Bruce Willis as General Joe Colton, founder of team G.I. Joe? That’s just what the franchise needs to re-ignite interest as we approach the 50th anniversary of the guy that launched the modern action figure.
G.I. Joe has gone through several incarnations since “America’s movable fighting man” was released as a 12-inch action figure by Hasbro in 1964. He started out as one of four U.S. Service soldiers. In 1970 with the Vietnam War all over television Hasbro switched gears to Joe as member of the Adventure Team, when the action figure also got “life-like” hair. (Personally, I had the army soldier with the brown beard and later added the dark-haired soldier without the beard). Here are 12-inch Joes landing at Comic-Con this year:
In 1974 G.I. Joe got the famous kung fu grip to replace the hard plastic, reversed-hand that had served as Hasbro’s trademark (and was actually used to catch international imports of fake Joes). He always had a trademark facial scar, too. Hey, so did Willis in Hart’s War…
In 1975, to compete with the popular 12-inch Six Million Dollar Man action figure, Hasbro introduced Mike Power, the Atomic Man. These two characters duked it out on many occasions in living rooms across the country. The last of the original Joes was released in 1976. In 1982 G.I. Joe would return in 3 3/4 inch action figures, closer in size to the popular Star Wars action figure line, but with knee and elbow joints. In 1985 these little G.I. Joe figures were the top selling American toy. They have been available in varying versions ever since, and between 1991 and 2005 the 12-inch line of figures returned.
Meanwhile between 1980 and 1994 Marvel Comics had a G.I. Joe title that mirrored the action figure line. In 1985 a cartoon series focused on good (G.I. Joe) vs. evil (Cobra) as opposed to true-life war. In the cartoon G.I. Joe became synonymous with an early Seal Team Six type of special forces. This was followed by various animated movies, including many that went direct to video. In 2009 G.I. Joe finally hit the silver screen in the movie G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, a good action movie that didn’t take itself too seriously, had a lot of great action, great writing, and–with a lot of references to the original Joe story and toys–was just all-out fun.
So who is Joe Colton? It wasn’t until the 1980s that the action figures and cartoon characters got their own names, origins, and developed stories. For decades there never was a single action figure or character named Joe, consistent with the historic reference to the G.I.s as G.I. Joes from years past, derived from an earlier comic strip with no relation to the Hasbro line. General Joseph B. Colton did not appear as a named character with the early toy line, or with the animated series, but surfaced with the Marvel Comics comic book series, first with Issue 86. His character is flushed out in later comic book series as the leader of the elite G.I. Joe special forces unit.
Which brings us to the sequel to G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, titled G.I. Joe: Retaliation. If Retaliation follows the comic book line, Cobra may have some success against General Hawk, the hero of Rise of Cobra, played solidly by a tough-as-nails Dennis Quaid. Which leaves a key role for General Joe Colton. And Bruce Willis is now in discussions to play Colton in Retaliation. I can’t think of anyone better as an action hero in G.I. Joe. Even at 56 who better can face an uphill battle, walking barefoot across broken glass if need be, especially against the likes of the evil Cobra? What more could you want? Maybe a cameo by Arnold Schwartzenegger and Sylvester Stallone? Although it is not yet confirmed that Willis has signed on as Joe, the Internet Movie Database lists Willis as the lead.
Already signed up for G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Channing Tatum will return as Captain Duke Hauser, Ray Park (Darth Maul in Star Wars: Episode I) as Snake Eyes and Byung-hun Lee as Storm Shadow. New characters out of past incarnations that will appear include Dwayne Johnson (fka The Rock) as Roadblock, Adrianne Palicki as Lady Jaye, Joseph Mazzello (the little kid in Jurassic Park!) as Mouse, Arnold Vosloo (Imhotep from The Mummy) as Zartan, Elodie Yung as Jinx, and as D.J. Cotrona as Flint. But no Scarlett or Baroness??? While you go back to watch Rise of Cobra, in case you haven’t seen it yet, try counting the classic nostalgic catchphrases, like “you have kung fu grip” and “you’re a real American hero.”
Other reasons why Bruce Willis is made for a G.I. Joe role? He’s already trained for the part:
He’s saved American cities four times as Detective John McClane in the Die Hard movies
He sleuthed out the bad guy as Detective Sergeant Tom Hardy in Striking Distance
Butch Coolidge, son of a war hero who gets his watch back, in Pulp Fiction
He saved the whole planet as Korben Dallas in The Fifth Element
He saved the world (again) as driller turned Astronaut Harry Stamper in Armageddon
And he actually played a soldier as Major General William Devereaux in The Siege
and again, as a special ops commander as Lieutenant A.K. Waters in Tears of the Sun
Convinced yet? Go Joe! Go Bruce!