Picking up yesterday where we left off with Jon Chu at the American International Toy Fair, we now set our sights on Lorenzo di Bonaventura, the producer of “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” as well as the first film and the “Transformers” series. I’m a bit of a skeptic after the first film, the financially successful “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” failed to resemble anything that would remind one of, you know, G.I. Joe. In our discussion, di Bonaventura explains why that happened, further confirms that the Cobra Commander that we see in “Retaliation” is not the one that we saw in “Rise of Cobra,” and hints at a possible return of Destro.
(Like yesterday, I will warn you: this is a very nerdy G.I. Joe discussion.)
When I was in 2nd grade, my parents bought me Grunt and Flash so I’d stop playing with “Star Wars” toys.
Grunt’s in this movie. It’s a small part, but, yeah.
I watch the trailer for this movie and I find myself getting excited. I did not feel the same way for the first movie.
Well [Laughs], I worked on both.
I know. That’s why I’m glad you’re here.
I think what happened is the first one, we were trying to do a lot of things. It’s very hard to start a franchise — and it succeeded at doing that. By and large, I think people thought it was a great ride. Stephen [Sommers] did not grow up a Joe fan and I think that’s one of the big differences between the two movies: that Jon Chu did. He knows those characters inside and out. And when he came in to first meet with me, he was rattling off all the stuff — he knew the most intimate details of things.
Was there any thought of just starting over?
No. I never thought about that. It’s not a reboot; it’s an evolution. First of all, there are characters from the first one: Jonathan Pryce is back, Lee Byung-hun is back…
Zartan, yeah. And Snake Eyes. So you’ve got four characters. Am I forgetting anybody else? I think that’s it. So it’s an interesting hybrid.
How did you decide what characters to bring back? Obviously Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow is a no-brainer.
Well, the first time there was a big debate between Duke and Flint– I’m sorry, Channing Tatum is in the movie as well. I keep forgetting. So in the first movie we debated between Flint and Duke to be the lead. And Heavy Duty and Roadblock was a big debate, now we’ve got Roadblock. And Jon has his favorites — he loves Grunt. And there are a few other Joe surprises. Some names of enterprises that Joe fans will recognize and non-Joe fans will have no idea of. There are quite a few Easter eggs.
I know Joseph Gordon-Levitt is not in this movie. But is the Cobra Commander in this movie the same character we saw in the first movie?
So it’s a different guy?
So someone else took over?
Someone else took over, yes.
I never understood his costume from the first film. I saw the “he would look like he’s from the Ku Klux Klan” excuse…
Which he did.
The hooded version. But not the version with the face shield helmet. I was confused why that costume wasn’t used.
Well, you know what. The first one suffered from one thing a lot: which was we had no time to make it. They green lit the movie and we were shooting ten weeks later. That’s insane. In this movie we were designing things seven months before we shot. So when you have no time to do anything, your first design comes through. Literally, Storm Shadow’s costume, we never saw it until it showed up on set.
For the new film, was there any thought of bringing back Destro. He’s a popular character. Even if Christopher Eccleston didn’t want to come back, it wouldn’t matter now that he has the mask, right?
You’re smiling. There’s something going on.
Yeah, there is. But, Destro, you’ll see Destro again. You’ll see Destro again. For sure. If not in this one, perhaps in another one. You’ll see.
How do you get the G.I. Joe fans back who feel burned after the first film?
Well, there are people like you… well, it’s pretty evenly split. There are some people who feel as strongly as you and there are some who feel like, “Well, it wasn’t really that, but I enjoyed it.” Look, you learn a lot the first time out. Did it not take itself seriously enough? Was that part of the problem? Because, for me, these movies are about tone.
I would say that’s part of the problem. And the people who grew up with the Larry Hama comic books like a more serious tone, for the most part, as opposed to the cartoon.
And we tried to fuse the two, which is always tricky. Jon grew up with it. So he owns it in a way that you can’t learn it in the way that he owns it. So I think you’ll find the authenticity to be very close to what you think. And everybody has their own interpretation, so I don’t think anybody can do it all the way for everybody. But I think you’ll say, “That’s the Joe I know.” Did you like Firefly?
He’s so good in the movie.
For people like me, yeah, I want to see Firefly.
So, like Jon, one of the first things he said was, “We have to figure out Firefly.” And I’m like, “OK. We’ll figure out Firefly.”
Mike Ryan is the senior writer for Moviefone. He has written for Wired Magazine, VanityFair.com, GQ.com, New York Magazine and Movieline. He likes Star Wars a lot. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter