Paramount // 2009 // 58 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // November 16th, 2009
"The point was to write an hour-long story that really put the property and the characters through some $&*# changes" -- writer Warren Ellis
I don't understand Hollywood. Franchises with a built-in audience and a mega-budget should be the perfect place for experimentation rather than another excuse to trot out the same tired romance elements and big dumb action special effects spectacles. I mean they could put Harrison Ford in a tutu for Indiana Jones and the Wrath of the Bolshoi, and people would line up around the block. No, Hollywood buries its head in the sand and relies on built-in brand recognition and over-the-top special effects to guarantee returns. It obviously works more often than not, but it lacks a certain artistry. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a perfect example. Attributed to no less than five writers, the film remixes the franchise mythology to include even more explosions and skintight outfits, but as most reviewers note the film is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. The disappointment of Rise of Cobra would likely fade very quickly if it weren't for the fact that fans can glimpse a tiny glimmer of what a satisfying G.I. Joe movie might have been in the animated miniseries G.I. Joe: Resolute.
The folks at Hasbro (who own the G.I. Joe brand) went to veteran British comics writer Warren Ellis and made him an offer he couldn't refuse: tell an adult-oriented G.I. Joe tale with essentially no restrictions on major plot elements and the disposition of characters. His story would be animated, and shown in ten 5-minute chunks and a 10-minute finale on the Web before being rebroadcast on Adult Swim. He decided to write a story that features the reappearance of Cobra Commander, a particle cannon, and the feud between Snakes Eyes and Storm Shadow. The box makes clear that nothing is sacred (and two popular characters die in the first five minutes), but I don't want to give any more of the plot away than that.
Although he professed very little familiarity with G.I. Joe prior to receiving the call to write Resolute, Ellis and G.I. Joe share a lot in common. There's a certain love for blowing things up, a focus on technology, and a concern for what a modern military force may or may not be capable of. G.I. Joe: Resolute is also the perfect frame on which to hang Ellis' penchant for research. Everything from the particle cannon to the "stratellites" (small sub-orbital "satellites" held up by balloons, used for networking purposes) shows a deft hand at finding the cutting edge of technology and its possibility.
Oh, and there are explosions. Lots of them. Warren Ellis is a word man (and a damn fine one), but he's worked long enough in comics to have a knack for visual storytelling. The percentage of dialogue in this film per minute is fairly low, and the dialogue-less minutes are usually filled with fighting and explosions. The animation, considering this isn't a Pixar-level theatrical release, is tremendously effective. I'm not expert, but there's a definite mixing of styles going on here, with some definite Asian influence (not surprising given the ninja quotient).
I'm also no expert on G.I. Joe mythology, but I do know that the story plays pretty fast and loose with continuity, like a mini-reboot. The characters should be familiar to long-time fans of the comics and the show, but they won't be exactly like those dim childhood memories. Uncle Warren has refreshed these blokes and given them some teeth. The whole project was intended as a "deck clearing" (before G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra had a finalized script) and succeeds admirably, continuing the Joe/Cobra antagonism while telling a self-contained story that should please fans and newcomers alike.
My only complaint about Resolute is that the voice acting can be a bit spotty at times. Ellis has discussed writing dialogue and his enjoyment of rapid-fire delivery in the past and it's obvious that some of the actors haven't had time to acclimate themselves to the more difficult rhythms of the dialogue. It's never bad enough to make me want to turn the show off, but it was occasionally distracting.
As a DVD, G.I. Joe is a solid if unremarkable package. The widescreen transfer is clear and bright, and the audio mixed well enough to make dialogue and explosions have equal impact. The extras include a 20-minute interview with the creative team behind the series discussing the genesis and production of the show. There's also a teaser promo, some storyboard art, and "Joe Files" on some of the characters.
In an alternate dimension, Warren Ellis would have been given the big live-action G.I. Joe story to tell with a massive budget and a dozen filthy assistants to realize his vision. Instead, we get an adult-oriented animated film that toys with some really cool ideas in the G.I. Joe universe. I'll take what I can get. Fans of both the G.I. Joe franchise and intelligent animated features would do well to pick up this disc.
I know G.I. Joe: Resolute is not guilty -- and knowing is half the battle.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 58 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Character Files