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G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
I remember the original animated G.I. Joe being one hell of a way to kick off a school day. I'd get up, grab a bowl of my favorite cereal, and sit in front of the television to watch an epic battle of good vs. evil unfold at some of the sickest enemy base designs ever known to man. Add to the fact there were virtually unlimited amounts of lasers and explosions, and I was a happy camper. The creators behind G.I. Joe knew I couldn't have cared less about substance or plot as a kid, so they made sure to lay the action on nice and thick throughout the entirety of each episode. It was eye candy to the extreme, and now almost 25 years after the debut of the classic series, so is G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Unfortunately, eye candy is all this film has to offer, because although it kept me entertained enough to watch the entire film from beginning to end, every other aspect of this Stephen Sommers flick was eye wincingly bad.
In the not too distant future, arms dealer extraordinaire James McCullen has finally crafted his piece de resistance - Nano-mites. They're capable of decimating entire cities at a time in warhead form, and McCullen has developed four of these to sell to NATO. The US Army charges Duke and Ripcord with leading a convoy to deliver the goods swiftly and safely, but a group of elite super-soldiers launch an assault to retrieve the weapons before they're able to make their destination. With an impressive display of firepower, it seems as if the bad guys are going to walk away with the warheads without so much as a hitch. At the very moment all hope seems to be lost, a small team of G.I. Joe operatives emerge from the shadows to extract the warheads and bring them to their secret underground base. Unwilling to leave the weapons they vowed to protect behind, Duke and Ripcord go along for the ride. After showing they have the necessary skills to hang with the secret military organization, they're invited to become members of the outfit themselves. Unfortunately for everyone involved, McMullen has a hidden agenda to unleash fear and chaos across the globe. Using the same type of nanotechnology, McMullen has been able to create a fearless army of the same kind of super-soldiers G.I. Joe has already encountered. Unleashing them upon the unsuspecting G.I. Joe on their own turf, McMullen once again has control of his weapons and plans to use them to reveal a new world order: Cobra. It's up to G.I. Joe to save the day, but with the likes of the Baroness, Storm Shadow, and Cobra Commander in their way, the Joe's are going to have to face the reality that they may have finally met their match.
I might be in the minority here, but I'm actually a big fan of The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, and even Van Helsing. They might not be sophisticated pieces of art, but I found them to be highly entertaining popcorn flicks through and through. I'm telling you this because I don't want there to be any misconceptions about my attitude towards Sommers, because I have absolutely no bias against the man. That being said, I felt G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was an absolute mess. I love gorgeous eye candy and all, but I need to have at least a little substance to hold it all together, ya know? Perhaps it was for the better though, because every time the film paused for 2.5 seconds to squeeze a little plot in, the movie decided to torture me with its epically bad writing instead. General dialogue had little to no thought behind it, while jokes and one-liners were flat at best.
To make matters worse, the acting was equally awful. I mean, I could understand if the secondary Joe/Cobra characters were cast with less than talented actors, but the two most important roles in the film were butchered by an emotionless Duke (Channing Tatum), and a Cobra Commander (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) that was perhaps even more cartoonish than his animated counterpart.
Now although this is a horrendous film when you take all the bad acting and terrible writing into consideration, Sommers does deserve some credit for making a movie that's fun. Despite its flaws, it's pretty clear that Sommers never set out to make a great film, just one that kept the spirit of the original animated show intact. In that respect this film succeeds with flying colors. It may have the weakest character and plot development structure I've ever seen, but the action and special effects are all top notch and really reminded me of the original series. I was envious of the weapon and vehicle designs, and the underwater Cobra command center was absolutely jaw-dropping. All the toys, gadgets, and gizmos definitely made me feel like I was watching a faithful representation of G.I. Joe. Trying to recreate the show's formula could have been an acceptable approach if the runtime was kept relatively short, but at 118 minutes in length, this movie is a good 25-35 minutes too long for its own good. I was actually having a really fun time watching the first 45 minutes or so, because every action sequence was above and beyond impressive, and I was having a blast. Since the entire film is nothing but action sequences strung together with little reason or rhyme, their impact on me started to take a nosedive halfway through the film. Without any decent writing or acting for The Rise of Cobra to fall back on, I was simply waiting for it all to end. I'd say this film is worth watching at least once, but I wouldn't recommend a blind buy by any means.
