First of all, I'm a big fan of Warren Ellis' work, and not just his comics. His episode of Justice League Unlimited, "Dark Heart," was fantastic. Ellis is an extraordinarily gifted writer, and one I count among my favorites. Having said that, I'm not sure if he was right for this job, or if he just phoned it in without taking it very seriously. Maybe the "webisode" micro-series format created a problem, or perhaps Sam Register, Ruiner Of All That Is Good, had too much influence over the final product. Whatever the case may be, this is not an indictment of Ellis' ability.
Secondly, I thoroughly enjoyed the animation and most of the character designs in G.I. JOE: Resolute. Joaquim Dos Santos is another master of his craft, but like Ellis, I felt his talents were wasted on this project. When I first saw this collaboration announced, I honestly believed that Resolute would be the best G.I. JOE release of 2009. I don't know that my initial assumption could have been more off the mark.
As for the warning, if you still haven't seen either of these, and you plan to do so eventually, stop reading. I'm not going to hide spoiler text, so proceed at your peril. With that out of the way, I give you Ten Reasons Why The Rise Of Cobra Was Better Than G.I. JOE: Resolute:
10) Hawk was in command. For whatever reason, Hawk was totally MIA in Resolute. The whole, "Duke is in charge," aspect of the Sunbow series was one of the many things I hated about it, and here he was, right back in command of the whole goddamn team. Aside from a couple of elements involving the history of Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow and a reference to (the wrong) Springfield, this thing seemed to be catering to fans of the 1980s cartoon from the very start. For people who grew up with the Sunbow episodes as their idea of what G.I. JOE is, I'll admit that Resolute was an improvement, but that's really not saying much. Maybe fans of the show were predisposed to being more easily entertained by this stuff, but as a Hama fan, it was an absolute letdown.
9) Stephen Sommers didn't pussy out when it came time to kill one off the good guys (er, girls). Just after Scarlett's audition for CSI: Washington in Resolute, we see an explosion on the U.S.S. Flagg, followed by the revelation that a well-known JOE had been killed while on guard duty. That JOE was Bazooka, who was killed off-screen by Storm Shadow. In fact, agents of Cobra (aside from Major Bludd, who also died off-screen) are the only named characters who die in front of the audience. We never see a JOE, or even an anonymous civilian, die on-screen. Why? Well, a lot of it probably has to do with the fact that Resolute Cobra Troopers are about as effective with their weapons as the Stormtroopers in STAR WARS. Several of them miss Duke and Scarlett at very close range. It was like I'd suddenly been transported back to the '80s, despite promises of "grown-up" G.I. JOE animation. When it came time to kill off Cover Girl in The Rise Of Cobra, though, Sommers didn't hold back. His Zartan stabbed her right in the back and on through the screen of her large tablet-thingy. Sure, Resolute was violent, but with the absurd amount of poor aim and the completely one-sided battles, the violence it did showcase seemed forced. Violence for the sake of violence does not make for an entertaining experience.
8) No one confused the stratosphere for a fucking tunnel. Seriously, when G.I. JOE has a job that requires sending someone halfway to outer space, just how the hell does Tunnel Rat draw that duty? And was it really even necessary for him to float up there to apply his "power surge" cure-all? With all the technology used in this story, couldn't we come up with something that wouldn't require sending the wrong guy on a balloon ride twenty or thirty miles up in the air? Okay, just to avoid any future confusion, anyone who's not sure of the difference can use this diagram (original located here):
7) Duke wasn't doing his Wolverine impression. Seriously, I like Steve Blum's work, and the guy has plenty of range. Why, though, does his Duke sound exactly like his Logan? If you've seen Hulk Vs. or Wolverine and the X-Men (and you should if you haven't), or even played any recent Marvel-based video games, it's fairly distracting.
6) Snake-Eyes wasn't Duke's bitch. In The Rise Of Cobra, it was all Duke could manage to get Snake-Eyes on the ground with a cheap shot during a sparring match. Duke needed that Delta Six accelerator suit just to keep up with Snake-Eyes. In Resolute, Duke's grumpy glare and, "You be ready when we need you," shit is exactly the time for Snake-Eyes to give a look that says, "I'm going to do what I need to do, and I'll be ready when I'm good and goddamn ready, Duke. And hey, if you don't like it, I can go ninja upside your stupid face." That's all Snake-Eyes needs to convey that message, just a look. From behind a mask. And don't even get me started on the bizarre crossbreeding of continuities where Duke punks Snake-Eyes out with Scarlett, guilting her into choosing to be with him before Snake-Eyes even leaves the room. Why the need to cut Snake-Eyes' nuts off in Resolute? Just to make Duke look tougher?
