This is Anthony and we are going to make our 3rd trip to the 1980’s for a Saturday Morning Cartoon. However, this trip is a big one.
It is 1987 and one of the kingpins of Saturday morning cartoons is G.I. Joe. Alongside Transformers: The Movie and My Little Pony: The Movie, Hasbro hoped to have a Triple-Double franchise in the late ’80’s: 3 franchises with box office and toy line successes. They achieved the toy successes but Transformers and My Little Pony failed spectacularly in the theaters. Hasbro decided to not chance it with G.I. Joe and released the movie direct-to-VHS. It was moderately successful. A favorite movie of mine, deep into my teens, I actually got the Cobra-La 3-pack of figures as a Christmas gift when I was 9 (1987). I’m not ashamed to admit that those figures ran roughshod over most of my other figures, including as a version of the Four Horsemen of then-NWA fame. 😉
So sit back, grab a snack and drink because this will be a long read, and enjoy the tale of G.I. Joe and their battles with Cobra and some ancient allies!
I divided the recap into 4 parts, for ease of writing and organization. The original syndication broadcast was in 5 parts.
We begin the movie in some kind of desolate-looking swamp. Cobra troops are cruising back to base, after a night of probable villany. Something is stalking them beneath the waters; you don’t get a clear view of what it is, however.
There is a “discussion” in the main Throne Room of Cobra’s base, the “Terrordrome”. Serpentor, who took over Cobra before the movie, is on his throne. Cobra Commander is also there, along with Destro, The Baroness, Doctor Mindbender, Zoltan and the biker gang, the Dreadnoks, and the rest of Cobra’s leadership. The main discussion is between Serpentor and Cobra Commander: Serpentor blames Cobra Commander’s cowardice (he’s not wrong) for their latest failure, while Cobra Commander blames Serpentor’s reckless leadership and hotheadedness for their failures (he’s also not wrong). Cobra Commander calls for the rest of the leadership to back him up; they do the exact opposite, leading to a charge of “LIES!!!” by Cobra Commander.
Note: this will not be the first time that Cobra Commander screams something in this movie.
While this verbal squabbling is taking place, the figure that was stalking the Cobra troops emerges from the swamp, in a… plant-bubble-boat?? The figure is completely covered in a cloak, except for boots and hands; the only thing you can tell about the figure is that it’s female and has… snake eyes!
She infiltrates the Terrordrome’s outer perimeter by using Pocket Snakes to chew through the electric fence (she pulled them from a pocket, so… “Pocket Snakes”). She’s also shown to hands hands that have poisonous claws on the ends of the fingers. The fence destruction sets off the alarms and mobilizes the base. Cobra Commander talks Destro, Baroness, and a few others to follow him, while the rest of the people in the Throne Room scatter to confront the intruder. Serpentor remains in the throne room, on his glider.
The intruder makes her way through the base with relative ease. If she isn’t dodging closing doors or traps, she is dispatching dozens of troops with a combination of martial arts, claws, and an array of pods that dispense some kind of knockout gas or tentacles.
Cobra Commander, having spotted her in a hallway, leads his group in the opposite direction. Sneaky Commander.
The intruder finally reaches the Throne Room and confronts Serpentor, who’s ready to fight. She, instead, reveals herself: the assassin known as Pythona. She tells Serpentor that she “is a part of your destiny” and pulls out a crystal, showing him the Broadcast Energy Transmitter – “B.E.T.” – and tells him who has it, but not what it is.
We now go the Himalayas, where Duke and the rest of G.I. Joe are with the B.E.T.. It is a satellite-type machine, capable of “pumping unlimited energy in the air, any time, any where”. After a little bit of worry from Duke, the B.E.T. fires up fine and is operational. The energy from it causes one of the Joe’s vehicles (NAME?) to go haywire, and the driver to chase after it…. and directly into oncoming Cobra troops. Apparently at the urging of Serpentor, Cobra launches an all-out assault on the Joes, headlined by a showdown between Serpentor and Duke. Where is Cobra Commander? Running his mouth, the running for his life, after the Joes counterattack. The ultimate results:
- G.I. Joe hang on to the B.E.T.
