EPISODE REVIEW: GI Joe Renegades: “The Descent (Parts 1 and 2)” (Episodes 1 and 2)

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I don’t know that we’re going to cover this show regularly, but as I’ve always had an inexplicable thing for GI Joe (Which sucks out loud more than half the time, but I still love it), and as none of our regular shows are running tonight, I thought I’d give it a shot. I actually liked it quite a bit.

PLAY BY PLAY

Cobra Industries is a massive multinational fortune-500 company with its fingers in every conceivable pie: Defense contracting, pharmeceuticals, communications, and the manufacture of Apple Pie. (No, really) An Army Intel officer - “Scarlet” - pulls Duke, Tunnel Rat, Ripcord, and Roadblock out of what appears to be Airborn Ranger training, and hauls them off to escort her to a Cobra pharmaceutical plant just outside Springfield, USA. (For those of you new to the party, GI Joe started using “Springfield” as jede stadt looooong before there was a Simpsons. I kinda’ wish they’d stop, though. The Simpsons so totally own that concept now that it seems a bit obtrusive when GI Joe uses it, even though it was theirs first). She tells them that it’s all just a show for the press.

When they get to the plant, the company won’t accept Scarlet’s ID, and a firefight ensues. The Joes win, and Scarlet reveals that she actually has no orders, that the military has suspected Cobra of all manner of super villainy for years, but has never been able to prove it. She’s decided to get proof on their own.

They make their way to an underground lab run by Dr. Mindbender, who’s building Biovipers. In this iteration, the Biovipers are big anthropomorphic blobs that explode to puddles of goo, then grow back like a T-1000. And they suck the life out of things. They blow up the lab, destroying the pharmaceuticals factory, but Ripcord is evidently killed, and one of the vipers escapes.

The Joes escape, and try to warn General Hawk, but are sold out by an army major, who is himself promptly killed by The Baroness. Meanwhile, the media is reporting there was a fatality in the attack, and the Joes are renegade criminals.

Flint and Lady Jay are assigned to track Duke and his renegades down. This leads to a showdown in Springfield, where the renegades risk themselves to kill the monster and rescue a child, then escape when Snake Eyes shows up and slices things.

OBSERVATIONS

Animation is pretty dodgy. Better than anything in the ‘70s, but frequently not as fluid as the original Joe series from the ‘80s, and *That* was pretty choppy. Don’t care for the overall character design, which is a bit to angular and awkward. The Character redesign is a mixed bag. I don’t really like the way Duke looks, but Snake Eyes is cool, and Scarlet is an interesting departure, while still being recognizable, and there’s some nice hommages there. For instance, her standard “What the heck is that supposed to be?” one-piece swimsuit she wears over her clothes in all the older shows is here revealed to be a flack jacket. Don’t care for General Hawk’s redesign, and I’m not sure what I think of the massive liberties taken with Cobra Commander. Flint, Tunnel Rat, and the Baroness are all acceptable. Roadblock is a bit goofy looking, I think.

The palate is deliberately muted, no primary colors. The backgrounds are, in general, pretty good, but sort of vague on the outsides of the frame. I think they’re trying to emphasize the moral ambiguity of the characters here. Mind you, no one is particularly ambiguous, though I’m sure people will complain about the Joes somehow allegedly being less-than-heroic, and Cobra being not-entirely-evil, but seriously, some people just like to complain about children’s shows. Endeavor not to give a crap what they say, because there is no thought behind their words.

Voice acting is pretty good. I’m particularly impressed with Jason Marsden’s rendition of Duke. He’s very respectfully reminiscent of the original Michael Bell performance (Yeah, I’m a voice actor geek. So sue me.), but he’s allowed to bring a lot more nuance to it than Bell was back in the day. I actually like Natalia Cigluti’s performance as Scarlet more than BJ Ward’s entirely-too-brash rendition a quarter century ago. Conversely, I like Nikka “Give it to me Baby” Futterman’s version of Lady Jaye far, far less than I liked Mary McDonald-Lewis’ version. (And as Scarlet and Duke were driving away in a stolen car in the end, I couldn’t help thinking that it obviously didn’t have On Star, which sent me into hebephrenic laughter when I realized that Mary McDonald-Lewis *is* the voice of On Star these days) Ed Gilbert was, for me, iconic as General Hawk, but I have to say that if they were going to change the direction they went with the character, they at least went in a very strong, distinctive direction. Lee Majors is the new voice of Hawk, and he does a darn fine job. Impressed am I.