5) Cobra Commander managed to be sinister. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Cobra Commander was infinitely more minacious than the imbecilic portrayal in Resolute. Despite excusing past failures by saying, "it suited (him) once to appear weak and cowardly," in order to "motivate" his subordinates to "think," what does the Resolute Cobra Commander do when the chips are down? He massacres his own followers and locks himself in a panic room. After telling Duke he won't be able to stop Cobra's doomsday device du jour from firing, Duke apparently locates a convenient deus ex machina in the form of a switch that redirects the weapon. Right at Cobra headquarters. Can't stop it, but you can aim it right at us! Oy vey. Gordon-Levitt's character exuded scary and threatening, delivering a competent Commander that can be taken seriously.
4) Destro and Baroness actually did stuff. Resolute transformed two of the most compelling, interesting personalities of the entire mythos into a wannabe, Bonnie-and-Clyde-style duo of common thugs, their sole purpose in the story being guard duty over a building and a group of hostages. Destro was actually shown to be an arms dealer with a grudge against his client states in The Rise Of Cobra, and Baroness turned out to be more than just his tagalong/sidekick/lover. ROC Destro is a convincing villain; Resolute Destro says, "Aw, that's just bloody cheating."
3) Arnold Vosloo's Zartan, scripted perfectly by Stuart Beattie and performed flawlessly by Vosloo, was a completely enjoyable character. He was exactly what a villain should be, cold and calculating, a creepy sociopath who makes the audience have a good time with all the awful things he does. Beattie gave him a trademark whistle, which even gives you a good chuckle immediately after you realize the guy probably murdered the President of the United States. The Zartan of Resolute was shallow and one-dimensional, more of a minor plot obstacle than a character. It was glaringly obvious that absolutely no thought went into his inclusion beyond, "Oh, yeah, get the guy who can blend into his surroundings into the story." What was Zartan's contribution? Stereotypical monologuing until he gets shot in the back in the most intellectually lazy scene of the entire affair.
"I like the idea of living in a world where I can kill anyone I like, any time I like. I don't need the money; I just need the killin'." Fuck's sake, that's garbage. It's not at all true to any previous depiction of the character, either.
2) Storm Shadow was not portrayed as a whining, petulant child in The Rise Of Cobra. His bitching and whining in the animation is rivaled only by the bitching and whining of obnoxious "fans" who insist that The Rise Of Cobra "insulted" the source material and ruined their childhood memories. Going back to the original Marvel series from the '80s, and even in the awful Sunbow cartoons, Storm Shadow was always an honorable warrior. Always. There were no exceptions. He was never a pathetic, sniveling twat who would conspire in his own uncle's assassination, simply because the man refused to share a dangerous secret with him. His sole motivation in the non-flashback scenes of Resolute was his jealousy of Snake-Eyes, and his reason for becoming a terrorist in the first place was that Unkey Hardmaster didn't wuv him enough. Every aspect of this interpretation of Storm Shadow was an abject disappointment.
1) The Rise Of Cobra was fun. I don't mean it was, "turn off your brain," mindless action, like some critics have suggested. I mean the movie, the story, the characters, and the action were all fun. Resolute failed miserably in this department, crawling at a snail's pace and feeding its audience an overdose of unnecessary exposition. That's not to say Resolute needed more shooting or explosions, but it needed more something, as it was dreadfully boring. There was actually plenty of action, even if most of it was poorly executed. The problem was with the contrived story and phony dialogue that wrapped around the action.
Like pretty much everyone else who grew up with the G.I. JOE books published by Marvel Comics, I have a personal preference for those stories, and I would have been happier if The Rise Of Cobra had adhered more closely to them. What really matters when it comes to this sort of thing, though, is that a filmmaker gets the fundamentals right, and Stephen Sommers accomplished that. But hey, don't take my word for it. Listen to Larry Hama in this interview:
I really like it. I mean, I like it for all the really sort of basic reasons. I think they were really true to the core of the characters. Scarlett seems like Scarlett. Snake-Eyes comes off as Snake-Eyes. Storm Shadow is Storm Shadow.
Compare that with what he had to say about Resolute:
I read a couple of the scripts, and it just seemed like he really didn't understand the characters. I wasn't really interested. He didn't seem to also understand anything about military terminology or technology, for that matter, either. So I just turned myself off.
Ten Reasons Why The Rise Of Cobra Was Better Than G.I. JOE: Resolute