- Serpentor is knocked into the B.E.T. and electrocuted, then captured by the Joes
- Cobra Commander and the rest of Cobra head for the hills and “a safe place”.
The Joes then split up: a group, led by Roadblock, go after Cobra, while the rest go back to base, with Serpentor in tow.
Roadblock’s group catch up to the retreating Cobra troops fairly quickly; Cobra leads them on a chase to that “sanctuary” that Cobra Commander keeps mentioning. The Joes quickly realize that it’s like nothing they’ve seen before. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of plant-like buildings around(?!). As the Joes are ‘admiring’ the area (aka: “freaking the freak out“), Roadblock’s vehicle’s is grabbed and thrown… from underneath. Enter the Nemesis Enforcer.
What’s worse, Nemesis Enforcer has reinforcements: insect-like troops, known as Royal Guards.
G.I. Joe troops had almost no shot; they were routed by the combination of Royal Guards and the Nemesis Enforcer, with Cobra Commander, Baroness, and the other Cobra troops looking on in admiration. The rest of the Joes (that were not knocked out) are rounded up. Cobra Commander congratulates the mute Enforcer on a job well done; Nemesis Enforcer’s “thank you” is a backhand that sends CC spinning to the ground. Should have been done a LONG time ago.
Before Cobra Commander could make a fatal mistake and retaliate, Pythona shows up. Cobra Commander wisely backs down, but unwisely runs. The Enforcer is sent to “fetch” Cobra Commander. While this is happening, Pythona wants Cobra to break Serpentor out of prison and to steal the B.E.T.. She calms the fears of the Dreadknoks, since they aren’t exactly itching to fight G.I. Joe in their base, by presenting that pink gem she showed Serpentor at the beginning of the movie. Money cures all worries, it seems.
Back at the Joes’ base (presumably), we are introduced to General Hawk; I don’t remember him being a General in the weekly cartoon, but that was also 30+ years ago. Nevertheless, it’s been 24 hours and Roadblock and crew have not returned, and Hawk’s worried. He sends Lt. Flint off with a small group to see what’s up. While that’s going on, Beachhead has 6 new recruits that he’s training on another part of the base.
Jinx (the female Ninja, known for her ‘bad luck’, Law and Order (the military police officer and his faithful K-9 teammate), Tunnel Rat (Bomb disposal), Big Lob (a former basketball player), and Chuckles (covert ops) are at attention. Recruit #6 is missing; the other 5 have various theories as to where he is and what he’s doing.
After a moment of irritation, Beachhead sends them through various training exercises, which they all pass… but not in the ways that Beachhead intended or anticipated. For example, Jinx was supposed to spar with Recruit #6; since he’s absent, she sparred with Beachhead. She wanted to do it blindfolded; Beachhead refused and won solidly. Jinxed asked for Round 2, “on her own terms” , and Beachhead, disgusted by his first win, agreed. He was defeated: Jinx beat him blindfolded. This will come into play later.
That 6th recruit? His name is Lt. Falcon, a former green Beret, and he is at the Joes’ base’s prison, showing a woman around the place. He’s doing the stereotypical “showing off”: impressing her with knowledge, SHOOTING A LASER PISTOL AT A WALL, IN CROWDED SPACES, that sort of thing. A behind-the-back shot nearly hits an arriving Duke; Duke is not amused. He warns Falcon to shape up; Falcon ain’t hearing it and pulls rank (Duke is a 1st Sgt.; Lt. outranks him) and walks out. Duke all but throws the lady out too, after taking her camera and crushing her film because civilian cannot record on a military base, with the help of Jinx.
The woman drives to a nearby lake, removes her dress (don’t worry – she had a bathing suit on!), and is about to dive into the lake, before she’s grabbed by a Dreadnok. His reward? Being thrown, over her shoulder, into the lake. She throws a wig at him… she is actually the Dreadnok Zarana! She was in disguise: while Duke crushed the camera she had, she recorded everything on a set of earrings.
