G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra Review
The following review is copied from my DVD coverage earlier this month. Feel free to skip to the A/V section for a rundown of how the Blu stacks up.
Aside from this year’s Star Trek there’s been little else really worth praising from the traditional outpouring of Summer blockbusters. Both X Men Origins: Wolverine and Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen were huge disappointments, while Terminator Salvation tried to do something a little different but ended up tripping over itself a lot. A few more remakes and sequels hit the screens to the jangling of many coins, but the most surprising of all was the latest in Hollywood’s ongoing trend to adapt all things eighties, this time in the form of kids’ favourite G.I. Joe, or Action Force as it was originally known here in the United Kingdom.
It’s the near future, and weapons engineer James McCullen (Christopher Eccleston) under his company M.A.R.S. has finally completed work on the latest weapon designed to fight the war on terror: a weapon harnessing the power of nanotechnology which enables it to eat through any metal substance. Having sold the first four warheads to NATO, the U.S. Army is charged with delivering the goods safely. Under the protection of Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) a convoy makes its way toward its destination, but it’s soon ambushed by an unknown organization led by Baroness (Sienna Miller) - an old acquaintance of Duke’s - in an attempt to capture the warheads. Luckily for the two soldiers help is on hand with the sudden arrival of Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), Breaker (Saïd Taghmaoui) and Snake Eyes (Ray Eyes), who manage to secure the package and escort it and the surviving members to a secret headquarters known as ‘The Pit’. It’s here that Duke and Ripcord meet General Hawk (Dennis Quaid), head of a secret organization made up of elite soldiers known as ‘G.I. Joe’. When Duke informs Hawk that he knows who the Baroness is, the General enlists him on the team - after an obligatory training montage of course.
Meanwhile McCullen, who we learn is a bit of a naughty arms dealer fleecing both sides, sends his team of the sexy Baroness; Snake-Eyes’s old adversary Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun), and master of disguise Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) to infiltrate The Pit and bring home the warheads so that he and the crazed Doctor (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) can unleash them on major cities, thus causing world-wide panic and enabling them to take over the world. Can the Joes put an end of their nefarious plans and prevent the rise of Cobra? Judging the title, probably not.
Continuing his love affair with extravagant CG visuals, which were so ably used in The Mummy, so horrifically abused in its sequel and Van Helsing, director Stephen Sommers goes into complete overdrive in realizing the fictitious world of the ‘Joes’. From the tense opening reels depicting a nocturnal ambush on our unsuspecting heroes, to an explosively exhilarating chase sequence through the streets of unlucky Paris, G.I. Joe thrives on elaborate set pieces - and it never lets up for one second. While the sheer scale gives away some of the feature’s technical shortcomings, the action is undeniably thrilling, staged with confidence and armed with a clear knowledge of how cartoon adaptations should carry over to film, regardless of any betrayal to the series’ origins it might exhibit. That perhaps being a bone of contention as a lot of the on-screen imagery here isn’t particularly original, in fact Sommers seems to cull material from a number of contemporary sources: the Paris sequence comes across as a melding of Ronin, Team America and Transformers as our heroes do more damage than good; Ripcord’s jet-fighter escapade conjures up recollections of last year’s Iron Man; while most of the final act mirrors that of Return of the Jedi’s - only underwater. And yet it’s so packed to the brim with cleanly executed action and paced so exuberantly despite an almost two hour run time, that you’re simply left not caring.
Additionally, and rather admirably, Sommers eschews much of the intrinsic jingoism which has dominated the U.S. franchise over the years, thus saving us the need to reach for the sick bag. While he does indeed tap into issues regarding military power and the fight against terrorism, he keeps himself largely restrained enough so as to not harm the film’s generally fun atmosphere. Ultimately that leaves the narrative quite bare, itself being stitched together via flashbacks, shock twists and some of the most risible dialogue heard all year - “Try Teine” suggests Scarlett in response to Ripcord’s aiming dilemma in a convenient corner-cutting moment. It’s all so insanely silly in its unwinding that you can’t help but smile throughout, especially when the cast seems to be in on it all. The ensemble is delightfully over the top: Christopher Eccleston enjoys himself as our main antagonist; Dennis Quaid and Joseph Gordon-Levitt ham up their cartoon-ish commanders with relish; Marlon Wayans delivers the comic one-liners perfectly well and the ladies naturally sex it up a bit in some very curious, hip-hugging military attire. Granted Channing Tatum is the weakest link as our stoic main lead in a one-note performance, delivering many of his lines without a sense of irony nor conviction, and you know things are bad when Snake Eyes starts stealing scenes away from him despite never uttering a single word. And yet despite this nobody really proves all that detrimental to G.I. Joe’s enjoyment. This is pure spectacle; a film of such self-awareness, often tongue-in-cheek delivery and clear winks to the camera that even the most cynical should put their hands up and admit defeat.
