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G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (4K Ultra HD)
Stephen Sommers was a logical choice to direct 2009's G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, as his blockbuster The Mummy and its sequel offer a dependable mix of old-school adventure, exciting action sequences and likeable characters. This live-action film based on Hasbro's toy line is more akin to the director's Van Helsing, however; packed to the gills with mediocre CGI, middling performances, and incoherent action choreography. Critics and fans of the Hasbro toys and related comic book series noted that Sommers' film eviscerated the soul of the G.I. Joe stories, altering characters and story arcs at random to fit the film's screenplay by Stuart Beattie, David Elliot and Paul Lovett. After watching the film for the first time in over a decade, I can confirm that The Rise of Cobra represents a lot of what is wrong with modern action cinema. That said, I think it offers at least some B-movie entertainment value, and the film's 118 minutes tick by quickly.
After their NATO convey carrying nanotech warheads is attacked by the Baroness (Sienna Miller) and her henchmen, Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) are rescued by Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Breaker (Said Taghmaoui) and Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and taken to the G.I. Joe command center in Egypt. General Hawk (Dennis Quaid) initially rebukes the pair but brings the men onboard after Duke reveals the Baroness is his ex-fiancée, Ana Lewis. The nanotech weapons' creator, James McCullen (Christopher Eccleston), is playing a duplicitous game; marketing the technology to legitimate governments while also using it to create an army of super soldiers. McCullen, the Doctor (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the Baroness and Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) plan to use the warheads to cause global panic and the soldiers to clean up the mess, creating a profitable allegiance to their organization, Cobra.
While recent, successful adaptations of comic books and superhero stories have moved toward (relatively) more realistic action and consequential human drama, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra insists on being loud and dumb, and it feels like a movie made closer to the turn of the millennium than in 2009. Tatum has certainly improved his acting skills over the last decade, but he is fairly wooden here, not that the inane script helps. This is the kind of screenplay that forces characters to yell out what they are doing, and the dialogue is about as fresh as expired milk. The entire film feels cartoonish, from the Baroness' entire demeanor to the schlocky, stock villains to the over-the-top performances. Those attributes do offer some escapist entertainment, but I understand why some G.I. Joe fans felt this movie did not resemble the characters and storylines they knew.
The nearly two-hour movie is not short on action sequences, some of which are more impressive than others. Sommers' direction and editing by Bob Ducsay and Jim May are not particularly impressive, as it is often difficult to discern spatial relationships and locations during these frenetic scenes. There is also shockingly poor CGI blending at times, and relatively obvious safety gear is still visible in several shots. I am not sure if the post-production was rushed or the money was gone, but scenes of the nanomites attacking the Eiffel Tower and shots of the Hummer H2 driving through landmarks in Paris are direct-to-video quality at best. Despite all its flaws, The Rise of Cobra has a certain dumb charm. This is nowhere near a good movie, but it is consistently entertaining. A missed opportunity to create something memorable, The Rise of Cobra sees a talented cast using lots of studio dollars to live down to expectations.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
Paramount gives G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra a 4K upgrade that offers subtle differences but is not among the top-tier demo presentations. The 2.40:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 image is sourced from a 2K digital intermediate (and let's be honest, the effects already look rough in 2K) and the presentation offers Dolby Vision and HDR10. There is a slight uptick in clarity and detail as compared to the 1080p image, and textures are generally well resolved. The image is considerably brighter thanks to the HDR pass, and highlights are often stunning. Black levels are also deeper but there is some moderate crush, and colors are nicely saturated. The image looks fine in motion and is reasonably deep, though some of the effects shots are noticeably softer. There is nothing bad about this presentation, but it offers only minor upgrades.
Paramount recycles the same 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix from the 2009 Blu-ray, which, while impressive, is now 11 years old. Nevertheless, the mix is reasonably immersive, with frequent effects panning and LFE support. Mastered slightly lower than some of my more recent discs, I had to hit the volume button a few times to experience the true power of the surround speakers. Dialogue is clear and balanced appropriately with effects and score. A host of dubs and subtitle options are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the 4K disc, a Blu-ray disc and a digital copy code. The discs arrive in a black 4K case that is wrapped in a slipcover. The only bonus feature is an Audio Commentary by Director Stephen Sommers and Producer Bob Ducsay. Frustrating is that the original Blu-ray release offered a bonus DVD with a couple of featurettes, but none of that appears here. It seems Paramount did not give this the royal treatment.
Loud, dumb, poorly written and often ridiculous, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was not the franchise cornerstone Paramount was hoping for despite a decent cast and relatively large budget. The fun is still moderately entertaining, despite all the trappings of a mediocre 2000s action film. If you do not own the movie and are a fan, the 4K release offers only a minor upgrade in picture quality and loses extras. I think the old Blu-ray release would suffice. Skip It.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.