Whether or not you’re a G.I. Joe fan, there’s no denying that the enthusiasm G.I. Joe: Retaliation director Jon M. Chu has for the toys, comics and cartoons is quite infectious to the point where even someone like myself, who never quite got into all aspects of the classic ‘80s G.I. Joes like someone people did–I read the comics and that’s it–finds myself even more intrigued by the fandom behind them every time I speak with him.
Bearing that in mind, SuperHeroHype got on the phone with Chu last week to talk about the movie’s Blu-ray and DVD release, finding out how the actual toys were used to create the film’s big mountain top set piece as well as some of the extra scenes you’ll have a chance to see that you didn’t get to see in theaters. We also talked briefly about how excited he is to have a chance to continue working in the world of G.I. Joe with a sequel they’re already actively figuring out.
SuperHeroHype: I felt like we talked so much doing the pre-movie stuff at Toy Fair and CinemaCon, and I feel like I never actually got a chance to talk to you after seeing the movie.
Jon M. Chu: (laughs) Nice, nice.
SHH: I actually got a double dose of “The Rock” yesterday, because I rewatched “Retaliation” after seeing “Fast & Furious 6″ in theaters so that was a fun dose of testosterone for me.
Chu: Awesome. I miss The Rock. I haven’t seen him for a bit, but I know he’s busy shooting “Hercules.” He’s been shooting non-stop, he keeps shooting more movies.
SHH: He’s had a crazy year because he literally had a movie every month for the first four months and he’s really good in all of them. This is an interesting sequel because normally when you do a sequel, you go back to the original movie and take what works in terms of bringing all the characters back and recreate that chemistry. This is a bit of an anomaly since it’s a sequel where you came in and it had already been changed from what they did in the first movie. Can you talk about your instincts to approach a sequel like that?
Chu: Yeah, it was definitely a difficult challenge that we were given when I first came onto the project and the script was pretty much written. They wanted to do a reboot but not reboot because it was a sequel. A lot of people saw the first movie so we don’t want to alienate that and redo the whole thing. (laughs) “Okay I think I understand that.” The only thing that got me through all that stuff was that I remember when the first movie came out and I was so excited and I remember thinking about the movie I wanted to see and how excited I was for that. That movie was not that, but it was still fun and I loved the movie, but it wasn’t exactly the G.I. Joes that I remember growing up or what I would have loved to see as a fan. The fact that I already had a clear idea of “I already know what a G.I. Joe movie should be and does this script get us there and help make that transition and can we make enough sense of it that gets us to a different part of the G.I. Joe Universe?” And thinking about the tradition of G.I. Joe that oftentimes, they reinvent it and that’s just part of the tradition of G.I. Joe, I thought we could get away with it. Definitely, some of our first conversations with Lorenzo and Hasbro and Paramount were like, “Let’s feel the power of the punch in this movie. Let’s not do laser guns, let’s not do big FX, let’s build everything. Let’s make sure that audiences feel the texture and that people know these characters as real human beings.” When we got Rock and then we got Bruce Willis, that took our idea to another level. It perfectly set up what we were going after in this movie.
SHH: I imagine you must have had a lot of the toys when you were a kid so how much motivation was it to do this movie so you could get every G.I. Joe toy Hasbro makes if you directed the movie?
Chu: You know, I probably had a lot of toys as a kid, but I have more toys now from Hasbro than ever before. They’ve been a great partner and they’re pretty awesome. They even made me my own G.I. Joe, a G.I. Jon (laughs)… I don’t think they’re selling it anywhere, but it’s fun to have on my desk and show people that it’s a dream come true and then I have all my movie characters next to me so it’s fun to have them all in one sort of motif together with myself.
SHH: Getting Dwayne and Bruce Willis were pretty big coups for the movie and another one was the mountain top battle, which I’ve watched a couple times and I really think it’s one of the best action sequences of the year. Was that something in the script fairly early on, that set piece?
Chu: That was pretty early. Now what it became is not what it was. We didn’t know that. But it was a big sequence with the idea that they’re going to infiltrate this temple on a mountain top and that they were going to use ropes and stuff to get up there. There was kind of a two-page sequence, but we took it to like a nine-page sequence without any dialogue and we had the whole ninja joust, the ziplining, all that crazy stuff. We actually used toys to help communicate what it should be, because it’s hard to describe so we finally got the toys from Hasbro, set them up on a bunch of couches and chairs and got our CG guys, our stunt people, our professional mountain climber people and showed what we wanted the ninjas to do. “From this couch, to this chair. They jump over here and go through this tunnel and go over this.” Then our mountain climber guys would say, “Okay if you’re going to do that then you’ll need a mountain here for the pick point and you’ll need a mountain here for this pick point” so that’s how we built the sequence was with toys.
SHH: That whole sequence is based on the “Silent Interlude” comic and I was curious what that looked like in the script because that would have to be fairly descriptive.
Chu: The action was sort of designed in the script. I remember reading “Silent Interlude” in the first script and when I read that I was like, “Yeah these guys know what they’re talking about” and I just had to recently go back and relook at “Silent Interlude” again and try to get the most iconic moments they had and why it works so well. It was also such a seminal moment for the G.I. Joe comic book series that it shifted from being a commercial about toys to a bonafide comic book that had some artistry to it. We wanted that same moment for G.I. Joe, for the movie franchise, so it represented to us a moment of the shift that it became ours. It was also a planting of the flag in the ground for us, a sense of pride that we could see the future of where G.I. Joe was going to be in this one sequence.
