The GeeksverseGI Joe: Renegades TV premiere review

GI Joe: Renegades TV premiere review
Published on Monday, November 29, 2010 by

Hasbro’s GI Joe toy line has a long history of being featured in episodic TV animation. The property debuted on the small screen in 1985 on the GI Joe: A Real American Hero show, a Marvel/Sunbow co-production animated by Toei Animation of Japan that ran for 95 episodes and continues to be shown in syndication on specialty cable channels to this day. The success of the TV show would lead to a full-length animated feature film (originally intended for theatrical release in 1987 but later downgraded to a television airing and direct-to-video release) entitled GI Joe: The Movie. A second GI Joe: A Real American Hero series would debut in 1989 produced with DIC Entertainment but, perhaps as a reflection of the toy line’s fading fortunes as well as DIC’s perceived lower production values, this incarnation would only last 44 episodes. Animated GI Joe TV shows would appear at various times throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s (the most recent being 2009’s GI Joe: Resolute) but apart from GI Joe: Sigma 6 (a 2005 re-imagining that wed the property with more contemporaneous character design trends and produced 26 episodes over two seasons), none would come close to replicating the rampant popularity of the original 1985–87 series (or the less well-received 1989–91 series for that matter).

Scarlett meets Duke and his team

The recently-debuted GI Joe: Renegades (abbreviated from this point forward as GIJ:Rs) is a new take on the property, produced by Hasbro Studios and airing in the United States on The Hub cable TV channel (formerly known as the Discovery Kids channel) jointly owned by Discovery Communications and Hasbro. Despite sharing names and design features with earlier incarnations of GI Joe characters, GIJ:Rs‘ collection of heroes and villains is, for all intents and purposes, composed of an all-new cast. Viewers would be better served watching the show without expectations consciously shaped by character conventions and relationships informed by prior GI Joe cartoons and other GI Joe media such as the comic books.

A basic summary of the two-part premiere is as follows (spoiler alert!):

Cobra operatives Baroness Anastasia Cisarovna and Dr. Brian "Mindbender" Bender

US Army intelligence 1LT Shana “Scarlett” O’Hara, under false pretenses, leads a small team of enlisted soldiers (composed of SGT Conrad “Duke” Hauser and privates first class Nicky “Tunnel Rat” Lee, Marvin “Roadblock” Hinton, and Wallace “Ripcord” Weems) into a facility owned by Cobra, a large multinational corporation with interests in pharmaceuticals, agriculture, food production, and is a leading defense contractor for the US government.

Upon their infiltration of the facility, they discover that Cobra is secretly creating “Bio-Vipers,” genetically-engineered, vaguely humanoid, biological weapons (for what purpose is yet to be revealed). O’Hara’s team successfully destroys the Bio-Viper facility but not without losing one of their number in the process. To complicate matters further, they lose computer evidence of Cobra’s illegal activities in a mishap and are framed in the media by Cobra as rogue soldiers on a shooting rampage responsible for an unnamed death and the destruction of one of their buildings. The first half of the premiere ends with the surviving members of the team committing to expose Cobra for what it really is, even if it means going up against the combined might of Cobra’s security forces and the American military establishment.

The enigmatic Snake-Eyes

The second half of the premiere revolves around O’Hara and company’s pursuit of a Bio-Viper that has escaped into a small rural town, while they themselves are being hunted by an Army unit led in the field by O’Hara and Hauser’s former associates, 1LT Dashiell “Flint” Faireborn and SGT Allison “Lady Jaye” Hart-Burnett. The Bio-Viper is defeated in a manner that I’m convinced is an homage to the 1985 GI Joe: A Real American Hero episode “The Germ” and the renegade soldiers narrowly escape their government pursuers to clear their names and fight Cobra for another day.

Confrontation between Flint and Duke

I don’t know if the premise of the show is indicative of a conscious effort by the show’s writers to tap into the growing public sentiment of distrust of corporate entities and big government that has been shaped by the political embarrassments and corporate scandals of the past decade, but the approach is a welcome departure from the ultimately frivolous (even by popular kids entertainment standards) and occasionally jingoistic inclination of prior GI Joe cartoons. Handled with an even hand and creativity, I think GIJ:Rs has the potential to be this year’s Avatar: The Last Airbender, a weekly animated series loaded with stylized conflict sure to rope in young viewers, as well as intelligence and pathos that can captivate older audiences.

Lady Jaye and Ripcord

The writing on the show isn’t perfect, however. There are a number of groan-inducing dialogue sequences, but that’s almost par for the course for any cartoon these days. Plot holes abound, but nothing that greatly detracts from the overarching story. For the military obsessive, the writers commit some noticeable script errors: junior enlisted soldiers addressing NCOs by “sir” or “ma’am” instead of “sergeant” (in the US Army, “sir” or “ma’am” are formal terms of address reserved for commissioned and warrant officers and civilians in positions of authority). Scarlett and Flint are described as US Army Intelligence agents, but the duties they perform on the show are more in line with US Army CID (Criminal Investigation Command) special agent responsibilities. Overall though, these are minor blemishes on an otherwise competent and entertaining debut, one that is primarily geared toward young viewers, after all.

General Abernathy, voiced by TV veteran Lee Majors

The voice cast features many Saturday morning cartoon veterans, including Charlie Adler (a standby on the original GI Joe: A Real American Hero series), Clancy Brown (perhaps best known in cartoon fan circles for voicing Lex Luthor on the 1996 Superman animated series), and Kevin Michael Richardson (Joker on 2004’s The Batman); as well as film and TV actors such as 1970s/1980s TV action star Lee Majors and versatile daytime drama actor Natalia Cigliuti. The voice work is great all around, although I found Nika Futterman’s dual role portrayals (she voices Lady Jaye and a TV reporter) a tad distracting, since it doesn’t sound like she put enough differentiation between the two characters’ voices and speaking cadences.

(L–R) Scarlett, Duke, Roadblock, Tunnel Rat, and Snake-Eyes

There was a lot of skepticism and nay-saying on internet message boards when screen captures and character design sheets for GIJ:Rs were previewed several weeks ago, but now that I’ve seen the designs in the proper context, I have to say that I’m pleasantly surprised at how good they look in motion. An often underrated and overlooked feature of character design for animation is the character’s silhouette, and the show’s main cast are effectively and simultaneously unified and distinguished by their silhouettes. The level of craft of the technical and art direction is excellent for the most part, exceeding that of similarly-themed, recent fare such as Marvel Animation’s Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. I’m not as enamored of the prop designs, particularly the firearms, but I found them easy enough to ignore.

The Verdict: The series premiere showcases a technically competent animated project with an intriguing and unconventional premise. The show features stylized physical violence better suited for older children (7+ years old) and addresses themes and topics that, if handled intelligently as the season progresses, can elevate the series to potentially be more than just a commercial tie-in to sell Hasbro’s army men toys. Recommended viewing.

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