Pythona and Nemesis Enforcer (from the lake) and the rest of the Dreadnoks (from the woods near the lake) arrive on the beach, commend Zarana, and listen to Pythona, as she plans to break Serpentor out of prison that night.
On the Joes’ base, the Joes are jumpy; they sense that something is wrong.
They were right.
Falcon isn’t at his post, watching for intruders. Instead, he’s down in the vehicle bay, flirting with his now-revealed ex, Jinx. The perfect opportunity for Cobra to break in (which they do), break out Serpentor (which they do), and have the Nemesis Enforcer absolutely wreck 3 Joes (which he does).
Hawk is livid! He confines Falcon to his quarters and orders a Court Martial, since falcon has now twice screwed up royally.
We return to the “sanctuary”, revealed to be Cobra-La. A zeppelin that’s basically a giant cross between an earthworm and a millipede floated into the gigantic cavern of Cobra-La. Serpentor was inside; descending onto a carpet of bugs(!!), he meets with Golobulus, the leader of Cobra-La.
He then starts his revelations, each more shocking than the last:
- He reveals that Dr. Mindbender didn’t create Serpentor, he did. He mentally planted the suggestion and the skills into Mindbender’s mind (to the incredulity of Dr. Mindbender) with a Psychic Manipulator, a spider-like implant
- With something called the “Wisps of Remembrance”, he recounted the history of Cobra-La. In essence, Cobra-La ruled the earth 46,000 years ago. A combination of the Ice Age and the Rise of the Human Race drove them into the mountains for survival.
- The (at the time of this movie) most surprising: a nobleman of Cobra-La, disfigured in a science lab accident, was chosen to go out into the world and conquer humanity. That nobleman’s name:
Cobra Commander. And he’s about to go on trial for repeated failures in the name of Cobra-La. A giant clam rises out of a pool and opens, revealing a tied-up Cobra Commander inside.
G.I. Joe is dealing with a trial of its own: Lt. Falcon’s Court Martial. General Hawk is the head of the tribunal overseeing the trial. He brings up Falcon’s bringing of a civilian – with a camera – onto the Joes’ base, plus Falcon not being at his post, allowing Cobra to break in and injuring 3 Joes. Duke suddenly pleas for leniency for Falcon; Falcon is his half-brother. Hawk isn’t swayed… but he doesn’t order Falcon’s execution. Instead, he orders Falcon to have additional training… at The Slaughterhouse!
Cobra’s trial did not have such an ending. After Golobulus gives one of the baddest lines of the movie to Cobra Commander – “Be silent or be silenced!” – he finds Cobra Commander ‘Guilty’.
Cobra Commander is then shown in the grasp of Nemesis Enforcer, as they fly to a field of thousands of stalks of some kind of plant life, each stalk at least 40 feet tall, and Cobra Commander is unceremoniously dropped. They are “the ultimate weapon”, Golobulus explains in another revelation. Those “fungasoids”, in a few hours, will launch hundreds of pods into space; combined the with energy from a certain Energy Transmitter, the pods will burst, spreading spores everywhere. EVERY life form that those spores touch will devolve into mindless, controllable beasts, allowing Cobra-La to retake the world. Only those in Cobra-La will be spared. As a show of force – and punishment – the first test victim is Cobra Commander. Cobra Commander is held in front of Golobulus and Nemesis Enforcer, who releases the spores. Even Cobra Commander’s mask is no barrier for the spores. He immediately begins devolving into something reptilian; after a brief discussion, Cobra Commander is thrown in jail with the surviving Joes.
The trial of Cobra Commander is over.
Falcon’s aftermath is also underway. He is flown over a barren patch of land, given a parachute, and literally kicked out of a helicopter. Boot to the back! He lands and nearly skids over a cliff but manages to stop in time (ROAD RASH!!!). He’s greeted by 3 big, rough-looking dudes: the Renegades: ‘Mercer’ (ex-Cobra), ‘Red Dog’ (ex-football player), and ‘Taurus’ (ex-Circus Performer), and their leader, Sgt. Slaughter (“At ease, Disease!!”). After a “friendly” intro, Sarge tells Falcon to start running to their base, while the rest drive off. Poor Falcon. *sniffle*
Meanwhile, back at the Cobra-La ranch…
A screaming Cobra Commander is being dragged towards one of the holding cells that are housing the Joes. The Joes try to make a break for it when the cell is opened; they knock Royal Guards out of the way, but Cobra Commander warns that it’s a trap.
