G.I. Joe: A Primer For the Curious, Undecided Moviegoer

A life-or-death choice awaits us at the multiplex this weekend: to see G.I. Joe, and in so doing, temporarily narcotize the ADHD-addled 10-year-old living inside all of us, or resist the ear-punishing siren call of the sound of shit blowing up and take a stand for Truth, Justice, and the American Way of Occasionally Patronizing Quality Films.

This decision might be a tough one for readers, especially those who aren't intimately familiar with the G.I. Joe story. As a service to these people, Movieline offers this primer on the key characters in the Joe-niverse to assist in their ticket-buying decision, carefully reconstructed from our best recollections of what was once hammered into our memories each day after school and whatever we think will actually wind up on-screen. Remember, knowing is half the...something. Fight? Fight! Knowing is half the fight, terrific. We knew it'd come back to us. (The '80s were such a blur after we discovered cocaine in sixth grade.)

G.I. Joe: The film's titular fighting unit is a highly trained special missions force comprising battle-tested commandos, deadly ninjas and shapely ladies in bulletproof catsuits, all utterly dedicated to defending freedom. Once convicted by the U.S. government for Vietnam war crimes they didn't commit, the Joes escaped from a maximum-security prison and now exist in an paramilitary underground, alternating their time between battling the evil forces of COBRA and accepting small mercenary gigs on behalf of those with no one else to turn to. With so many of its resources deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American government has temporarily given up on recapturing the renegade soldiers of fortune, content to let them fight their hidden war against COBRA.

COBRA COMMAND: (Cool Outrageous Bedlam Revenge Assassins, Cunningly Overcoming Military Might with Awesome Nunchuks Destruction -- as the full acronym is a touch unwieldy, they usually just go by COBRA) is a terrorist organization bent on nothing less than total global domination. Unlike most terrorist organizations bent on total global domination, they conduct their mischief while wearing beautifully designed, ornate uniforms, often accented by elaborate helmets, metal face masks polished to an impossible sheen, and the occasional kicky cape.


Duke: Little is known about the noble freedom-fighter know as Duke, other than his love of working out and incredibly dangerous propensity for charging into battle while shirtless. "Accelerator suits are for pussies," he's been known to sneer, punctuating each syllable with a confident twitch of his imposing pecs.

General Hawk: The fearless, lantern-jawed leader of the Joes, charged with keeping his team of big personalities in line, being a rock when no one else believes victory is possible, and delivering a rousing speech about how nothing less than the future of humanity is at stake in an impending battle during which international landmarks will be lost to COBRA's monument-vaporizing depravity.


Ripcord: A wisecrackin' paratrooper specialist "who plays by his own rules," mostly because his side-career writing, producing, and acting in a series of unwatchable -- but wildly successful -- parody movies have earned him "fuck-you"-level financial security. Before parachuting from Joe's aerial attack fleet at 10,000 feet, prone to making uncomfortable jokes like, "Oh, sure, the black guy's gotta be the one to jump out of the plane. I get it," which never fail to elicit nervous laughter from colleagues eager not to be fingered as closet racists.

Scarlett: The Joes' ginger-maned counter-intelligence offer is a former stripper (seriously, the 80s were really not a proud moment in the creation of female Saturday morning cartoon characters -- we really need to look no further than Diamond, the heiress-by-day, rock-star-cum-poledancer-by-night heroine to a generation of impressionable girls for evidence of that) who joined the team after finding that her previous line of work was not as self-empowering as she'd once believed. As a member of the Joe team, found that she was just as valued for her rapier-sharp intellect as for the heaving, double-D bosom accentuated by her perpetually half-unbuttoned uniform top.

Snake Eyes: Joe's ninja, who wears black (which is cool because he's a good guy!). Everyone loves ninjas.

Storm Shadow: COBRA's ninja, who wears white (which is crazy because he's a bad guy!) Frequently ninja-fights with Snake Eyes, because they are both ninjas, and impaling helpless non-ninjas upon his katana blade no longer holds the same excitement for him.


Cobra Commander: Wears a specially designed helmet that enhances an already-severe lisp into borderline, super-sibilant incomprehensibility. That embarrassing speech impediment, like Osama bin Laden's freakish height, drove the Commander into a life of terrorism. His third-act monologue about how his parents refused to pay for a speech therapist is the dramatic high-point of the film, serving as a cautionary tale about how simple compassion could solve many of the world's ills.


Baroness: At university, the Baroness leveraged her privileged aristocratic lifestyle to gain favor with campus radicals, offering to pay for any expenses incurred in the bombing of campus administration buildings or animal-testing labs. Her deep-pocketed brand of destructive activism drew the attention of Cobra Commander, who was eager to gain access to a vast family fortune that could help advance COBRA's agenda and allow him to pay competitive rates on psychotic mercenary services.

Destro: As an arms dealer and the chief supplier of weapons technology to COBRA, Destro has amassed incredible personal wealth, most of which he invests in throwing elaborate, Eyes Wide Shut-style orgies in which all guests have their identities protected underneath metallic headgear. Indeed, it's a kinky deployment of his financial resources, but a man can only buy so many mansions as he helps a terrorist organization realize its homicidal aspirations.