SHH: I haven’t had a chance to watch all the extras yet, but you obviously had a lot of extra time in post while you converted the movie to 3D, so did any scenes not make it to the final movie that you’re happy to be seen? (Note: This response has a small spoiler about a cool twist early in the movie in case you haven’t seen it yet.)
Chu: So many. We had so many scenes, it hurt every time we had to cut them. They say that you’re never finished with your movie until you cut your favorite scene. (laughs) In a weird crazy way, the delay saved one scene for us that I’m so happy that we did not cut. We were making the movie for Joe fans. We were making the movie for people who were into Joe, but people who didn’t know anything about Joe, which is an audience that Paramount really wants obviously, they didn’t understand who the two ninjas were—why would one ninja be in black and the other ninja be in white? Why do they hate each other and why does one dress up as the other? They just got really confused and was like “It’s just Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, they’ll get it,” but the audiences were really confused, so we had stuff at the beginning of the movie, the ninja story that I loved so much that we had to take out to clarify it, not to introduce Storm Shadow until much later in the movie… and Snake Eyes, actually—they don’t come until 45 minutes into the movie. Whereas before, we had it all integrated. Our first cut, the movie we would have released a year prior, we had cut a scene that was one of my favorite scenes which was when Walt Goggins takes him into the prison and it’s confusing because he comes in as Snake Eyes and he takes off the mask and he’s Storm Shadow. For people who don’t know who is who, they’re very confused. We had taken that whole opening scene out and just came into the prison as if Storm Shadow was always in this prison, but (Walton) Goggins was no longer a character anymore and I had to call Walt Goggins and tell him this and it was really hard and then we got the delay, I was like “I know I can make it work” so we did some ADR (additional dialogue recording) and put the scene back in and thank God, it made it in and it helped show that we’re in on the joke. Walt Goggins is awesome and I don’t think people got too confused about it anyway, but those little things definitely helped.
SHH: Any other scenes on the DVD that you ended up having to cut out of the movie that you’re glad they’re going to be able to see?
Chu: We have this great bar scene with Channing and The Rock that was really fun to show camaraderie amongst the Joes, but it was just one extra scene too much for us in terms of us beginning with the video game scene, but I love the scene because it’s fun and crazy, and then we had a great Dojo scene of the training between Snake Eyes and Jinx. In our movie, it’s sort of chopped up and really quick and it has a voice-over on it. This one is the actual scene and this used to open the movie. This used to be the start of our movie, but again because of the clarity because the people didn’t know “The guy in the black is actually the guy in the white dressed up as him” so we had to take it out and move it later in the movie, but we have that full sequence and we have a storyline about Snake Eyes and Jinx’s relationship throughout the movie that we had to lift because we didn’t introduce them until later in the movie. We get to put that in the movie now and you get to see the whole thing so I’m really excited we had that opportunity.
At this point, we branched off and started talking to Chu about his development on a movie based on Masters of the Universe which you can read by clicking here, but then we returned to G.I. Joe since he thinks that movie might go first.
SHH: You mentioned that a lot about the sequel will depend on Dwayne’s schedule, so he’s definitely on board to do another movie?
Chu: I mean, I can’t confirm or deny those reports, but yeah we’re continuing and of course The Rock is our leader and he really displays what G.I. Joe is and what the future G.I. Joe will be, but we’re trying to figure all that stuff out right now.
SHH: One of the good things about this next movie is that you’re on board early on as opposed to “Retaliation” where they already had a script done before you came on to direct. Have you already been talking to Hasbro and to writers about which characters you want to bring back?
Chu: Oh yeah. It’s been fun to play around with all the different possibilities. Now that I’m starting from the ground up, it’s a lot more fun actually. I can pull things out from random references to things that I’ve always wanted to see in person and I’m really excited to play within that sandbox.
SHH: When was the last time you read through the comic series or watched the cartoons to find stuff?
Chu: I actually have a cheat sheet, the “Now You Know” book that I go through all the time, and it literally walks me through the cartoons, the comic books, the character cards that you can get all in one place instead of trying to read one thing and then another thing and then it get confusing, especially because some of them are not consistent with each other, so this sort of helps organize the whole thing and it comes in a nice, tight little book so there’s a couple things I get to use as my cheat sheet to remind myself what happened and where and how it all unfolded.
SHH: I’m sure the cool people at Hasbro have a lot of ideas of which characters they want to introduce, too.
Chu: Yes, for sure, and I can always call them and say, “Do you think it would be cool if we do a new B-Kat or something?” and they’ll go “Yeah, we got this really cool…. You can come to our room and see all the different designs we ever had and the history of how we got there.” Or a character they’re working on now. “Oh, that’s a good idea for a character and we can cross-pollinate that way.”
SHH: A friend asked me to ask you whether or not there are any plans to bring in the Crimson Twins, Tomax and Xamot, but I’m not sure if he asked me as a joke to set me up for some sort of crazy answer or not.
Chu: (laughs) I think he’s being serious. We get a lot of that. We get a ton of the Crimson Twins all the time. There are several character that we get a ton of. I don’t know why people love these twins, but they go berserk for them, but yes we get that comment a lot.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation is available on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, July 30.