He was right.
The Joes are snared by vines from some weird pincher-topped towers. Only Roadblock, who was smart enough to not leave his cell, escapes… along with Cobra Commander, who offers a temporary alliance: he’ll show Roadblock the way out, and Roadblock can go to the rest of G.I. Joe and warn them about Cobra-La. The alliance is formed and the two run off… as Golobulus watches from the distance. He sics the Nemesis Enforcer on them. Nemesis catches up with the duo and a fight ensues. Spores are thrown at Roadblock, changing his eye color and blinding him, but Roadblock manages to avoid further damage by grabbing Cobra Commander and jumping into a nearby river. An enraged Enforcer searches for a bit, then flies away.
Those spore pods that Golobulus was babbling about? They were launched into orbit, to the amazement of Baroness, Destro, and the rest of human-based Cobra. Serpentor and the returned nemesis Enforcer lead a combined Cobra/Cobra-La force in search of the B.E.T.. While this is going on, Roadblock and Cobra Commander resurface from the river. Roadblock is blind but hears the spores launch. He also finds Cobra Commander’s face plate, which fell off when they emerged from the river. He can’t see CC, but we can:
The duo continue on towards the Joes.
The sun has arisen on the following day, when Falcon staggers into the Slaughterhouse. Sarge and the Renegades are finishing up breakfast; Sarge puts Falcon immediately on Kitchen Duty. Next are the obligatory “Training Sequences”, during which Sarge contacts Duke. Duke wants Sarge and his group to sneak into the Terror Drome and see what’s going on with Roadblock’s missing group, as well as possibly gathering some intel. When that message is relayed by Sarge, Falcon’s mouth – “Why not leave the weapons at home, as an Extra Training device?” – gains the admiration of Sarge and the abandonment of the weapons. I wish someone had punched Falcon in his mouth for that.
The B.E.T. is now in a civilian lab, watched by workers. One worker runs off, giggling: the Baroness, in disguise!
The Renegades land on the island where the Terror Drome is located. Using air conditioner ducts to sneak in, they arrived at the Control Room, where they eavesdrop on Serpentor. Serpentor mentions that Baroness found the B.E.T. The Renegades then plan a distraction (fighting Cobra, blowing the Armory up, etc.), while Falcon gets word to the Joes that Cobra is coming for the B.E.T.. The distraction works; the getting-the-word-out does not, as Falcon is captured, brought to Serpentor, slapped around by Serpentor, then taunts him by saying that “all I have to do is hold out for 5 more minutes”, the time left until bombs planted by Sgt. Slaughter will explode.
Speaking of Sarge, he and the Renegades pick the perfect time to bust in and engage the Cobra troops in a fire fight. Sarge rushes the Nemesis Enforcer and grapples him, but he ends that scuffle real quick when he throws an octopus-pod at Sarge’s face.
The Joes turn their attention to Serpentor. This probably saved Sgt. Slaughter’s life: instead of finishing him off, Nemesis Enforcer rushes to protect Serpentor, covering him with his wings. With Cobra scrambling, the Joes escape the Armory before it blows up; Cobra also escapes. Serpentor is not pleased.
While the Renegades are causing chaos in the Terror Drome, the bulk of Cobra is attacking the lab where the B.E.T. is hidden. The Joes scramble to defend: Duke leads the ground troops, while Lt. Flint takes the Air Support. The new Joe recruits were left at the base… until Jinx and Chuckles decide to hotwire and steal a helicopter, flying off to help the rest of the Joes – that sounds pretty illegal, to me.
The battle is a stalemate until Cobra’s Command (Destro, Baroness, etc.) arrive, touting the Cobra-La “air force” with them. Those Cobra-La jets shoot squids at their enemies! SQUIDS!!!
