Guns on parade in new ‘G.I. Joe'


National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre famously blamed Hollywood, video games, and the media for our culture of gun violence. Liberal Hollywood shot back that the NRA is at fault.

The truth, as the new G.I. Joe: Retaliation shows, is that they're equally culpable, preaching a mixed message of love your gun in the movies, but not the carnage that comes with it.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is about super soldiers protecting us from super evil. And to do that they need super guns. And lots of them.

Director Jon M. Chu parades an assortment of small, medium, large, and extra-large weaponry throughout his film for us to gawk at, like beauty pageant contestants in skimpy bathing suits. There are slow-motion shots of guns in action and close-up shots of guns in cases that have been hidden away until needed. Members of the Joe team even offer silly comments celebrating the destructive capability of their weapons after deadly sprees against the enemy.

The fact that G.I. Joe: Retaliation isn't a great movie (see my review here) isn't debatable. That the film intentionally or otherwise acts as a big-budget recruitment video for the NRA is. And its message is clear: Guns are cool.

That should make LaPierre happy. The NRA has taken a PR hit with the recent spate of school shootings, though Washington, with its modus operandi of doing nothing being preferable to the alternative, remains at a stalemate over any additional legislative restrictions. Whether the latter is materially effective in curbing gun violence is a debate of evenly split statistics:

But there's no denying the unmistakable contradiction of G.I. Joe: Retaliation and its fetishistic zeal of guns. Masked as a pro-military, anti-evil action flick — which makes the violence far more tolerable than in, say, American Psycho and Natural Born Killers, the decade-plus-old films LaPierre previously decried — G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a celebration of guns and gun culture that by the obvious necessity of having weapons in action promotes gun violence as well. That's the duality of guns in film; if you're gonna show a gun, you have to use it.

Pro-gun supporters like these kinds of big-budget action films, where all-American heroes save families and cities with blazing weapons and grit, because these movies promote talking points that guns are good and are necessary to stave off evildoers. To quote LaPierre: "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

Yet LaPierre and others slam Hollywood and these films as the true culprits fostering violence in our culture, while Hollywood counters that it's the NRA and its stranglehold on gun control legislation.

See the elephant-size disconnect for both? Each celebrates cinema's heroic gun-toting savior while rebuking (NRA) or repudiating (Hollywood) his heroic actions. As much as both groups attempt to separate those elements, the fact is a gun and what the gun is supposed to do is inseparably linked in life and in film.

In a recent phone interview, I asked Adrianne Palicki, who plays one of the heroes in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, about her views on gun control and whether or not criticisms lobbed at Hollywood for promoting violence in its films are justified.

"Part of me wants to plead the Fifth on this," the Toledo native said, "but as far as violence and Hollywood and what it teaches, violence is on the news, it's everywhere. And what we're just trying to do is entertain people. But I definitely think there needs to be an education about guns and I definitely believe in some level of gun control. I don't think there should ever be assault rifles or automatic weapons in our hands. I do believe in certain rules for sure.

"... But we're playing G.I. Joes in this movie; it's a fantasy. If anything, we're military, we have those guns, that kind of violence. It frustrates me, it's a film. If you don't want your children to see it, they shouldn't see it."

But if they do, just remind them that heroes don't kill people in the movies. And neither, apparently, do their guns.

Contact Kirk Baird at or 419-724-6734.