In 1986, Hasbro was in a rush to bring its two biggest franchise to the silver screen. Transformers and GI Joe were being developed for movie adaptations and would eventually share a lot of common features: a new generation of heroes, a death of the leader of the good guys, a goof-off gets promoted, and a massive new enemy force. Transformers got Unicron, a world-eating planet-sized Transformer; GI Joe got an ancient underground race of serpents called Cobra-La.
You can guess which one is better remembered.
Cobra-La makes its grand entrance in the Joe movie with the appearance of its most interesting member. A cloaked figure interrupts a roast of Cobra Commander after another failed mission, easily making its way through all of Cobra's defenses. While everyone thinks it's an assassination attempt on their new leader - the genetically-modified Serpentor - in reality the intruder wants to give him a job. She reveals herself to be Pythona, a scaled chick with eye shadow that would put the Misfits to shame. She tells Serpentor he was destined to lead her people and asks that he steals the Joe's Broadcast Energy Transmitter. They attack the Joe's to retrieve it and Serpentor is captured in the process. Cobra Commander, abandoning his successor, takes his army to the land of Cobra-La.
I was never the biggest GI Joe fan, having much preferred Transformers. When that movie came out and I finally saw the sheer size of the threat that was Unicron, I was awestruck. Afterwards, when I found out GI Joe was getting a movie, I went into it thinking it would be the same scale of entity, something massive that could destroy the world. And then I saw Cobra-La. No - then I heard Cobra-La. The first thing you'll notice is anytime theie generic soldiers are on screen, they're constantly shooting "Cobra-la-la-la-la-la-la!" It's the absolute worst battle cry I've ever heard. The Tick yelling "Spoon!" is better. If there's one complaint you'll hear about this movie, it's the battle cry.
It gets better from there. When the Joes follow Cobra after their retreat in the Himalayans, they find themselves in a hidden valley of exotic plantlife. They barely have time to take the sight in before they're attacked by Cobra-La's resident bruiser, Nemesis Enforcer. It sounds more like its job title, but that is indeed his name. The guy single-handedly picks up a tank and with the claws on his wrist, rip it open. It's an impressive sight, considering most of the fighting in the cartoon before this has been with lasers and a few fists. The rest of Cobra-La is armed with a number of organic weapons, like four-headed serpents, stink bugs, and even a carpet made of crabs.
After another raid on the Joes to free Serpentor, we finally meet the leader of Cobra-La - and I'm not kidding here - his name is Golobulus. Couldn't we have gotten better names here? Or at least something snake-like? No, we get a leader with a name that sounds like something you'd pick out of your nose (and I admit Unicron wasn't much better just one typo away from Unicorn). Anyway, he comes out riding a giant space bug, looking like he ripped off Dr. Scarab's eye. He claims he had inspired Dr. Mindbender to take the DNA from the world's worst people and create Serpentor and immediately puts Cobra Commander on trial. Did we just lap ourselves back to the beginning of the movie?
We find out that Cobra-La used to dominate the world before the Ice Age froze them and started the age of barbarians. Golobulus plans to use spores to revert modern humanity to its savage, mindless roots, with only those within Cobra-La safe from their effects.
My problem with Cobra-La and GI Joe the Movie in general, at least compared to its robotic companion film, is that the stakes they created weren't nearly high enough. The beginning of TFTM had an absolutely brutal massacre, thinning out the Autobot ranks, which made the emotional depth in the movie that much greater. I know Duke was originally going to die and he was only said to have gone into a coma after the backlash Prime's death brought Hasbro, but it softened the Joe movie so much that it felt that the stakes weren't any greater than any of Cobra's previous plans. Humanity was always in peril in the series, and Cobra-La did nothing to elevate that. I'm not saying I'd want a large bodycount like the shuttle scene in TFTM, but I would have preferred some reason why the new recruits had to take over. Not to mention that fact that Cobra-La had no influence in what happened to Duke at all, since Serpentor had caused the injury using a skill he had before he even met Golobulus. Again, it could have happened at any point in the series. To make the movie feel even more like a regular episode, it started out with a big fight scene, playing their usual theme music and with the same opening narration. Don't get me wrong, it's animated beautifully and has a shit ton of action, but it put me in the mindset of watching the series and nothing more than that.
Another issue I had was with Golobulus himself. Considering how competent and intimidating his two lieutenants were, the main guy himself was entirely too disappointing. Hasbro again went with a big name actor, trying to impress the adults taking in their kids, but Burgess Meredith didn't have the presence to really scare any kids. He sounded old more than anything. He looked laughable floating around in his bug head, especially when Serpentor had the much cooler looking throne that did the same thing. When he finally does reveal it to only be a ride, slinking out on his snake lower half, it's all too short and doesn't add much to the fight. He doesn't even get a really prolific death either, being thrown in a chasm - the same way Nemesis Enforcer went down. He did get stabbed in the eye though, which is cool, except it was edited so you don't see it actually happen.
The only truly scary thing in the movie is what happened to the deposed leader, Cobra Commander. We learn his origin as a scientist in Cobra-La that scarred his face during an experiment. Golobulus had given him the power to create the ruthless terrorist organization, Cobra. When that failed spectacularly, Golobulus used the spores on CC again, which mutated him into a snake, a slow process which seemed to drive him insane as well. He shows up at the very end of the movie to save Lt. Falcon from an attack that had almost killed Duke, but then is never seen again. While the mutation was really screwed up, enough that you felt sorry for the guy, I wish there would have been more recognition for him in the end. As it was, I think the writers just forgot about him. Which is a shame, considering this is the only change the movie makes to the GI Joe roster.
Overall, I just wish Cobra-La had a bigger impact on the show following it. Transformers ended up not just with a bunch of new guys, but lost a lot of its old ones. It had a new bad guy that stuck around til the end of the series. GI Joe got none of that since Serpentor stayed leader afterward. Cobra-La served no reasl purpose but to make us feel bad for Cobra Commander.
This post was made as part of the Great Villain Blogathon 2017 run by Ruth of Silver Screenings, Karen of Shadows & Satin and Kristina of Speakeasy. Check out the rest of the villains there by nearly seventy film, television, and book bloggers!