"G.I. Joe: Resolute": They Ain’t Making Corn Flakes
If there’s a kid’s cartoon of the 1980’s that’s suitable for a darker, grittier, more violent remake, it’s G.I. Joe, partially because of its military angle and partially because of its substantial adult fanbase that enjoyed the cartoon and/or the comic book as kids. It is for that fanbase that Hasbro commissioned G.I. Joe: Resolute, a new hour-long G.I. Joe adventure written by Warren Ellis and directed by Joaquim “Dr. Fight” Dos Santos. Originally broken up and broadcast in five-minute segments on the Internet and between shows on Adult Swim, Resolute has now been reassembled and given a solid DVD release by Paramount.
G.I. Joe is a top-secret, elite fighting force dedicated to defending human freedom from Cobra, a ruthless criminal organization determined to rule the world. Hasbro has made a few changes to the property to bring it more up-to-date: they no longer refer to Cobra as a “terrorist” organization, and the good guys have dropped the “Real American Hero” tagline in favor of a unit “composed of men and women from around the globe” (despite the prominent flags on uniforms and equipment, or the gigantic stars and stripes in the Joe ops center). These new mandates don’t really affect Resolute much deeper than the surface, though. At heart, this is still the same “Cobra starts trouble, G.I. Joe stops them” story that has driven the franchise since its debut in the early 1980’s. However, when G.I. Joe: Resolute kicks off with the deaths of two prominent supporting characters, it sends an early signal that it is a very different show than the earlier ones. These deaths are only a prelude to Cobra Commander’s latest plan for world domination, which begins by crippling the Joes in their own headquarters before completely obliterating Moscow and all 10 million of its inhabitants. The Joes are left with less than 24 hours to recover and crack Cobra’s plan. Like the original G.I. Joe mini-series, this entails sending smaller teams to far-flung locations, engaging Cobra forces in places as diverse as a high-energy research array, a decommissioned Russian missile silo, an ancient ninja temple, and a balloon/satellite twenty miles in the sky. The lasers and bloodless combat of the earlier cartoons are gone, replaced with real guns shooting real bullets and more than a few on-screen deaths along the way.
The influence of Warren Ellis is readily apparent in the “20 minutes into the future” technology and technobabble that drives the plot forward, as well as in the more clinical, chilly emotional tone of the entire thing. However, G.I. Joe: Resolute most closely resembles Genndy Tartakovsky’s first Star Wars: Clone Wars shorts by packing as much action as possible in five-minute increments. G.I. Joe: Resolute is almost equally successful at this goal as those earlier Clone Wars cartoons. The extremely short chapters ensure that exposition is generally pared down to the essentials required to set up the next action scene and make it clear to the viewer what’s at stake. This also maximizes the amount of time for high-speed, top-notch animated action, which should come as no surprise with the involvement of such talent as Dos Santos, Butch Lukic, and Lauren Montgomery. One of the real highlights is a one-man assault by the silent Joe commando Snake Eyes, slicing his way through a platoon of Cobra soldiers with brutal grace and efficiency as a prelude to a vicious duel with the Cobra ninja Storm Shadow, which turns in some of the most beautifully choreographed animated martial arts action I’ve ever seen. An arctic mission with first sergeant Duke and intelligence officer Scarlett starts with an adrenaline-pumping high-altitude insertion and a suspense-building infiltration that ultimately explodes into some serious high-octane gunplay. G.I. Joe: Resolute doesn’t need blades and bullets for all its action scenes, though, as it easily wrings plenty of tension out of Tunnel Rat’s impossible mission to take down a network of automated Cobra satellites, where the environment provides stiffer obstacles than any number of armed enemies.
G.I. Joe: Resolute is definitely a love-letter to the adult fans of the property, cherry picking the best bits from the earlier G.I. Joe comics and cartoons to produce a new continuity. Even though there are loads of references to earlier G.I. Joe stories, the show seems like it would still be a good introduction to the franchise for a Joe neophyte. The character designs update the Joes’ uniforms while still making them recognizable to older fans; Flint is probably the only Joe whose design is a disappointment. While nearly every major Joe appears on screen, most of them are in non-speaking roles, with a handful of Joes driving most of the action. The show was probably made on a relatively small budget, but even so, they probably would have done better with a few more voice actors. After a while, a lot of the characters start sounding the same. Still, Steven Blum has the right gravel and authority in his voice to be Duke, and Charlie Adler’s Cobra Commander manages to exude a real sense of menace while still evoking the memorably shrill original portrayal by the late Chris Latta. G.I. Joe: Resolute also occasionally slips up by providing completely unnecessary explanations for character motivation—the speech Cobra Commander gives to explain away his previous, moronic behavior is both unbelievable and unnecessary, and one really wishes Storm Shadow would just shut up already so he and Snake Eyes can get to their big fight. The G.I. Joe comics always paired Scarlett with Snake Eyes, while the cartoon seemed to pair her up with Duke; Resolute attempts to reconcile the two by hinting at a love triangle, but then resolves it by putting her with the wrong guy, even if it does lead up to a great, pulpy, tough-guy way to say, “I love you.”
G.I. Joe: Resolute has other non-trivial flaws, mostly caused by the more serious attitude casting the ridiculous elements in sharp relief. As mentioned, the lasers of the original cartoon have been replaced by real guns shooting real bullets, but the Cobra troopers’ aim is still so bad that dozens of them can’t hit the broad side of a large, crippled Joe cargo plane. There’s also one scene where Duke, Scarlett, and several Cobras let rip with automatic weapons while standing in the open in a narrow hallway, and yet they all still manage to miss each other completely—something made even more ridiculous when Scarlett starts popping headshots using two-fisted gun-fu while upside-down in mid-air only a few minutes later. Knowing anything at all about how the real operators stage hostage rescues means you can’t watch the hostage scenario in Resolute without thinking that the Joes did it almost completely backwards, but it doesn’t take any real tactical knowledge to recognize that if all the hostages are between you and the bad guys, shooting back with the heavy machine guns is probably not a very good idea. Finally, it’s only a brief moment in the show, but I’m rather repulsed by the sight of Roadblock laughing maniacally as he mows down Cobra soldiers en masse with his SAW.
G.I. Joe: Resolute is presented in a glorious anamorphic widescreen that is crystal clear and gorgeous to watch. The soundtrack is in Dolby Digital 5.1, nicely juicing the gun battles and explosions with an extra bit of oomph. The packaging claims that there is footage on the disc that didn’t air, hinting that this is some kind of “uncensored” version, but there’s nothing on the final movie that I didn’t recognize from the videos posted online other than the quick bonus scene that appears after the end credits. Bonuses include the first G.I. Joe: Resolute preview short first shown to Joe fans at the Hasbro Marketing 2009 Sneak Peek and then later at the San Diego Comic-Con. While there is no commentary track, an informative 20-minute interview is a nice substitute, with executive producer Steve Drucker, director Joaquim Dos Santos, and lead art designer Dan Norton discussing the making of the show and the crew’s personal fond memories of G.I. Joe. Several storyboards (see a preview here) and dossiers round out the bonuses.
In many ways, G.I. Joe: Resolute is the show that most G.I. Joe fans have been wanting for years, and the low price most retailers are asking for it makes it easily worth a shot for any old-school fan looking to have a reunion with childhood favorites or for anyone looking for a good, sharp, intense cartoon action fix. Between G.I. Joe: Resolute and the new comics from IDW, it’s a terrific time to be a Joe fan.