(Note: this review contains mild spoilers.)
While I went through most of the other major toy fads of the 1980s–Star Wars, He-Man, Transformers, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles–somehow I never got into G.I. Joe. I often joke that even at that young age I had a healthy distrust of the military-industrial complex, but I think the more honest truth was that I liked giant robots more than soldiers (and science fiction/fantasy more than action/adventure).
And so it was with no nostalgic investment that I took in G.I. Joe: Resolute on Adult Swim this weekend. For the five or six of you who don’t know, Resolute is an hour-long animated film commissioned by Hasbro to be geared specifically toward collectors, featuring more mature themes and–gasp!–actual combat deaths. It was written by popular comics writer Warren Ellis, who’s best known for mature-themed works such as Transmetropolitan. It was directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, whose credits include Justice League Unlimited and Avatar: the Last Airbender.
The 1980s G.I. Joe cartoon was notorious for its lack of casualties, despite all the bullets, lasers and exploding jets featured in every episode. It was also known for the vast, overly-complicated, incredibly expensive, and yet ultimately fruitless plots for world domination concocted by the evil Cobra Commander. Resolute still features the latter, but in saving the day this time around, the Joes (and Cobra) actually have to sacrifice a few good men.
The cartoon was designed as a number of five-minute installments to be viewed online and it shows in the pacing of the hour-long film. There are two main plotlines: Cobra’s attempt to take over the world via a device capable of destroying a city (and Cobra commits its most egregious crime ever in Resolute) and Snake Eyes’s ultimate confrontation with his arch-nemesis Storm Shadow.
Resolute acknowledges the existence of earlier Joe adventures, possibly even the original cartoon itself (at one point, Cobra Commander gives a speech noting how he had deliberately played a fool so as to encourage his subordinates to work harder–not really following the logic there, but it is Cobra Commander after all).
Most of the beloved Joe and Cobra characters show up, with the famous Cobra characters–Destro, the Baroness, Zartan–serving as a sort of “boss” as the Joes try to foil Cobra’s plans at a number of points around the globe. Meanwhile, a number of Joe characters get a chance to shine, including fan favorite Tunnel Rat.
The animation and action is excellent, and the voice work is good, if not quite outstanding.
As for the story…I enjoyed it, but it’s definitely more of the epic, globe-threatening variety found in the cartoon than the smaller-scale, more character-based tales from the comics. One Joe fan I know said Resolute “was certainly better than other GI Joe cartoons I have ever seen, and probably better than the upcoming movie, but still a tad silly.” I think that’s an accurate assessment. I know some fans were hoping for a “realistic,” gritty story of Joe fighting terrorists (as in G.I. Joe: Special Missions). That’s not what Resolute is, and I think it was the right way to go. Making it too realistic could have sapped much of what’s appealing about G.I. Joe and left viewers with little more than an ensemble-cast Rambo flick.
All that said, one thing to keep in mind is that I’m no Joe fan, collector, or historian, so I know nothing about how the characters were treated. The same aforementioned Joe fan gave this mini-review:
Mark Millar would have been a much better choice than Warren Ellis, and he wouldn’t have become a level 3 sex offender in the process. Or it would have been nice to have had somebody with, oh I don’t know, even a PASSING understanding of the GI Joe mythos write the cartoon. Ellis didn’t really reinvent the characters as he just invented them.
And I can’t believe I just invested three whole minutes of my life to analyzing a GI Joe cartoon. I’m punching out. . .
Overall assessment of the film aside, I do think Resolute was a fantastic idea and one I hope Hasbro and other companies follow for other classic properties. It would be great to see a more grown-up take on Masters of the Universe (if that’s possible in a fictional universe that has characters named Buzz-Off and Two-Bad…but I think it is, judging from the 2002 comic books). And I would certainly welcome a Simon Furman-scripted animated alternative to Revenge of the Fallen.
In any event, I suspect many Joe fans have already received their big movie this year. For the rest of us, there’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, due to disappoint in theaters August 7.