There is an old expression that “you can judge a man by the quality of his enemies.” If this to be a true statement then how much more so would the phrase “you can judge a team by the quality of their arch foe?” Such a foe would have to be truly diabolic, calculating and menacing in order to stand up to the continued efforts of some of America’s finest soldiers, correct? I’ll say it now: the more outlandish the costume, the less effective the villain. It's hard to be taken seriously if you're wearing a translucent bedpan on your head. After a controversial redesign in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Paramount took Cobra Commander back to the drawing board for an entirely new look. Is this new movie version worth picking up or is it another example of Hollywood design disaster? Read on, true believer, and find out one Joe fan's opinion.
For G.I. Joe Retaliation, Cobra Commander has gone back to basics. Gone are the sport coat, chest armor, random hoses and translucent bedpan face mask from The Rise of Cobra! This time, the Commander is sculpted in a simple utilitarian tunic and pants. Nothing more is needed—no cloak, snake-headed cowl or hovering throne. Over the top of this simple uniform is worn a pair of black boots and a set of black gloves. Sculpted guards protect his forearms and biceps. A removable bandoleer with pouches and a belt adorn the upper torso and the only acknowledgement of vanity is found in a pair of gold braid that circles the left shoulder. The sculpted knee pads feature a Cobra sigil in relief while a single painted red sigil is found over the Commander’s heart. It’s an incredibly practical uniform—plausible and military at the same time. This is one of the “reduced articulation” first wave figures and it’s important to note that swivel wrists are the only variation on standard articulation for a Hasbro figure in this scale. I think that hinged ankles would have been a nice addition in offsetting the weight of one of the accessories but your mileage may vary.
Running changes are a beautiful thing. In the case of Cobra Commander he was initially available in an almost-too bright blue color scheme with black helmet, gloves and boots. Later releases of the figure (and the Amazon.com preview pack) featured the same figure only clad nearly entirely in black with the same accessories. Personally, I prefer the black for a more formal menacing Commander but the blue version is a much better match for his serpent staff. There are NO changes otherwise to the figure other than the color used to mold the body.
Since his debut back in 1982, the Commander’s signature look has been his chrome-faced battle helmet. The original helmet was simple—a silver face plate over the top of a plain blue head covering topped with a white stripe. It was a design that was almost completely and utterly ignored in the Rise of Cobra film and the result was a character who barely resembled the “most dangerous man alive” when he was finally revealed on screen. This time around, the good Commander is wearing a helmet that appears to draw inspiration from the original battle helmet, the Cobra Interrogator, and even a touch of Darth Vader. The silver face plate is there with a modular cut similar to that of the Master Chief in HALO. This is set into a helmet that resembles nothing so much as an open-mouthed mechanical snake with a small sculpted Cobra sigil atop the forehead. The description might sound ridiculous but the effect is really quite effective. The Commander looks modern, menacing, and yet classic at the same time. It’s a design that is instantly recognizable as Cobra Commander—not some Krang-wannabe. (My apologies to Krang of the 90’s animated TMNT for the comparison.) It’s the single most stylized part of the entire figure and it works for a more menacing Cobra Commander. Don’t get me wrong—this won’t replace the G.I. Joe Resolute as my current favorite any time soon but it’s a pretty solid head sculpt.
In terms of gear, Cobra Commander comes with a pistol, an assault rifle that seems to be inspired by an MP5, and an action feature staff weapon. The pistol is “okay”—a bit bland in terms of design and it fits adequately at best in the holster on the figure’s left leg. The assault rifle, however, is actually pretty well detailed and fits solidly in the figure’s hands. It’s the last accessory that is both exciting and puzzling to me. In keeping with the action feature gimmick theme of many of the figures Cobra Commander comes complete with a cobra-headed missile-firing staff. In terms of sculpting this accoutrement is very nicely detailed with lots of scales on the serpent head and a nice striated effect on the staff which ends in a simulated blade. If it weren’t’ for the exaggerated size of the cobra head, I could almost believe that the good Commander was proficient with staff melee weapons. Given the size of the snake head it’s almost better suited to being a Jaffa helmet for one of Stargate SG-1’s Goa’uld System Lords. Of course, I’m blending my franchises here but sharp-eyed customizers might be able to make use of these to produce some killer SG-1 foes! In spite of the disproportionate head size I find that I like this accessory even if it isn’t remotely plausible.
If you haven’t been able to tell from the comments above, I like this figure. It is miles ahead of the previous movie design and is actually a pretty decent modern look for the character. In some ways I see direct inspiration in the Krake Cobra Commander design from Robert Atkins that is currently used in the IDW comic series. The design is certainly more stylized than the classic look but it’s much more in line with the character that fans have come to know and fear over the past 30 years. Of the two colors available I tend to prefer the black simply because it is movie accurate and more menacing in appearance. The good news is that black is the running change and the blue versions have all but disappeared from store shelves. So, my advice is simple: snag this figure when you see it, go home, pick up the Rise of Cobra version and toss him into the garbage disposal and then replace with this snazzy new Retaliation version. Sure, it’s not crossing any new frontiers in terms of design but sometimes you just have to go with a classic look.
End result: Buy this figure! In spite of a gimmicked action feature there’s a lot to like about this design and it is light years ahead of the previous movie version.