Friday, August 14, 2009

Yo, Joe: the technological arguments

Good stories often reflect philosophical debates. By that proposition, "GI Joe: ROC" has a decent story to tell. Here we have two antagonists, both equally well-armed with highly advanced technology. Both are out to establish order in the world: the Joes by maintaining the status quo, MARS (it's a pre-COBRA universe, hence the title) by changing the balance of power through force, intimidation and deceit. We know who the good guys are already.

ROC contemplates the use of technology:

MARS' tactical philosophy is to place technology within the individual soldier, effectively making each one a super-soldier but simultaneously eradicating morality and independent thought, and placing the army's total control in the hands of a single Commander. MARS troops are dedicated, dependable, unquestioningly loyal, but ultimately dispensible. They're basically no fun.

The Joes apply technology to the outside of the soldier, encasing him in an Iron-Man like armoured suit that also effectively turns him into a super-soldier, but with a crucial difference. The soldier can take off the suit and become human again. The Joes' humanity comes through in situations requiring moral decisions (apart from the ones that involve consideration for trash-the-place, make-things-go-boom 'cos that's the default option); but also in the expression of emotion (a small issue for Scarlett); and in being committed to a cause by volunteering rather than coercion -- even if it means countermanding direct orders from Authority and/or risking personal sacrifice.

Despite ROC being quite the Saturday morning cartoon-inspired CGI thrill-fest, I got a better story our if it than I had expected (I have very little hope left in this Summer's releases). ROC clung tenaciously to one consistent through-line: the application of technology can only solve the immediate problem at hand, so can we put technology aside in order to make the really human decisions that count for the longer term?

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