the ultimate mash-up before mash-ups even existed – and the more genres we can mash-up in it the better. We’re one of the only properties than can get away with mixing all these things up. That’s the fun.G.I. Joe: Retaliation is out in the UK on August 3.