REVIEW: "GI Joe:Resolute" (2009)

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I recently expressed that “GI Joe: Resolute” was the absolute best kind of wish fulfillment, since it more-or-less simultaneously informs you of a deep-seated desire you didn’t know you had, and satiates it. (
http://www.republibot.com/content/gi-joe-resolute-return-and-subsequent-... ) I’d been pining away for Season 3 of GI Joe for twenty-five years without realizing it, and I got to watch 4/5ths of a new story on the same day. (When I say “GI Joe,“ I mean The Real 1980s GI Joe, none of this “Operation Dragonfire” nonsense, nothing with Cesspool and Gridiron in it, and certainly none of this Sigma 6 tripe!)

“GI Joe: Resolute” is being advertised as a grown up continuation of the 80s series, only “No parachutes, no cheating…this is not a game.” I was pretty excited, and it’s the fun kind of excitement that comes out of nowhere, not the long, grueling, pain-in-the-ass carefully managed hype-excitement of something like the new Trek movie. I quickly watched all 10 “Webisodes” and then checked out Warren Ellis’ website for more information. A new episode of GI Joe, after all this time, and without the annoying ‘no one gets hurt’ restrictions of the 80s! Imagine!

So did I get what I hoped (briefly) for?

Well, no, not exactly. Yes and no, with a bit more ‘no’ than I expected, but a whole hell of a lot more ‘yes’ than I had any reason to hope for. As Ellis himself says on his site ( http://www.warrenellis.com/?p=6147 ), “Resolute” is essentially “an odd, lumpy, normal-for-Norfolk-looking hybrid of the comic and the cartoon.” In other words, it’s an attempt to continue the recognizable style of the cartoon, but bring it more in to tune with the vastly more serious tone of the comics themselves. And I’m gonna’ say it worked. Granted, you have to squint a bit to avoid seeing the seams that tie this in to the old series, but, come on, you had to squint like hell to pretend anything in the old series made a lick of sense to begin with, and I run a Science Fiction Fansite for gosh sakes! Obviously, squinting is something I’m used to. I’ve got no problems with my suspension of disbelief, thank you very much!

Warren Ellis was - by his own admission - a very odd choice to write the story. For starters, he’s English, and had no knowledge of, nor attraction to the original series. Generally that’s the kiss of death, but Mr. Ellis has always been a writer who can turn detriments to his advantage, and it worked really well. I mean, there’s tons of backstory, twice as much as you’d expect, really, since we’re dealing with both the chronology of the comic *and* the cartoon. The two overlap a bit, but aren’t really all that close. It would be really super-easy to completely blow it by getting mired in all that stuff, which would be disastrous. At the same time, introducing a new villain gives you a ‘why bother?‘ feeling, and completely rebooting the show is a cheat. Fortunately, he managed to avoid all those snares. And in fact, this is why he was brought in to write it in the first place: He’s got an outsider’s perspective. Perhaps, it was hoped, he could bring something fresh to the franchise.

What he did here is a lot like what Russell T. Davies and Phill Collinson did when reviving “Doctor Who” five years ago: Everything you remember happened, even the silly stuff, even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff, it’s all real. The issue of canonicity is then sidestepped by setting this story *after* all that crap. “Whatever you believe the history of Dr. Who was, that’s right. And then *After* that, this story happens!” It’s the same way here: Since the last time we saw Cobra and the Joes, a lot of time has passed, a lot of stuff has happened that we get only a few vague allusions to, and then this story happens. So don’t sweat it, and jump in to the action, already!

And jump in to the action we do! We’re treated to a quick-cut series of locations - a research facility in Canada, an abandoned Cobra Island launching missiles, Covergirl investigating the corpse in the Lincoln Memorial, strange shenanigans in an abandoned Soviet missile base in Siberia, and a devastating round of sabotage on the USS Flagg which cripples the carrier. The Joes are caught flatfooted, and at least one of them is dead. Then we get the hoary old cliché of the supervillain making his demands to the UN, though it’s a pretty cool scene this time out. And as proof that he means what he says, Cobra Commander destroys Moscow and kills ten million people.

Holy crap!
I have to admit I did not see that coming! On his website, Ellis says that Beijing was his first choice, but the various parties involved balked at that for some reason. They had no qualms about Moscow, though. Well, obviously: China is where the toys are made! Don’t wanna’ piss them off.

From there on, it follows a structure that’s probably only coincidentally similar to the early GI Joe Miniseries, with the Joes quickly figuring out what’s going on and cobbling together a plan on the fly, thanks to the help of Dialtone - a new Dialtone, a woman! This is the first time we’ve seen the Joes really interact with the massive staff that, logically, must have been supporting them all along and I have to say it’s super cool and oddly fulfilling. The team splits up in to several groups, Snake eyes goes off to confront Stormshadow; Tunnel Rat leads a harrowing, very cool, and very un-Tunnel Rat-like attack on some flying Cobra weapons and communications platforms; Gung Ho and Roadblock lead a hostage rescue op, and Duke and Scarlet take care of the Siberia situation. It’s all pretty cool, and compressed in to less than an hour as it is, there’s a lot of crosscutting back and forth between the various locations so it never gets tedious.

Once Cobra is on the loosing side of the chess game, the stakes go up, and both sides end up trading queens among other losses.

And then, just when it looks like it’s all done….there’s a tag for yet another sequel.

