Simian Substitute Site for August 2009: Gorilla With A Human Brain
SPANK GOLD: London Film Festival 1995

GI Joe: Resolute

Sienna Miller's lumpy arse, yesterday GI Joe: The Rise Of Cobra opened in cinemas worldwide last weekend. Here in the UK, we don't particularly care about GI Joe (other than being vaguely aware that Hasbro's toy line is the US equivalent of our own Action Man): so we've been blitzed with posters for over a month in advance, all based around the image of Sienna Miller's lumpy arse. In the US, though, it's a much bigger deal: so Paramount have taken the opposite strategy of releasing the film without showing it to critics first, and are actually boasting about doing that.

Why is it that when newspaper reviewers are refused access to a film, they don't just use the review space to say in big letters "I haven't seen it, but I've seen the trailer, and it looks like cock"? Well, obviously, they'd lose all their advertising revenue from Paramount if they did that. But I don't get any advertising revenue from Paramount. So: I haven't seen GI Joe: The Rise Of Cobra, but I've seen the trailer, and it looks like cock. Any action movie that chooses to rip off one of its setpieces from Team America: World Police doesn't deserve the oxygen of publicity, and its makers (in Linda Smith's memorable phrase) barely deserve the oxygen of oxygen. There's no amount of brain damage possible that can make this movie even the slightest bit interesting.

Besides, they've already released a better GI Joe movie this year. If you've got an hour to spare, you could watch it right now.

This was all part of Hasbro's master plan, of course. With a big budget movie planned for the summer of 2009, they were looking for a comparatively cheap way to regenerate interest in the GI Joe franchise. They came up with the idea of an internet cartoon series, to run a few months before the release of the film. There's no reason why any of this paragraph should be in the least bit interesting, until you get to this detail: they asked that Warren Ellis guy to write it.

Ellis gave them the script for an hour-long animation called GI Joe: Resolute, which was designed to be shown across multiple platforms on the Adult Swim network in teeny tiny chunks – ten episodes of five minutes apiece streamed daily on the website, and then a ten-minute finale broadcast on the TV station. It was released into the wild in April 2009, to the horror of a small set of GI Joe fanboys and the delight of everyone else who saw it. Because it's super fun in ways that you suspect the movie could never even begin to understand.

The plot is, as far as I can make out, typical boilerplate for GI Joe adaptations. (The same applies for the movie, I believe, although with a more prequelly edge to it.) Cobra – an all-purpose organisation of evil, led by the dully-named Cobra Commander – want to take over all the nations of the world, and will destroy them one by one if they don't get their way. GI Joe – the all-American organisation of good – has to stop them. And that's literally all there is to it. Anything beyond that is in the details, which is probably why Warren Ellis was hired.

There are two things that Ellis brings to any story he tells: smart, characterful, sometimes profane dialogue, and a huge affection for technology. Sadly, the nature of a cartoon based around an action figure range has hobbled his attempts at the former. He's contractually obliged to include as many of the stock Joe characters as he can, which means that if you're not familiar with the mythology you frequently have no idea who anyone is. You can tell Snake-Eyes is obviously a fan favourite, due to his skillset of Not Talking and Being A Ninja: ditto for Scarlett, whose equivalent skills involve Having Red Hair And A Rack. Apart from that, the huge number of characters on both sides tend to merge into a blur, so the opportunities for them to mouth off in the way you expect Ellis characters to never really occur.

But the technology is where Resolute starts to get interesting. A couple of years ago, Ellis managed to wangle a serious study of nanotechnology into an episode of Justice League Unlimited he wrote, alongside some of the most hilariously deadpan dialogue ever to come out of Batman's mouth. (It's worth watching.) Here, the traditional death ray that Cobra Commander unleashes on the world turns out to be something a little more subtle and interesting: and the particular problems it generates force the Joes to come up with some entertainingly low-tech solutions. Travelling by balloon has never seemed quite as cool as it does here. For a cartoon aimed at teenagers, the technology used here is implemented in a surprisingly thoughtful way.

Don't worry, there's also a shitload of explosions and fighting. In his spiffy superhero spoof of a few years ago, Nextwave, Ellis boiled the action comic down to a steady stream of violent setpieces, and Resolute has a similar sort of feel – although his tongue isn't quite so obviously in his cheek here. Nevertheless, it's still there, in a series of story decisions that he discussed in a hilarious making-of post on his blog, including this fabulous quote from a production meeting:

HASBRO: No, Warren, you cannot wipe Beijing from the face of the earth.
ELLIS: Shit. [pause] What about Moscow?
HASBRO: Wiping Moscow from the face of the earth would be fine.

That happens at the end of episode one, a wild five-minute orgy of violence that includes the offscreen deaths of two popular characters, which amusingly seems to have annoyed the fans much more than the casual slaughter of ten million Russians. But it's indicative of the lightning pace of the series, and a complete justification of the decision to hand over the writing to someone from the comics world. To take a recent example, the episodic stop-start pacing of the Watchmen comic completely failed to translate to cinema: but here, Ellis can use the five-minute episodes as he would the 22 pages of a comic book, to focus on one single plot strand or tell a part of the story in one particular style. When that leads to self-contained episodes as glorious as #8 – one which can be entirely summarised in the two words NINJA FIGHT – it works beautifully.

And yes, the fact that it's a cartoon helps. The animation of Resolute (directed by Joaquim Dos Santos) is perfectly watchable without ever providing any real jaw-dropping moments – it's all at the service of the story. Going back to Watchmen: when Alan Moore said all those years ago it was unfilmable, we thought he meant all the structural tricks and time-jumping in the story. But he realised before we did that images you'd accept as lines on a page would turn into utter bollocks when rendered photorealistically. Which is what happened in the Watchmen movie, and happens in The Rise Of Cobra (probably) - we've seen all this CGI mayhem before and it's boring, but it's hella fun when you see it done through the prism of old-fashioned 2-D animation.

Strictly speaking, you should have been watching Resolute back in the spring, when it was being streamed as a daily serial on the Adult Swim site. Although even then, access was blocked to anyone outside the US. No matter: copies of a dubious nature have been flying around YouTube since the original broadcast, and should hopefully still be available in the playlist embedded below. And if you're a stickler for legality, rumour has it that there should be a DVD available in time for Christmas. To hell with the scary fanboys who are whining on the internet that Warren Ellis has raped their childhood. Although to be honest, the opposing viewpoint isn't much better.



It looks like most of the GI Joe: Resolute webisodes have been removed from YouTube. Probably because of the existence of this thing:

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