Pssst, what are you doing here so late? It's almost midnight, and the man seated behind me is professing his love for G.I. Joe. He was a fan at 12 who loyally watched the cartoon series, and he still owns 30 comic books dedicated to the toy soldier. In fact, he's such a groupie that he's at the first screening (12:01 a.m. Friday) of the new movie G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra with hundreds of other New Yorkers. And me. I used to love G.I. Joe, too, but I'm here for an entirely different reason. Paramount wouldn't screen the movie for critics, probably because the studio's feelings were hurt when reviewers attacked Transformers 2 like it was the sequel to Gigli. "We chose to forgo reviews as a strategy to promote G.I. Joe," said a studio official diplomatically earlier this week. "We want audiences to define this film." How democratic. Does that mean the rest of us can now vote at the Oscars, too?
Once I sat down, I was disappointed to see that the theater was half-empty, and hardly anybody looked awake or excited. I was starting to feel drowsy, too, when the picture began and jolted me back to life. G.I. Joe is like watching fireworks with a blindfold on: it's deafening and you feel under attack. The story makes no sense—why does the Eiffel Tower topple over after being covered in sparkling slime? And worst of all: Sienna Miller and Channing Tatum, a charismatic guy whom The New York Times once compared to Marlon Brando, have the chemistry of two ice cubes. As my mind wandered, I started to imagine ways for the director to have reinvented the franchise for the 21st century. What if the G in G.I. Joe didn't just stand for "government"? What if it also stood for "gay"?
To many G.I. Joe fans, who grew up collecting the action figures, this might be blasphemy. Who cares? The best summer action movies—The Bourne Identity, The Dark Knight—always come with tortured heroes who carry around deep secrets. Imagine the dramatic possibilities! For starters, we could ditch Sienna Miller, which would be a big improvement right from the start. Duke's (Tatum) new love interest would be a male soldier. The movie would even strike a note of social relevance, given that our troops still adhere to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (i.e., Duke couldn't blab about his love life to any of his friends).
Hollywood likes to cast gay characters in supporting roles, as background scenery, but they still don't anchor movies that often. You can understand the cold feet: the movie business is about selling tickets to teenage boys, and even Brüno tanked. This week, there was a storm of protest online when Robert Downey Jr. suggested his onscreen Sherlock Holmes—scheduled to hit theater screens on Christmas—might have had a gay fling with Watson (Jude Law). Gawker described the "full blown gay panic" from conservative film critic Michael Medved. "Who is going to watch Downey Jr. and Law make out?" he asked. "I don't think it would be appealing to women. Straight men don't want to see it."
Medved's off base—the Sherlock Holmes screenplay doesn't even feature a male kiss, and action heroes have been a little gay since the beginning of the genre. Look at Superman's revealing red tights. Or Batman's "friendship" with Robin. James Bond is such a good dresser, he might as well be gay (at one point, Rupert Everett even wanted to star as a gay James Bond). So maybe it's just a matter of time before we see our first openly gay action hero. At 2 a.m., I'd wasted enough of my time on G.I. Joe. But before I fled, I wanted to check in on an elderly woman who had come to see the movie alone. She looked shellshocked in the lobby, but it turned out that she was only crying tears of joy. Apparently, she couldn't wait for the sequel.
I started to back away, but it was so late that I didn't think it would hurt if I sprang my idea on her. What if, in the next movie, G.I. Joe were gay? Would she still buy a ticket? Her face lit up. "Absolutely!" she said. "Just because you're gay doesn't mean you're not powerful."