This 1080p AVC encode (2.40:1) is really impressive. Contrast is spot on, black levels are always deep and never crush, skin tones are accurate, edges are well defined without a trace of edge enhancement, and there are no digital compression issues to speak of. The film print itself is flawless, and a very fine amount of film grain has been left intact. There's no doubt about it, this transfer is pretty much perfect in every perceivable way. My only complaint with the overall presentation is that the amazing quality presented on this Blu-ray really points out how fake a lot of the digitized backgrounds are, but it seemed to be somewhat intentional in order to keep a slightly nostalgic feel to the film, so I can't really knock the transfer for that. If you have no qualms over seeing a terrible film as long as it's loaded with gorgeous special effects, then this transfer is going to make you grin ear to ear from beginning to end.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track on this disc is almost as impressive as the video presentation. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a nonstop action extravaganza flick, and the audio represents that well. I don't think there was a single time that I felt as if I wasn't in the middle of the action. Subtle environmental sound effects could be heard if and when the movie ever took a second to breathe, but the big action sequences that dominate most of the film had accurate directionality across the entire sound field. The rears never once seemed to be shy, and the subwoofer was practically trying to punch my living room in its face. I'd almost consider this to be demo-worthy material if you want to show how impressive your system can sound to your friends, but as an audiophile, I felt the dialogue was being overpowered from time to time. If you live in an apartment, you're probably going to need to fluctuate the volume quite a bit, otherwise you're occasionally going to get whisper soft conversations to bookend the action scenes. Considering most of the film is action anyways, it's not exactly a big drawback, and I highly recommend the audio experience to anyone that feels like giving their system at home a workout.
Feature and Commentary by Director Stephen Sommers and Producer Bob Ducsay - As usual, frequent partners Sommers and Ducsay provide a commentary track that shows they truly have an appreciation for the work they put into their films. They go into great detail about every aspect of the film's production, which apparently was an endeavor into madness. Much like Bay's Transformers 2, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was being written at a time when the idea of a writer's strike was gaining serious discussion in Hollywood. This lead to a rapid-fire production pace from beginning to end, and impressively the duo behind the mic doesn't really use this as an excuse at all, because as I've noted, they're quite happy with the outcome (I'm not sure why). It's an interesting commentary track to be sure, but I don't foresee anyone wanting to sit through the film again for the sake of listening to it.
The Big Bang Theory - The Making of G.I. Joe - This quote from Brian Goldner, the President and CEO of Hasbro, explains a lot. "How could we reinvent the company through the reinvention, re-imagination, recreation of our brands? And of course, motion pictures are right there on top of the mind. So we got into that whole process." Another quote? "My job was to make a movie that the fans would love, but, everybody else would love as well." That quote was from Stephen Sommers himself, and once again it's very clear he's pretty happy with the end result (again, I'm not sure why). At 30 minutes in length, this behind the scenes featurette does a great job of summarizing what the production and creative processes were like. There's plenty to see behind the scenes of the film's choreography and CGI, which includes a ton of pre-visualization scenes in motion. It's an interesting piece that a fan of the film shouldn't miss. If you're merely looking for an answer as to why every ounce of this film has its emphasis placed on special effects driven action, look no further.
Next-Gen Action: The Amazing Visual FX and Design of G.I. Joe - This featurette specifically focuses on the special effects throughout the film, and you'll see plenty of major sequences being built from their wire-frame computer designs, right up to the final products ultimately seen on film. It's a pretty interesting piece at 21 minutes in length, as everything is explained in non-technological discussion that everyone can understand.
Also included on this DVD is a digital copy of the film.
I'm not really happy that the extras weren't included on the Blu-ray. Taking into consideration there are only two special features on this release (and decent ones at that) in standard definition, why couldn't they have included them on the Blu-ray disc? All this does is inconvenience the consumer with having to get up and swap discs. I'd understand if there were so many supplemental extras it wouldn't have been feasible to do so, but that's clearly not the case.
I get that Stephen Sommers was trying to recreate the action-heavy style of the classic G.I. Joe series, I do. Unfortunately, Sommers needs to understand that if he wants to appeal to everyone (which is not an unfair assumption since he said that was his goal himself), he needs to craft an interesting story and develop characters the audience truly cares about. Well, not only did plot and character development take a back seat, they were ejected at full speed and left to rot on the side of the road. Combine this with some of the worst acting I've ever seen in a big budget film to date, and that's G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra in a nutshell. I wouldn't skip this film entirely, as the action is so impressive, I think everyone owes it to themselves to see this CGI spectacle at least once. It's mindless popcorn fun with reference quality video and earthquake inducing audio, so I'd recommend this one as a rental.
***The screenshots in this review are not indicative of the pristine high-def presentation on this release.
-About the Author- Michael Zupan is primarily a film guy, but has a variety of places where you can enjoy his work otherwise. Check Bytesizeimpressions.com for video game op-ed pieces and podcasts, and be sure to check out the sister site, Byte-Size Cinema, linked up top. This writer also contributes significantly to in-print magazines such as Minecraft Explorer and Fortnite Explorer!