That should be tedious, and perhaps tomorrow when the buzz is gone it will be, but for right now I’m actually kind of happy about it. I mean, if they killed off Cobra Commander, what’s there left to do? Resurrect Serpentor? Follow Destro around? Check in on Tomax and Xamot? Granted, they were always pretty hilarious, but I don’t think they can hold down a series on their own. So I’m pretty happy with how it ended, and don’t really feel cheated at all.

OBSERVATIONS:

I count four dead characters that we know, not to mention thirty or forty red shirts on both sides, a Midwestern American suburb and, of course, the entire city of Moscow. They state in no uncertain terms that the death toll is above ten million.

We also see a lot of old faces: Cobra Commander, Stormshadow, Zartan, Major Bludd, The Baroness, and Destro all make significant appearances. In the case of Baroness and Destro, it’s strongly implied that they have a Mickey and Mallory style relationship, which is terribly creepy, but entirely consistent with what we’ve known of them over the years. They’re both natural born killers. This is also the first time Destro ever appears even remotely Scottish on screen (He’s an Earl, actually), which has come up frequently in the comics, but never in the show. Zartan, too, is quite a bit more sociopathic than we’ve ever seen him before, and he’s got the worlds least useful grenade launcher. The most interesting retcon is Cobra Commander, however: he’s a flat-out evil megalomaniac with no real humorous tendencies whatsoever. He states that in the past it suited him to appear weak and cowardly because it encouraged his minions to think for themselves, but that day is done. He also mentions suffering ‘a lot of pain’ for previous mistakes, which is rather intriguing. Is he talking about the show/comic, or is he talking about something that happened in the interim?

On the Joes’ side, we get Stalker (Sporting some natty dreads in a pony tail), Doc (Quite a bit older, and grey-haired), Covergirl, Duke, Scarlet, Snake eyes (With massive, but fairly cool, retcons to his backstory), Roadblock (who no longer talks in Mohammed Ali rhymes), Flint, Beachhead, Tunnel Rat (Introduced in “GI Joe: The Movie” and I guess really the only one of the new recruits to really catch on), Wild Bill, Gung Ho, the new Dialtone (Who doesn’t really count, as she’s a new character with an old code name), Bazooka, and Ripcord. All of these are significant. Additionally, in the background we see Spirit, Lady Jaye, Chuckles (another of the newbies from “The Movie”), and - I think - Quick Kick, among others. It’s fun playing ‘spot the Joe’, though none of these guys have any lines. I do like how Lady Jaye is continually in shot next to Flint, though. General Hawk is conspicuously absent.

The voices aren’t bad, but it’s always a bit heartbreaking to see old characters with new voices coming out of their mouths. I totally understand why they didn’t go with the old cast, but I really wish they had. I mean, I know the guy who did Cobra Commander is dead, but come on, the guy who did Flint is on how many episodes of Robot Chicken? All doing Flint, I might add. Hell, he does the Station IDs for my local NBC station! But that’s just me being an OCD geek. The voice acting is, overall, fine, though one scene seemed rather awkward:

Ripcord: “If we don’t hear anything in 30 minutes we assume you’re dead and head back to the Flagg.”
Scarlett: “You don’t have to like it.”
Ripcord: “Good, because I don’t.”
Duke: “Get used to it.”

Scarlet and Ripcord just don’t really work in this scene, something about the tone of voice, the accusatory way Scarlet is speaking doesn’t match the way Ripcord was talking to her. Seems cobbled together from several takes, but hey, one bum bit of dialog out of an entire hour isn’t bad, right? I’m also not sure what I think of Cobra Commander’s new voice. While clearly based on the old one, it’s lower, more sinister, mercifully less sibilant, so on the one hand that’s all to the good. On the other hand, he sounds kind of like a really angry Burgess Meredith, which undercuts some of the menace.

There’s a bit of sexual tension between Scarlet, Duke, and Snake eyes. This was always there in the comics, but again was one of those elements ignored in the series. There’s a lot about relationships in this story, surprisingly: That triangle, the Baroness and Destro, the buddy-buddying around between Gung Ho and Roadblock, and later between Duke and Flint, the mildly flirtatious “You’re my new favorite Joe” between Gung Ho and the new Dialtone, and there’s a sense that GI Joe succeeds because of this sort of thing. Duke spells it out when he says “We’re more than one good soldier.”

Gadgets wise, we get a few new toys, but nothing too intrusive. Some Supersonic Transports to get from place to place quickly. These are cool, with forward-swept wings - very 80s - they look a bit reminiscent of the old X-30 Conquests the Joes used to fly in the 2nd season, and also a bit similar to Hawk’s figher in the 2nd season of Buck Rogers in the 25th century (At least when seen from below, hovering.) The most impressive new thing, though, is the heavily-redesigned USS Flag. When seen in the old show, and in the comics, it was basically just a standard Nimitz-class supercarrier on loan to the Joes. Here it’s been massively redesigned, and looks actually quite a bit like the aircraft carrier “Askua” from Macross Zero. It is, beyond a doubt, the coolest looking ‘carrier ever.

Animation is good, anime-ish, but trying really hard to hold to the basic elements of the 80s show, only better, you know?

What impressed me most about this, though, was that it was really all about resolving things. They made no effort to tie up every dangling thread from the comics, the old show, the movie, or any intermediate shows, but some things came organically to their end in a way that was, well, satisfying. It was nice to see a few old chestnuts laid to rest, a few people get the resolution they needed, a few mad dogs finally put down, and a few lovers finally just do it. If it was surprisingly about interpersonal relationships, it was also about bringing a sense of closure to some of those, and a sense of hopefulness to whatever comes next.

I loved it, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

So, mister Ellis, what happens next?

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