Violence is one of the hardest things to explain to a child – take it from a father of three sons. You can’t simply say, “Don’t ever hit someone”, because it doesn’t take much to imagine an occasion when, for example, in self-defence, hitting might be necessary. But neither do you want them to glory in violence; men should feel the pain of every wound they inflict. Navigating such a parenting minefield is difficult and G.I. Joe: Retribution is doing me no favours.
Retribution is the follow-up to Paramount’s 2009 action-adventure G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra. The conclusion of that toy-inspired rollercoaster saw Cobra Commander imprisoned and the elite G.I. Joe unit congratulated on a job well done. In this follow-up, the evil villain’s henchmen connive to impersonate the president, seize a swag of Pakistani nukes, eliminate the G.I. Joe regiment and release their commander in a single weekend. The three surviving Joes, led by the burly ‘Roadblock’ (Dwayne Johnson) have to clear their reputation, recapture the president and save the world from a complete destruction in even less time. Sound like child’s play? There’s a reason for that…
Paramount’s co-producer is Hasbro, one of the world’s largest game and toy producers and this release is all about the after-market sales. Brian Goldner, Hasbro’s President and CEO says 3D films and television animations are proving to be profitable marketing exercises for children’s toys. “Through our own Hasbro Studios for television and in partnership with several movie studios including Paramount, Universal, Sony and Relativity, we are creating entertainment experiences around many of our highly popular iconic brands,” he told investors last year. “We continue to believe, absent the impact of foreign exchange, we will again grow revenues and earnings per share.”
But in order to continue the 'ka-ching' at the cash register, storylines and worldviews have to become subservient to more important priorities – like showing off character’s features, battle packs and vehicles. Science? History? These all take a back seat to sales. Take even a touch of reality into this film and you’re bound to be disappointed. The physics behind Cobra’s ultimate weapon is at least a thousand years out of date. But this one’s for the kids, right? So what are they likely to emerge with?
What kids can learn from GI Joe
Well, to begin with, they'll learn that guns are cool. Roadblock has a huge .50 calibre; Lady Jaye a rifle with optic-guided bullets. And the more guns you have, the cooler you are. General Joe Colton’s kitchen is just overflowing with automatic weapons, right down to a fruit bowl full of grenades. In fact nothing says ‘Man’ better than a firearm … unless it’s a sword. Retaliation is just teeming with ninjas, busy hacking away and hurling any number of pointy objects. But don’t let this violence worry you, Hasbro’s got you covered. Thousands are shot to pieces, sliced open, blown up and dropped to their deaths without a single drop of blood because that would imperil the film’s market-friendly M rating. Oh, wait, I tell a lie. You see some red when the president is shot. Don’t worry, it’s in the arm and he says he’s fine.
And that’s the second lesson: the violent struggle for what is right has few personal consequences. Some good guys are ‘lost’ but their comrades go on, emotionally and physically unscathed. Now Christians have been accused of creating some scientifically backward, even dangerously violent fantasies and pedaling them to children. Without entering into that debate I’d like to suggest we don’t look so bad alongside Hasbro. Jesus’ death on the cross is a case in point. Jesus doesn’t need a sword to mark him out, but he’s clearly the sort of character kings and governors can’t stare down. Yet when he puts his life on the line we’re left in no doubt his commitment is backed by real sacrifice. The Bible doesn’t hide from the punishment involved, noting everything from the nails that pierced his hands to the sweat ‘like drops of blood’ that stood out on his forehead. These are just as clearly pains he could have avoided but he bears them for you and me. Hasbro would have a hard time building a product range around this worldview. Real courage isn’t measured by the lives you take but the one you’re prepared to live, and the noblest pains aren’t those you inflict but the ones you suffer for others.
Good lessons for growing boys, but not ones you’re likely to learn from G.I. Joe.
Should you watch GI Joe with your children?
I’ve been known to bend the ‘M’ rating on occasion because a parent’s context can make up for a lot of missing years. This is not one of those cases. The toys may be ‘Suitable for children 4+’ but the film certainly isn’t. The violence may lack gore but in this case that only increases its danger.
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