Yo, Joe! America’s Movable Fighting Man gets the 4K UHD treatment in the re-releases of the first two live-action “G.I. Joe” films.

There are two clear ways in which one engages with this decades-old toyline from Hasbro: there’re the greatest toys ever *or* they are a propaganda tool for the U.S. military. It can be both at the same time, mind you, but this is the schism which exists in how people consider these toys. First released in 1964, the 12-inch posable figure deemed “America’s Moveable Fighting Man” was simply one character, the namesake of all the others to come: G.I. Joe. Two years later, Hasbro would launch the “Soldiers of the World” series that brought in characters from all over the globe. There would be many more changes over the years, from the introduction of life-like facial hair in 1970, the “Kung Fu Grip” in 1974, all the way to the relaunch in 1982 which would introduce the famous 3.75-inch figures and their enemy, Cobra. Whether you played with this iteration of not, if you were a child of the eighties, you know that knowing is half that battle and you’re likely to yell at someone “don’t get the stick!” when someone reaches for said stick. You remember when Cobra Commander turned into an actual snake in the 1987 animated movie, and you remember when Paramount released two interconnected live-action films from directors Stephen Sommers (The Rise of Cobra (2009)) and Jon M. Chu (Retaliation (2013)). With the latest live action film hitting theaters (Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, directed by Robert Schwentke), Paramount Home Entertainment is re-releasing Rise and Retaliation with their first-ever 4K UHD editions, each one including all previously released material. Even without enhanced audio, is this enough to make you yell “Yo, Joe!” or do you need to know more first?

Since the creation of the “G.I. Joe” figure, the storyline has shifted to match the times. This is likely why pro wrestler Sergeant Slaughter joined the Joes for a time, is absolutely why the race of Snake Eyes is changed for the new film, and explains the approach to the characters in Rise compared to the comics, television show, video games, or other forms of storytelling related to the action figures. So whether you’ve never seen the films or it’s been a minute, here’s a quick rundown of the plot of the two films to catch you back up.

Rise of Cobra sees U.S Army soldier Duke (Channing Tatum) and partner Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) are the two sole survivors of an attack on their convoy carrying nanomite warheads and would have not made it if not for the intervention of a secret global task force known as G.I. Joe, led by General Hawk (Dennis Quaid). As they possess intel about the attackers, Hawk allows Duke and Ripcord to work alongside Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), Breaker (Said Taghmaoui), and Snake Eyes (Ray Park) to find out who is after the nanomite warheards and why. Sometime later, during the events of Retaliation, the Joes learn that thought they foiled that plot, what they don’t realize is that their enemy, known as Cobra, has already infiltrated the White House and already has plans in motion to destroy the Joes and their reputation. With their resources gone and back-up all but annihilated, Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), and Flint (D.J. Cotrona) go back to the beginning, to the first Joe, in order to stop Cobra from taking over the entire world.

Both films meet the criteria of a Summer Blockbuster, even if only one of them was released in that qualifying period. They each possess a lot of star power in main roles, contain a great deal of spectacle, and make very little sense. These are quintessential action films to their core: full of bombast and little else. For the most part, the films are fun, as long as you don’t think about them too hard, because when you try to make sense of some of the screenwriters’ choices, the hurdles they went through to try to make the G.I. Joe films four quadrant pictures, it is truly remarkable at how bad they play out. In Rise, this translates to Tatum’s Duke and Sienna Miller’s Baroness being former lovers whose engagement falls apart when Duke fails to protect Baroness’s brother during a mission. By the end of the film, she switches sides amid the reveal that she was being mind-controlled by her not-actually-dead brother who becomes Cobra Commander. This is truly next-level soap opera stuff and wasn’t necessary in the slightest. For the most part, the love affair, much like Ripcord’s constant hitting on Lady Jaye, brings down the rhythm of the action. Not to mention, in the case of Ripcord, is just gross. Something else time hasn’t been kind to: the special effects in Rise. While the accelerator suit scene remains a good time, the bulk of special effects look quite dated, especially with the HDR application. The rest of the film, whenever the CGI is limited, looks wonderful and the 4K UHD and HDR truly shine. This is most noticeable on Snake Eyes’s black costume, which is given more depth and visible texture. The CGI may look funky at times, but the live-action moments look timeless.

