Film Review: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero – Debut Miniseries (1983)

Also known as: Action Force (UK), G.I. Joe: The M.A.S.S. Device (alternate VHS title)
Release Date: September 12th, 1983 – September 16th, 1983 (first run syndication, 5 parts)
Directed by: Dan Thompson
Written by: Ron Friedman
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama
Music by: Johnny Douglas
Cast (voices): Michael Bell, Arthur Burghardt, Corey Burton, William Callaway, Brian Cummings, Dick Gautier, Ed Gilbert, Chris Latta, Morgan Lofting, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Bill Ratner, Bob Remus, B.J. Ward, Frank Welker, Peter Cullen

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, 5 Episodes (first run syndication), 21 Minutes (per episode), 97 Minutes (movie cut)

Review:

“Nobody’s perfect.” – Breaker, “No. But we do okay.” – Duke

This review isn’t for the G.I. Joe cartoon series as a whole. I wanted to review the early miniseries stories as their own bodies of work, as each was five episodes long but edited into movies for home video release and for two hour long weekend broadcasts on television.

This is the first of those miniseries releases and the story that popularized the reinvented G.I. Joe franchise in the ’80s. Some know this as The M.A.S.S. Device, as it was marketed that way on VHS and to differentiate it from the long-running cartoon that shared the name G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

In this inaugural chapter of the modernized G.I. Joe mythos, we meet everyone for the first time. On the G.I. Joe side there is Duke, Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Stalker, Gung Ho, Breaker, Clutch, Cover Girl, Snow Job (I still can’t believe that was his name) and a few others. On the Cobra side we are introduced to four of the big leaders: Cobra Commander, Destro, the Baroness and Major Blood.

We also get introduced to the concept of the show and it’s heavy emphasis on science fiction and Cobra’s love of super weapons.

In the ’80s, probably due to the popularity of the Death Star from Star Wars and all the classic James Bond movies, there was always a need for super weapons. Cobra probably had more than any other fictional organization in history. Here, the super weapon is the M.A.S.S. Device, which require three special elements to operate. When operational, it can beam massive things to other locations or just straight up destroy them with an energy blast. Cobra actually does a weapons test, as a warning to the world, where we see them beam a nation’s entire army into their clutches, where they are captured.

G.I. Joe builds their own version of the device in an effort to combat Cobra. Most of the story is about the race between G.I. Joe and Cobra to collect the three rare elements from incredibly dangerous locations around the world.

For the time, the animation was top notch. Compared to what else was out at the time in the United States, this was well above its competition. Alongside Transformers, also produced by the same studio, G.I. Joe actually moved kids minds away from other toy franchises and locked them in place to Hasbro’s benefit. Today, G.I. Joe and Transformers are still massive franchises even if the live action movies leave a lot to be desired.

This was a really good kickoff to the modernized G.I. Joe franchise and actually, the cartoon universe improved with each new miniseries and eventually peaked with a full show. Things would go downhill in later eras but this was the start of a few years of stupendous G.I. Joe animated material.

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