When the news emerged that GI Joe: Retaliation, originally set to come out on June 29th was moved nine months to March 29th, 2013, most people were stunned. How could Paramount, which had invested millions of dollars into marketing, from advertising TV and outdoor advertising – including a Super Bowl television spot – decide to pull a $125 million summer tentpole action movie boasting a cast featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Bruce Willis from a prime loaction just five weeks before premiering? Studio insiders have revealed a medley of reasons.
The official reason was that Paramount and Hasbro had decided to capitalize on the success of 3D and post-convert the film while doing further reshoots. Paramount reportedly didn’t mind that the film was not in 3D and they needed to fill their summer slot, even though 3D is the most commercially successful type of film in theaters. This move has let Paramount pretty much sit out most of the spring and summer movie season as other movies went forward with their projects and see them fail to meet expectations. Their biggest hit was Marvel’s The Avengers, but in a deal with Marvel Studios and Disney, Paramount walks away with 8% of the film’s mammoth gross. Paramount itself released the lackluster A Thousand Words earlier in the year, and the Sacha Baron Cohen comedy The Dictator has been disappointing to say the least.
One of the bigger disappointments of the year so far was Universal’s $200+ million dud, Battleship. The movie, released May 18th, happened to be another Hasbro property, and Universal is suffering major losses due to cripping reviews and low turn-out over the sci-fi alien actioner that seemed a bit too much like a Transformers at sea with battleships. All Paramount has this summer is the concert film Katy Perry: Part of Me. Their zombie film, World War Z with Brad Pitt was moved from Christmas to June 2013, and their fantasy actioner Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters with Jeremy Renner was moved from March of this year to next January to capitalize on the actor’s growing popularity in franchise hits Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, The Avengers, and The Bourne Legacy.
With Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man reboot coming the Wednesday after the original release date of GI Joe: Retaliation, Paramount predicted that their action flick simply would have been crushed by the superhero reboot, which has The Avengers to thank for the resurgence of the superhero genre. Interestingly, Sony executives were rumored to have been disappointed with the final cut of Marc Webb’s take on the webhead, so we will have to wait to see if critics and fans agree.
Deadline also reported on the first test screenings for the film, and they ranged from “mediocre” to “bad”. While this would worry a studio at any point, this year seems to be the harshest year for studios. (Disney’s John Carter, which came out in March, may hold the record for the worst-performing film of all time, making about $50 million domestically and $200 million internationally, leaving Disney with a net loss grossing $200 million, despise critics approval of the film)
But another factor has left the film in disarray: the unexpected emergence of Channing Tatum as a bankable star.
When GI Joe: Rise of Cobra came out in 2009, Tatum led a cast featuring Marlon Wayans, Dennis Quaid, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt that was largely panned by critics and filmgoers alike. But Tatum wasn’t a star at that point. This spring, however, Tatum became one of the most sought after stars in Hollywood after being the lead in two surprise hits: the romantic drama The Vow and the action comedy 21 Jump Street. And the test audiences who saw GI Joe: Retaliation found the relationship between Tatum’s character and The Rock to be one the film’s bright spots. There was just one problem that the audiences felt hurt the film, which was that the film didn’t take time to really develop a bond between them that was crucial.
Channing Tatum’s character died in the first few minutes, as most predicted from the lack of Tatum in the trailers and ad campaigns, effectively making his role but a cameo to bridge the gap between the old Joes and the new ones. According to Moviefone, what makes this ironic was that his character, Duke, was all but killed off in the 1987 animated film, GI Joe: The Movie, but was saved in a clunky fashion (he is said to have ended up in a coma but will survive) because audiences were outraged that in 1986, Transformers: The Movie killed off Optimus Prime. To kill off Duke ran the same risks of killing off Optimus Prime.
The truth is that reshoots will alter the story and keep starpower like Tatum’s Duke alive throughout the film and make it 3D to draw the most money from the wallets of filmgoers. Director Jon M. Chu, who claimed he was “shell-shocked” by the developments, seemed to have been apparently left out of this rash decision-making, so it would be uncertain if he would be asked back to direct the reshoots. Marketing, this writer would have to assume, would also be reworked so that Channing Tatum remains the star of the film, alongside Bruce Willis and The Rock.
But one more problem remains: Paramount has allotted an extra $5 million to the movie’s budget to revise all these issues and has vowed to keep the film under $130 million. This is a bad sign. Factoring in the cost of the reshooting and bringing the cast back – including Tatum under what I would have to assume would be a significantly higher paycheck – a brand new marketing campaign that would keep audiences who waited since this year’s Super Bowl interested, resolving the issues behind their merchandising, and their 3D conversion, the film’s budget will have to balloon. A decent 3D conversion alone costs roughly between $10 – $15 million alone.
I saw a large standee of the cast and a massive poster featuring The Rock for GI Joe: Retaliation hanging inside of the Lincoln Center AMC theater here in New York City over the weekend and I thought about if I had wanted to see the movie. It looked like a great little popcorn summer flick and the first film, while cartoonish and ridiculous, had its moments. This movie looked better and – while being a Channing Tatum fan hurt by his demise – was intrigued by a Bruce Willis/The Rock team-up. Now with all these changes and problems, and a weak budget, it feels like they are treating a massive wound with a bandage. I hope they can find a way to repair it, but at this rate, I don’t think Paramount will be able to save themselves from a possible and tragically inevitable box office failure.
What are your thoughts? Excited by the developments or trouble by it? Comment below or on SaveTheSeat’s Facebook page.
This also appeared at SaveTheSeat.