The GeeksverseGI Joe: Renegades episode 9 (“Dreadnoks Rising”) review

GI Joe: Renegades episode 9 (“Dreadnoks Rising”) review
Published on Sunday, January 16, 2011 by

In the 1980s GI Joe comics and the cartoons, the Dreadnoks are a minor third faction in the battle between GI Joe and Cobra. While usually allied with Cobra, they have, on occasion, gone up against the organization to serve their own best interests. If you’re interested in learning more about the comic book characters that served as the inspiration for the villains in this week’s episode, the GI Joe wikia entry is a good, if somewhat convoluted, place to start.

Re-makes and reinterpretations of films and TV shows are a tricky thing. If the source material addresses universal themes and the re-make is handled with an expert hand, reinterpretations can do the originals justice. See, for example, The Magnificent Seven, an excellent re-make of a critically-acclaimed Akira Kurosawa period samurai drama (1954’s The Seven Samurai) which shifted the original’s temporal setting forward and moved the action to a different area of the world altogether. Even when the level of craft isn’t on the same level as that applied to the original, the results can still be worthwhile. Critics panned the the 1996 film Last Man Standing, a re-make of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo which transplanted the story from feudal-era Japan to early Great Depression-era America, as an anemic homage to the Japanese filmmaker’s 1961 film. What many of those critics missed is that divorced from the context of being a re-make of a stone cold classic, Last Man Standing was a pretty entertaining film.

So what does all this have to do with this week’s GI Joe: Renegades episode? Well, the way I’ve approached reviewing the show is by measuring it on its own merits as popular, even disposable, entertainment. As much as I enjoyed the source material (the GI Joe comics and cartoons from the 1980s) that serves as the inspiration for GIJ:Rs, I don’t think it can stand up to being translated into more modern settings. I’ve always believed that an element of 1980s kitsch (for lack of a better term) was a big part of what made GI Joe so successful during the 1980s, so I can understand why modern interpretations of the property try to do away with design cues we’ve come to associate with the GI Joe characters we’ve grown up with. What worked then isn’t necessarily going to work now, what with the always-fickle preferences of the viewing public. At the end of the day, the only real barometer for me when I do these reviews is entertainment value. I like it when the writers appeal to my sense of nostalgia but ultimately, reviews just come down to asking myself if I found the episode sufficiently entertaining (with allowances made for the fact that GIJ:Rs is targeted primarily towards pre-teen viewers).

It’s no coincidence that I opened this review by mentioning Seven Samurai. This week’s episode features a plot that has been, in various permutations, a standby in television and film ever since being popularized in Kurosawa’s 1954 epic: a roving band of warriors comes upon a village being plagued by bandits. Despite being counterproductive to their own best interests, the warriors stay to help the villagers fight off the bandits, and not only that, impart upon the villagers the knowledge and confidence necessary to stand up for themselves. It’s a deceptively straightforward plot that should set up a fairly entertaining episode, but as in many things in life, the devil is in the details.

The first real issue is that it’s hard to root for the townspeople being victimized. Their personalities range from bland (Russell the car salesman) to stock (Wendy the waitress) to out-and-out irritating (the Sheriff). But it’s not as if the show’s version of the Dreadnoks make for compelling villains to root against, either. Part of it is the character design. The biker image has changed over the years, from one suggesting menace and lawlessness to a symbol of middle-aged, upper middle-class men trying to reclaim their youth and virility by buying their way into biker culture (shows like TLC’s American Chopper and the Discovery Channel’s various Biker Build-Off specials that turned bikers into whiny reality show celebrities haven’t exactly helped maintain the outlaw biker image, either). Dreadnok leader Zartan looks like he could be a cog in the office machine and a happily married father of two out for a weekend ride with his motorcycle enthusiast buddies. At his most threatening, he looks like a cross between bike builder and all-around asshole Jesse James and WWE wrestler The Undertaker. Of course, one could argue that this is part of Zartan’s ability to blend in, but somehow, I don’t think that that was the intent on the part of the character designers. I’m not looking for the designers to bring back the Alice Cooper make-up look of the original, but surely they could have come up with a more interesting visual than “goateed guy in a vest.”

The show continues a trend that I’m a little weary of: Snake-Eyes coming out of nowhere to save the day. I know he’s a ninja and everything, but it’s getting a tad too repetitive. I appreciated seeing him finally overwhelmed by superior enemy numbers in combat, though, and I liked the scene where the Dreadnoks register their disgust at his unmasked appearance. All in all though, I found myself largely uninterested in the episode due to its tepid pacing, uninspired villain designs, and predictable story beats.

The Verdict: One of the more forgettable and inconsequential episodes of the season. There’s nothing that really stands out as being bad about this particular entry in the series, I just didn’t find it sufficiently entertaining and I wish I’d made better use of the 22 minutes I spent watching it.

Stray Notes and Comments:

  • I played a game of “Spot the Dreadnok,” trying to match-up the classic characters with their redesigned GIJ:Rs incarnations. Here’s what I’ve got:

Ripper, Road-Pig, Buzzer

Torch

Monkeywrench

There were three other Dreadnoks (you can see them fighting Snake-Eyes in one of the pictures above) but they weren’t listed in the end credits, so they could be the less popular Dreadnoks from the original 1982–1994 toyline (Thrasher, Zanzibar, and Gnawgahyde).

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