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G.I. Joe: Resolute

30 April 2009 by Gnoll No Comment

I don’t write much for this site much anymore, and there are a ton of reasons why. If you’re actually reading this, you probably visit my site more than I even do these days. But every so often, something comes along that just makes my ranting fingers itchy, and nothing in my recent viewing scope has really set that off.

That is, until G.I.Joe: Resolute aired on The Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim” block this past Saturday night. Originally aired as ten five-minute “webisodes” on the Adult Swim site with a 10-minute conclusion exclusive to the broadcast premiere, this cartoon miniseries had the G.I.Joe fandom buzzing quite a bit — even more, perhaps, than the upcoming live-action major motion picture slated for release this Summer.

When I heard that a darker, grittier, more “realistic” Joe series was in the works, I knew I was excited about it. I hold the original series pretty close to my heart, because I grew up with it. However, even as a ten year-old child, I had a preference for the comic book series from Marvel, mainly due to the more realistic characterizations and the overall more serious tone. Now, as a thirtysomething geek craving new incarnations of my childhood memories, the natural progression was an adult-themed reimagining of the property. And while I haven’t read a lot of Warren Ellis’s comic work, I know enough about his style to know what to expect as far as tone is concerned.

I watched the first of the ten webisodes the previous weekend, right when it first aired. I wasn’t completely sold, but I thought it had promise. Major Bludd is dead before we even begin. The USS Flagg is under attack. Bazooka’s apparently nothing more than a memory either. Cobra Commander makes a giant megalomaniacal demand to take over the world’s countries, and to prove he’s not bluffing, he snuffs out the entire city of Moscow. Whoa. Big time stuff. I decided at this point, I’d wait the week out and watch it in its entirety, because I was pretty hooked. Granted, the animation style, which is highly influenced by anime, isn’t really my bag. I’m not too crazy about Cobra Commander’s voice or the fact that Roadblock isn’t talking in rhyme, but I can get over such piddly details. Bring on the rest of Resolute!

It turned out, however, that bad would begin to outweigh the good as the whole thing unfolded. Whereas I was about 80% digging the first part and 20% not, that ratio seemed to flip around 180 degrees.

My first beef? The ninjas. Oh, the ninjas. At some point, the G.I.Joe mythos went from having a couple of ninjas hanging around to being a story about ninjas with a little bit of military combat thrown in to the background. And as Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow — the yin and yang of ninja characters in the Joe Universe — prepare to meet up for their big battle in Resolute, we get flashbacks galore.

I don’t mind changing around the backstory a little. There are so many variations that have been fleshed out in the 25+ years since the modern G.I.Joe line was released, It doesn’t bother me that they come up with a unique background. But changing Storm Shadow, who was always misguided and honorable but never truly evil in any other incarnations, into a heartless, spiteful, jealous, and bitter douchebag is unforgivable. And to top that off, why would a guy who is training to become an assassin go off and hire Zartan to kill someone for him? How ineffective do you want us to believe he is?

So they do this whole flashback deal as a precursor to their big battle, which winds up being short and anticlimactic. Part of the problem is that the ninja arc, which really only involves a couple of characters, takes up almost half of the hour that Resolute has to tell its story. The other part is that it’s such a silly, contrived story that rips off Kill Bill and all the stuff that Kill Bill was paying homage to in the first place.

Speaking of Snake-Eyes, don’t get me started on the fact that he can singlehandedly take out entire batallions of Cobra troopers, and so can Duke and Scarlett, but even when said Cobra troopers have their enemies surrounded and at close range, they can’t land a single shot. Yeah, this is stuff that has been evident in everything from the old Joe cartoons to silly crap like Rambo and even the Stormtroopers in Star Wars, but having it happen in 2009, when you’re going for realism to begin with, is just asinine.

The Joes don’t really come off as the “good guys”, either. As Snake-Eyes slashes throats on his way to the temple, it’s apparent that he’s not really the noble type. But it’s their seemingly apathetic attitude toward civilian life that’s the real problem. After Cobra wipes out the entire population of one of the largest cities in the world, all the Joes can lament about is their pal Bazooka. And then later in the story, where the Joes discover that the Cobras are operating out of Springfield, USA (a nice nod to the classic stories, but overshadowed nowadays by 20 years of The Simpsons), they don’t even bother to check to see if there are civilians inhabiting the place before they go on a bombing spree, knocking out a shopping center and then eventually blowing up the whole city just so that they can kill off one guy. Did you ever see Team America: World Police? That’s exactly what this scene reminded me of, and that’s not a good thing when you’re trying to convey “A Real American Hero” saving mankind from a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world.

Speaking of which, not only is Cobra Commander’s “master plan” laughably contrived and unoriginal, it doesn’t even make any sense. Why would you need money if you control all of the world’s nations?

The rest of Cobra gets very little or no characterization whatsoever. Zartan is the one exception, giving a pretty cool explanation about being a heartless killer. Major Bludd is dead and Firefly is barely seen, but the real waste here is the duo of Destro and the Baroness. They’re made into charicatures here, with Destro coming off as a bumbling thug who can’t keep his hands or lips off of Anastasia DeCobray. And they seem to forget what everyone else seems to forget as well — Destro is not a member of Cobra, he’s an arms dealer. He probably wouldn’t be acting hands-on in Cobra Commander’s quest for world domination. I like the fact that they actually made him Scottish, but I really hate it when they animate the metal head.

And don’t even get me started on the dialogue. Cobra Commander’s “There will be none of your crap! None of it!” line was easily worse than anything ever said on the original Sunbow cartoon from 25 years ago. And the fact that there were only like 4 voice actors providing everyone’s voice didn’t help matters.

There were some good elements as well, like I said. One thing I particularly liked was the fact that they actually acknowledged Scarlett’s romances with both Snake-Eyes and Duke in previous works. She was romantically involved with Duke in the old cartoon and Snakes in the comic, but they never really crossed those storylines in the past. This time, they actually played up a love triangle, which kind of worked, despite a corny conclusion to that angle. Some of the characterizations were well done, and I especially liked that Tunnel Rat and Gung Ho were made to be more than one-dimensional.

But overall, I really walked away unimpressed. Yes, I wanted something darker, more serious, and more adult. And while I’m not the kind of guy who’s put off by violence, this was too violent. Way too many characters were killed off in nonchalant fashion, and the whole thing really felt amoral as a whole. On top of that, they tried to cram way too much story into one hour, and it just felt like nothing came to a good resolution and was rushed along. And while this is minor, the fact that they had to reuse so many establishing shots on multiple webisodes came off as repetitive when it was pieced together as one movie.

I can’t believe I’ve managed to cobble 16 paragraphs from 60 minutes worth of cartoon. But I take my G.I.Joe seriously, and after reading everyone else raving about Resolute, I felt the need to provide the counterpoint. I know your mouths have been watering for years for a more mature incarnation of the Joe anthology, but mark my words: in six months, you’ll have forgotten that this exists. Forget the live-action movie, The Rise of Cobra, which is bound to rub most Joe fans the wrong way. Someone will trump Resolute with something dark and yet still fun before it’s all said and done.

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