The Recruits arrive on the scene… only to immediately get shot down, crashing into the lab. Should have listened to Hawk and stayed behind.
Things go from bad to worse for the Joes, as Serpentor arrives with human-Cobra’s Air Force and 3 gigantic worms. One of the worms, combined with Destro and nemesis Enforcer, break into the building, crash the protective dome around the BET, and steal it, despite Duke and Scarlett’s best efforts.
The Renegades arrive and do some damage but are stopped by Serpentor and a huge gun; they retaliate by shooting him off of the side of his glider. This leaves him open for an attack by Falcon. Serpentor knocks Falcon down, preps one his snake-staffs, throws it… and Duke jumps in front of Falcon, taking a direct hit to the chest.
Duke goes down and Serpentor escapes; the rest of Cobra holds off the Joes, as a huge bat-like creature grabs and carries off the BET.
Scarlett, Flint, and Falcon rush to Duke’s side. Duke grabs Falcon’s hand and says: “promise me you’ll get your act together and make your country proud!”, before passing out and dropping into a coma*.
*In the original script, according to sources, Duke dies. This scene was changed at the last minute because of the extreme negative reaction that Optimus Prime’s death received in the Transformer movies.
Some pretty eerie music sets the scene in Cobra-La as Serpentor and Cobra return with the B.E.T. Golobulus immediately turns it on, blasting the pods in outer space with tons of energy, causing the pods to ripen.
Meanwhile, the Joes that stayed behind with General Hawk – and really haven’t had much interactions with Cobra-La – track the B.E.T. blast back to its source. hawk takes the rest of the Joes to Cobra-La… except an irate Falcon and the rest of the Recruits.
Roadblock and Cobra Commander are wandering the frozen wastes of the Himalayas – Roadblock is blind and freezing, Cobra Commander is babbling, gibbering, and devolving into a snake (“Ussseless! All ussselesss! I wasss onccce a man!”). Roadblock’s patience with everything snaps: he grabs Cobra Commander, they struggle, roll down a hill… and land in front of a Joe search party, featuring good buddy Lifeline and Flint.
Falcon contacts Flint about Hawk’s mission but is immediately warned by a frightened (yet still rhyming) Roadblock: “Tell Hawk that Cobra-La is booby trapped!” Flint tries to warn Hawk but he is just a hair too late: Hawk, his troops, and the Renegades have already breached the front door to Cobra-La and rushed in. True to Roadblock’s fears, the Joes fall prey to the bobby traps, especially those “tress” that capture the first wave of Joes.
Back at the search party’s truck, Roadblock is examined by Lifeline: his vision can be cured but Cobra Commander’s condition can’t be. Just then, the Recruits arrive… as Cobra Commander fully mutates.
The Dreadnoks are sealing every entrance point to Cobra-La, so that no stray spore enters. They are at the river that Roadblock jumped in earlier; it runs under a moderate opening in the rock… through which the recruits swim, confront, and take out the Dreadnoks.
Baroness is getting impatient with the Dreadnoks but her and Destro see them flying towards the group, until they realize it’s the Joes! The Joes turn the tables on Cobra: they are the ones now attacking all-out! They crash one of the Dreadnok flying cycles into one of the tower-plant-sickle things, knocking it to the ground, bringing down a lot of the others. The first one that fell unwrapped the vines at the top, freeing Scarlett.
The freed Joes join in the attack and we now had a massive, hand-to-hand brawl! (I noticed that men were punching, and being punched by, women; in 1987, this was pretty unheard of in movies, much less cartoons)
Golobulus then mobilizes Cobra-La itself. Things that appeared as pillars, stairs, and bridges, suddenly stand up and walk away or attack.
Hawk, Flint, and Sgt. Slaughter lead their troops towards the ballast and the B.E.T. and Golobulus. When they get close, Hawk stays behind, while Jinx, Falcon, and Sarge spot the B.E.T., seemingly unguarded, and run towards it.
The Final Fights begin to shape up, as the B.E.T. is most certainly guarded: Sarge vs. Nemesis Enforcer, Jinx vs. Pythona, and Falcon vs. Serpentor. “Prepare for Eternity” indeed, Pythona!