The dynamics between the characters are all there, but they’re done in interesting ways: Tunnel Rat is still an irritating Brooklyn motor mouth, Duke is still too stalwart. There’s sparks between Duke and Scarlet, but they don’t like each other very much. There’s obviously something going on between Scarlet and Snake Eyes. You can read it in the body language. Making Scarlet outrank Duke was an interesting spin. The Flint/Duke rivalry established tonight is pretty neat and nicely done, and never really seen before on screen. The best of these scrambles, however, is the traditional Flint/ Lady Jaye relationship. There’s subtle sparks when they first meet, but there’s a fun complication of Flint hating Duke, and trying to hunt him down, while Jaye likes Duke (Not in that way), and is trying to foil Flint while being partnered with him.

I don’t really care for this take on Mindbender. Granted, it’s better than the old bombastic Victor von Frankenstein-by-way-of-a-drag-queen version from the 80s (Sorry, Brian Cummings. Really.), but this is entirely too Joss Whedony, too self-conscious. It’s badly written, and Charlie Schlatter isn’t really able to salvage it.

Someone gets killed! No, not Ripcord. He’s in the opening credits, you know he’s coming back.

On the whole, I like it. I like the reboot. The old continuity was effectively completed by GI Joe Resolute last year ( http://www.republibot.com/content/review-gi-joeresolute-2009 ) and the franchise was over-ripe for a new take on it. As the series starts out, there *is* no Joe team, nor is there one as these episodes end. The Government isn’t even aware there is a threat. What we’re watching here - what the show is really about - is the *formation* of GI Joe, by increments, as a kind of grass-roots insubordination in the army. Weird, but kind of swashbuckly and romantic, you know? Everyone goes by their real names in this, their more famous handles are basically nicknames, generally ones they got stuck with by people who want to ignore them. “GI Joe” is never mentioned in the episode at all.

Tunnel Rat is genuinely funny. Nice to see the character finally done right. Sadly, I doubt Deep Lob is ever gonna’ get the same treatment. It’s been 25 years. He ain’t comin’ back.

Rethinking Cobra as a multinational using their philanthropic endeavors to hide their infernal ones is a neat touch, though I’m sure some people will take it as a hippie peace love slam on capitalism. Again: people who would complain about stuff like that are people who didn’t date much in their youth. Ignore them. It isn’t a slam on capitalism. It really isn’t, I promise you.

As to the moral ambiguity, to be honest, I didn’t see it. The bad guys are bad, the good guys are good (If clearly off the reservation, morally speaking), and there’s a genuinely touching scene when the guys take time out to say a few words by way of a funeral for Ripcord: They awkwardly admit none of them really knew each other prior to this debacle, and they hem and haw uneasily. Tunnel Rat attempts to make a joke out of it and starts rambling. Duke reins him in. Scarlet complains about the waste of time, and Duke shames her into saying something on his behalf. It lasts less than a minute, but it’s a great scene, and it provides a nice moral center to Duke that he’s lacked in previous versions: He’s a guy who does the right thing because it’s the right thing, not duty or honor or law. He’s the guy who’ll point out the good things other people did, even when he really should be running. I find myself liking him, which is something I never did before. (I was always more on Flint’s team)

So we’re two episodes in, and it’s already better than that movie ( http://www.republibot.com/content/reviews-movie-reviews-%E2%80%9Cgi-joe-... ) and I kinda’ can’t wait to see what comes next.

Anyone else watch it?

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

What? Are you kidding me? It's G-freakin-I Joe! Of COURSE we'll like it! You can't get more flag-waving. Duh!

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