As soon as Movie Fanatic landed in Las Vegas, we were swept over to Rave Cinemas for a sizzle reel and preview of the G.I. Joe: Retaliation trailer that we premiered earlier this week. The footage was impressive as producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura (Transformers, Red) and director Jon Chu have outdone themselves with taking a lauded franchise in an entirely different direction. The casting coup was nabbing Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Roadblock to lead the Joes on their next mission. As Chu called Johnson “franchise Viagra” after his work on Journey 2 and Fast Five, the helmer is hoping for the same influx of energy for his G.I. Joe.
We caught up exclusively with Di Bonaventura, Chu and Johnson here and got inside the recharged lifeblood of a franchise born decades ago that salutes our country’s soldiers and their sacrifice. Director Chu, after helming Justin Bieber’s Never Say Never, was brought to the attention of producer Di Bonaventura by Paramount and was thrilled to meet with the helmer. “What he did with that Bieber movie, which could have been anything — which I thought turned into a really good movie — it was really shocking,” Di Bonaventura said.
They also had a director in Chu who had been all about G.I. Joe since childhood. “Paramount said that this guy knows the franchise inside and out.”
Johnson said his director’s desire to bring the best Joe possible was palpable. “We have a hell of a director who is so passionate about the title, the franchise, the comics, the cartoons… everything,” the actor added.
Di Bonaventura too shared a joy for everything Joe, as his father represented the real life heroes. “My dad was a G.I. He was a paratrooper in World War II and I grew up with that,” he said and smiled. “I’ve had the opportunity to make movies with the military — this is not a military movie — but it has the connotation because of it. What that stands for is an unbelievable faith in decency and willingness to sacrifice and a desire to protect the innocent. They are really great values.”
The producer had managed to put two action heroes, Johnson and Willis, in the same movie — something no one has ever been able to do before. “It was fun. It just happened. I wish we could say we were so smart that we organized it. We didn’t,” Di Bonaventura said.
“As we began to cast the movie, you have this character named Roadblock. You go, ‘Who could play Roadblock?’ It’s kind of like, ‘Duh.’ Fortunately Dwayne was available. I had worked with Bruce on Red so I just called him up: ‘We’re interested in your playing a guy named Joe Colton, who’s the original G.I. Joe.’ He said, ‘I played with G.I. Joes!’ He immediately got it. For him, it was an opportunity to relive his own childhood.”
Joining Willis in that virtual sandbox was Chu. The gig not only is a huge jump career-wise for the director, but also in some ways a means to meet a destiny forged in childhood. “The personality of all the Joes, is always been a part of my personality. Snake Eyes was one part. I would draw him on my books at school all the time. Roadblock with his rhyming and his cooking — they all had human characteristics that I adored. The bad guys were always kick-ass too. We tried to bring all of those aspects to the movie.”
Not one to let all the testosterone get all the spotlight, it is clear Chu is taken with the talents of Adrianne Palecki in G.I. Joe: Retaliation. “I loved her work on Friday Night Lights. She’s stunning. I didn’t know how she would be with the guns when she first met with us. She came in and grabbed the guns like she was born with them in her hands,” Chu said. “She holds her own with Bruce!”
“We pay true homage and respect to the mythology of G.I. Joe. We went to great lengths to make sure that they were happy — from the military fatigues to the design, the costumes and making sure we pay honor to it,” Johnson said. “When you have that foundation of paying homage to the mythology, then you can branch off and grow from that. The foundation has to be solid.”