As Golobulus opens a long, giant pit in the ground, the fights go as such:
- Jinx and Pythona are fighting to a stalemate; however, Jinx gets enough space between her and Pythona to blindfold herself and take control of the fight; as they get close to the pit, Jinx sidesteps Pythona, causing her to fall into the pit
- Sarge and Nemesis Enforcer use brute strength to get blows in on each other, until Sarge grabs Enforcer from behind, pining his wings to his body; this leaves Sarge enough room to slam Enforcer, then powerslam Enforcer, then repeatedly drop elbows and double-fists to Enforcer’s torso, while declaring what each blow is for (“This is for Duke!” “This is for the United States of America!”) The Nemesis Enforcer gets up almost immediately but, for the first time, looks winded; Sarge grabs him and throws him into the Pit. It should be pointed out that the Enforcer does have wings.
- Falcon fares much worse against Serpentor – he takes a good beating; while on the ground, Serpentor throws a snake at him, wrapping Falcon up… until Cobra Commander returns, declares that he wassss oncccce a maaaan, and attacks Serpentor’s snake, freeing Falcon. Falcon then jumps back on Serpentor’s glider, snags his cape into one of the glider’s fans, and sends Serpentor careening off into the night, breaking through a window in Cobra-La’s dome.
This sets up the Final Fight: Falcon vs. Golobulus.
Up until this point, Golobulus had moved around in some kind of floating pod that covered his lower body. Now, he opens the pod to reveal that he is a snake from the waist down! He tries to crush Falcon and twist his head off, but falcon stabs Golobulus in the eye with a small staff. He then runs to the B.E.T. and shuts it down, to the delight of Jinx and Sarge.
Golobulus just laughs, points to the outside, and says “you are too late!”
The pods have burst; the spores are returning to Earth.
Falcon then rushes back to the B.E.T. and turns it back on, full-blast. This incinerates the spores, saving all life on Earth. Golobulus gets back into his pod and floats away. The B.E.T. then begins to overload. Stuck on the other side of that pit, Sarge then ties a belt around him and jinx, and begins to helicopter-spin her; Falcon jumps, grabs her ankles, and makes it across the pit. How Jinx wasn’t hurting after that is beyond me.
The B.E.T. then detonates in a MASSIVE explosion. The Joes get out safely, including the stragglers that were freed from the plants last. Some of the Cobra-La creatures appeared to get out. I’m assuming some Cobra troops got out; I know that Cobra High Command escaped, because they appeared on the weekly cartoons after the movie.
G.I. Joe troops are in an open area, not inside or connected to Cobra-La. On the radio, the medics call Hawk and say that Duke woke up from his coma, setting off a celebration.
Tunnel Rat and Big Lob cheer and play-punch each other.
Jinx and Falcon laugh, kiss, and hug.
As the Joes begin to head home, Jinx and Falcon are standing on a cliff, looking at the sky, Jinx points out the burning spores falling back to Earth, resembling shooting stars. The movie ends with a shot of those spores falling down.
The movie featured Don Johnson (“Lt. Falcon”) and Burgess Meredith (“Golobulus”), along with Peter Cullen, Sgt. Slaughter (as fictional Sgt. Slaughter), and Frank Welker, produced by Sunbow and Marvel Production.
This was a fun plot line: you didn’t just have G.I. Joe vs. Cobra, you now threw in a foe that was an unknown force, capable of defeating both groups with ease. The animation was decent; the voice acting wasn’t great but as a 9 year old kid, that was low on my list of cares. The music was good, especially the greatest intro theme in history.** My question is why didn’t/hasn’t someone made a sequel to this? Golobulus got away; Nemesis Enforcer, at worst, can fly out of the pit; Serpentor survived. Pythona might not have but the depth of the Pit wasn’t shown – she could have survived the fall. Oh, well. COBRAAA!
** I was being slightly sarcastic about that intro; however, watch it and see if the theme doesn’t get stuck in your head!
I hope you enjoyed the recap – it was a long one to write!