G.I. Joe: Resolute (2009) – Written by Warren Ellis; Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos – Starring Charlie Adler, Eric Bauza, Steven Blum, and Grey DeLisle.
I am not arguing that Star Wars: Episode 1 is a good movie; I am arguing that part of what drove the severe negative reaction to the film was that we grew up and George Lucas didn’t. In the years between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace, we got older and our tastes became more sophisticated, while Lucas was happy to churn out three more movies at roughly the same intelligence level as before. In fact, there’s plenty of reason to think that the intelligence of the franchise actually regressed (the tinkering with Han shooting first, using Jar Jar as a comedic element during a war scene where people were dying, etc.). For many of us, STAR WARS was a gateway into film and literature, and the thing about gateways is that you pass through them and move on to something else. That doesn’t mean you can’t continue to appreciate the gateway, of course, but it does mean that you have likely moved past the gateway – even moreso when you pass through the gateway as a child. (If you hit a gateway and don’t move through it, you probably spend countless hours of your life trying to get cancelled programs back on the air.) It’s probably not altogether fair (though fairness doesn’t really play into it) that we held Lucas to a higher standard. He was, after all, an adult when he made STAR WARS, and my guess is that our literary tastes change much more between the ages of 4 and 24 than, say, 44 and 64. Lucas, in other words, had made the story he wanted to make and saw no reason to elevate the maturity level along with his core audience.
G.I. JOE: RESOLUTE does not follow Lucas’ path. For those of us who came home after school to watch the mid-80’s cartoon and then grew older and developed more mature tastes in our entertainment, RESOLUTE delivers a much more adult, violent, and realistic (relatively, at least) portrayal than the old cartoon. These Joes use guns, not laser beams. These Joes die. These Joes kill. Cobra Commander isn’t playing the fool. Cobra isn’t interested in destroying monuments to prove their point – they’re interested in leveling entire cities.
RESOLUTE offers all of this in a fast-paced, intense, jam-packed 58 minutes. There’s no screwing around here. The film opens with lots of stuff blowing up, including lots of stuff on board the Joes’ main base of operations, the USS Flagg. When Cobra Commander addresses the United Nations to demand they turn control of the world over to him, he levels Moscow to prove his point.
Read that again. He decimates Moscow. The one in Russia, not Idaho. In the blink of an eye, Cobra Commander blasts 10 million people off this mortal coil.
Written by Warren Ellis, RESOLUTE does have Ellis’ trademark “I’m doing this because I can” streak of “maturity.” This is the guy who reveled in the fact that Kitty Pryde was having sex – and lots of it – with Pete Wisdom, and he seemed to take great pleasure in shoving the former virginal Kitty’s new-found interest in sex in the reader’s face. Now, I’m not saying that Ellis’ take on Kitty was wrong because I think it made a fair bit of narrative sense, but to readers who like their Kitty Pryde eternally innocent and waiting on her One True Love to come around, Ellis’ constant reminder that Kitty was spending her off-panel time getting intimately acquainted with a guy most of those same readers would hate in real life rubbed some the wrong way.
It wasn’t that Kitty was having sex that smacked of immaturity on Ellis’ part – it was the frequency. Ellis’ work too often revels in that kind of “shock” storytelling; that can be refreshing, but like anyone who wants to shock you continuously, Ellis often comes across as boorish to me. He may be gaining points for writing about mature themes but losing them right back for writing about them in an immature manner. Eventaully, you have to be more than, “It’s Batman and Superman, but gay” and “It’s the Fantastic Four, but they’re assh*les.”
In RESOLUTE, however, Ellis stays more focused, allowing his “shock” moments to hit you once and then not repeat themselves in such a way that it takes you out of the story. Whether this is due to having editors who can reign him in, or the 58-minute, one-shot format forcing him to hone his writing style, I don’t know. I’m just glad it all turned out the way it did.
There are multiple “shock” moments here that continually enforce the idea that this is a more mature take on G.I. JOE. Within the opening moments, both the Joes and Cobra have lost a member, as Major Blood (at the hands of Cobra Commander) and Bazooka Joe (at the hands of Storm Shadow) are murdered. RESOLUTE handles both murders extremely well; it would not surprise me if, left to his own devices, Ellis would have shown both murders, but in RESOLUTE we see neither. It’s a wise choice because in neither instance is the murder itself the point. The point of both is the larger implications. Blood’s murder symbolizes that Cobra Commander isn’t playing around and Bazooka’s that Joes can die.
Any character bits get forced in between the action scenes but we get a surprisingly decent amount of them. When Snake Eyes realizes that it’s Storm Shadow who’s killed Bazooka, Duke says to him, “I know what’s coming. Just be ready when I need you.” Duke knows that Snake Eyes has been called out and knows Snake is going to go do bad things to Storm Shadow. There’s no, “Arrest him so we can interrogate him.” Everyone knows who killed Bazooka and everyone knows why, and Duke willingly sends Snake Eyes off to take Storm Shadow out, instead of taking him down.
As Duke and Scarlett watch Snake Eyes leave, Duke says to Scarlett, “Are you going with him or are you staying with me?” Scarlett thinks he means “stay with the team” but Duke has no problem clarifying: he means for Scarlett to make a choice, right then and there, whether she wants to be romantically involved with Snake Eyes or be with him. It adds a wonderful sense of urgency to the film and highlights the true danger they’re facing much more than someone saying, “This is, like, the worst thing Cobra has ever done.”
Most of the rest of RESOLUTE involves the Joes and Cobra shooting at each other. There’s a few separate missions at play here, but it’s really just good, consistent violence. The Snake Eyes/Storm Shadow subplot is the only one that gets any real space or back story, and the history of their involvement in the same ninja training temple is a compelling one. They are clearly marked as brothers – Storm Shadow is the blood son of the ninja master while Snake Eyes is the spiritual son. The master chooses Snake Eyes; Storm Shadow has his father assassinated. Their “one lives, one dies” final showdown is a heck of a throwdown and delivers a definitive ending.
Until the post-credit epilogue, at least.
But that’s a small complaint in an otherwise excellent show. I haven’t seen all of the G.I. JOE cartoons – heck, I probably haven’t seen most of them – but between the ’80s cartoon, the live-action movie, and RESOLUTE, I’ll watch RESOLUTE again more than any of them. Full credit to the producers, to Warren Ellis, and especially to the animators who made this film a fantastic watch.