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The Ending Of G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra Explained

G.I. Joe, a real American hero! By the 2000s, the various "G.I. Joe" characters had become part of toys, comics, television, even vinyl records (via Vintage3DJoes). Why not make a big-budget movie out of them too? The film was in development hell for years but the summer of 2009 finally saw the release of Stephen Sommers' blockbuster adaptation of the franchise, "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra."

Channing Tatum and Marlon Wayans star as Duke and Ripcord, NATO soldiers recruited into the G.I. Joe organization after their convoy is attacked and Duke recognizes one of the hijackers: the Baroness (Sienna Miller), AKA Ana, Duke's former fiancé. The Joes soon find themselves battling an evil new organization out to take over the world. The villains are led by Ana, weapons master James McCullen (Christopher Eccleston), and the mysterious Doctor.

Here's where the ending of "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" left the main characters and the franchise.

Masks hold heroes back and help villains advance

A key motif in "Rise of Cobra" is masks and dual identities whether it's Ana's double life as the Baroness, the masked Doctor, or the iron-faced McCullen clan. Nowhere is that more evident than in the last act, as twist upon twist reveals the truth about each of the characters.

Duke discovers that the Doctor is in fact Rex (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who's both  Ana's brother and a fellow soldier who'd supposedly died in an airstrike ordered by Duke. Obsessed with nanomite technology's ability to control and transform flesh, Rex is now deformed and evil, and he's been mind-controlling his sister with the nanomites. Later, Rex forces a badly injured McCullen to become Destro by transforming his face into a silver metallic substance. 

Whereas Rex forces the people in his life to take on new identities and wear literal masks, lashing out over his injury in the airstrike, Duke only moves forward by letting his guard down. He apologizes to Ana for not getting Rex home and ultimately tells her he won't give up on her.

However, one other masked figure from Cobra will soon preside in the White House ...

The movie's ending opened the door for the next G.I. Joe film

While the Joes capture the Cobra leaders by the end, one plot thread was clearly a tease for the next "G.I. Joe" adventure and the final, logical extension of the characters changing their identities. 

Rex had earlier operated on henchman Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) using the nanomite technology. Zartan is already an intelligent master of disguise, but the nanomites also alter physical appearance. Soon enough the villain looks and sounds exactly like the current President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce). 

Thus when Cobra launches highly destructive powered missiles in the second act, Zartan takes advantage of the crisis, capturing the President and assuming his identity. One of the movie's last scenes features Pryce now playing Zartan, fully incognito, as he cheerfully hums "Hail to the Chief" while sitting pretty in the White House. Part of Cobra's plan now complete. 

However, the end of the movie wasn't the end of the story. "G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra" received poor reviews both from critics and "G.I. Joe" fans (via Bulletproof Action) but made a respectable enough amount at the box office (over $300 million, per Box Office Mojo) that a sequel arrived four years later.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation saw several cast changes

The 2013 sequel "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" directed by Jon M. Chu did follow up on Zartan's scheme, as under his control, Cobra becomes the U.S. special forces team and frames G.I. Joe for stealing nuclear warheads from Pakistan.

 Several actors from the first film refused to reprise their characters for a second time, however, including Eccleston, Gordon-Levitt, and Sienna Miller. This meant that Cobra Commander's actor was recast with Luke Bracey instead, while some other "Rise of Cobra" characters were either written out or barely appear at all. "Retaliation" ends up following a very different crew of Joes as a direct result, including Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Adrianne Palicki, Elodie Yung, and Bruce Willis himself. 

The reworking of the movie is especially evident with the fate of Channing Tatum's character. Duke does appear in "Retaliation," but only for his character to be killed early in the film during an airstrike against the G.I. Joe forces. Tatum vocally disliked his role in "The Rise of Cobra," and Variety quoted him as telling Howard Stern in an interview, "I f***ing hate that movie ... I was pushed into doing that movie."

Still, if you want to see the wild twists and over-the-top action for yourself, "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" is currently streaming on Netflix.