Paramount presents a very stable 2.40:1 1080p transfer, using the AVC codec with an average bit-rate of 30mbps. The compression foibles which marred the DVD release are non-existent here, with action scenes coming across terrifically amidst an onslaught of pyrotechnics: the minor motion-blur exhibited throughout some of the high-octane chase sequences feels natural, as does the thin layer of grain present, which does well to wipe away some of the film’s shininess. Colours are also notably warmer than its DVD counterpart: very rich across the board and particularly vibrant throughout exterior shots, with the Paris chase sequence looking particularly impressive. Overall detail is strong, only exhibiting slight softness across wider, darkly-lit shots, while close-ups reveal crisp skin tones and textures. Black levels and shadow detail is also very good, with the former being often deep: at times this masks some of the finer detail in the costumes of our heroes and villains, but it seems that Sommers has gone for a deliberate look here, boosting contrast to see it match some of the more recent action blockbuster fare. The CG visuals tend to show up a few more flaws, but that’s through no real fault of the transfer; aside from this the only thing really letting it down is edge enhancement, which in itself is so minor - only really apparent on wide landscape shots - that I honestly don’t know why they bothered at all.
Matching its overall good looks is a staggering lossless 5.1 DTS HD Master. It works the home cinema set-up hard, milking everything it can from all sides. The aforementioned night assault at the beginning of the film serves as a terrific introduction, with the baddies’ gunship treating us to some superb panning effects as it glides across screen. There’s a lot going on at any given time, but the FX are lovingly steered and distinct, truly making the audience feel like they’re fully immersed in the action, from the excellent directionality of Paris and one of the film’s key flashback sequences, to the incredibly well realized underwater showdown. The subwoofer is aggressive: rumbling and growling at various intervals, the bass builds up to some tremendously bombastic scenes, with its only real failing being that on rare occasions it’ll slightly drown out dialogue in the heat of battle. Said dialogue is again afforded some neat directionality throughout and is for the most part clean as a whistle.
Audio Commentary with Director Stephen Sommers and Editor/Producer Bob Ducsay. Expressing his excitement in getting to make a movie for paramount, Stephen sommers goes on to provide a very informative commentary with his good friend. The pair informs us of the difficulties in putting together, not just this, but movies in general. With G.I. Joe being such a hot property they discuss how they approached brining it to the big screen: how they had a shorter prep time than usual, forcing out a fast script which needed constant rewrites; fighting tooth and nail for certain characters that the studio was uncomfortable with; meeting fan expectations and addressing wild internet concerns. Sommers speaks of trying to establish the right tone and how his cast reflects that and he also details the shooting process and how various elements come together to form a whole. Given that he rarely pauses for breath, on occasion he does get sidetracked and sets his sights on other things before properly finishing his last sentence, but his overall frankness is welcoming. For example he points out certain visual shots that he’s not too happy with on account of not enough time to finish them, and also admits to the film’s “oddball” structure with regards to some of the flashback sequences that he felt had to be there to give characters the respect they deserved. Some additional little titbits and factoids sees this as an overall pleasant track, offering a good insight into the filmmaking process.
The Big Bang Theory: The Making of G.I. Joe (29.34) goes through the stage-by-stage process of translating the G.I. Joe comics and cartoon to the big screen. We get a little history of the franchise, with input from original comic writer Larry Hama, while the producers stress the importance of trying not to alienate the hardcore fans nor general audience members experiencing it for the first time. Many principal cast and crew members are on hand to talk us through the shooting process, with most generating positive vibes and detailing the amount of fun they had, with the notable exception of Channing Tatum, who shows no charisma whatsoever. Perhaps he was bored during the whole thing. We’re also taken behind the scenes to witness some amazing sets and get a feel for the scale of the project, before taking a look at the CG visual effects and stunts for the film’s four major set-pieces. This essentially covers all bases within a small run time and clearly shows an enthusiastic team working on a project filled with a lot of passion.
Next-Gen Action: The Amazing Visual FX and Design of G.I. Joe (21.08) elaborates upon what we saw in the previous feature. It’s an interesting look into the development of CG visuals, particularly when looking at the creation of new computer physics and cameras. To afford us with an understanding of how complex these processes are we’re shown several set-pieces which are broken down into stages. These also show how the designers integrate various plates, merging CG - which is matted onto Blue Screen - with physical sets.
The only feature I haven’t been able to check out, on account of not owning a webcam, is the “Interactive 3D Experience” which places you in the role of Snake Eyes or Storm Shadow for some mini game. I imagine it’s a load of old balls anyway.
OverallStephen Sommers makes ridiculous movies. That’s probably the understatement of the year, but let’s face it, if you don’t know that going into G.I. Joe (which it knows itself) then more fool you. For my money he has not only made his best film since The Mummy but has also created one of most entertaining Summer blockbusters of the last few years. “Go Joes” indeed.
It’s a bit light on bonus material, but Paramount brings us an overall solid Hi-Def presentation of the feature, which should do more than enough to please those who enjoyed it in cinemas first time around.