Strangely, this is not the case with Retaliation. The difference of four years allowed for technology to improve so that the use of CGI blends more evenly with the live-action components. Oddly, there’re several moments, particularly in the desert sequences, where the coloring of the actors is less natural looking, even in natural light. It’s more noticeable on Johnson’s Roadblock than the others, which is equally strange, when he has a more reddish hue in dusk than Palicki’s Jaye or Cotrona’s Flint. Outside of those moments, the bulk of the film looks great, especially with the HDR addition. The white within the home of Bruce Willis’s Joe possesses a natural shine, the green of his grenades a rustic color, and the uniforms of Park’s Snake Eyes, Byung-hun Lee’s returning Storm Shadow, and newcomer to the films Elodie Yung’s Jinx, pop without distraction. Once more, though, the narrative takes a turn for the worst with RZA’s Blind Master. Though the musician/writer/director/actor has grown significantly over the years, this is not a great performance for him and it’s not helped by being an exposition dump every time he’s on screen. It just ruins the momentum of whatever came before. To make matters worse, the way in which the Storm Shadow/Snake Eyes narrative from the first film is continued here requires the audience to possess more in-depth knowledge of the characters for it to feel satisfying. Not to mention that the resolution of it all is abrupt enough to give you whiplash.


L-R: Dwayne Johnson as Roadblock, Bruce Willis as General Joe Colton, Adrianne Palicki as Lady Jaye, and Elodie Yung as Jinx in G.I. JOE: RETALIATION.

The look of both films may be inconsistent at best, but the audio does not suffer the same issues. Neither release includes upgraded sound, but both discs of the Rise set are English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio encoded, while Retaliation is encoded with English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD. There’s not much discernable difference and both offer immersive sound, even without a remixed soundtrack.

With the home release details out of the way, it’s worth mentioning that the G.I. Joe series, for good or for bad, are fine films. They are. They’re not good or great, but they’re fine. They offer escapism with the live-action versions of the toys many people grew up with. Unfortunately they are products of their period, so their look and sound tend be anchored in time. This is more noticeable with Rise between the concurrent love stories, which are completely unnecessary to audience engagement and just seem like someone decided that audiences would enjoy the films more if some of the characters tried really hard to smooch one of the others. Especially with Ripcord and Scarlett, it gets quite uncomfortable. One can make the excuse that none of her teammates try to put Ripcord in his place because Scarlett is a highly trained and capable individual, but even Duke doesn’t say anything to someone who’s his best friend.


Byung-hun Lee as Storm Shadow in G.I. JOE: RETALIATION.

Now for a quick deviation to explore some context of G.I. Joe as a consumptive product. This’ll be brief, but I feel it’s important to acknowledge as the things which come to define or shape our individual identities can come from things designed to seem innocent in nature.

If folks are willing to give these films a pass on their fetishism of the U.S. military — something more obvious in structure and execution than in fellow Hasbro-based film series Transformers — than audiences should be willing to do the same for most of Marvel Studios’s films. These films are *literally* about a global unit of freedom fighters — global for their membership, not just their jurisdiction — who report to the United States President. Let me repeat that: a global unit reports to the president of a single country: the United States of America. That’s some real oorah bullshit, right there. Sure, these are characters based on kid’s toys, but they are toys which make the military seem fun, exciting, and collectively unifying, whereas the real thing is anything but. Not to mention that the bad guys in real life are not so distinctly mustache-twirlingly evil. Given that toys started being gendered in the early 20th century, it’s not too much of a leap to create toys that might appeal to a specific gendered notion: i.e. boys and soldiers. That G.I. Joe started as an idea to create a military doll for boys is not at all surprising, nor should it shock anyone that a toy might become a favorite of an individual. But especially as the kids of the Eighties became parents themselves and/or became the deciders of consumptive media, that the love of the Joes might translate into genuine affection for the military is not entirely a shock. If only the general populace felt as strongly for retired or discharged military as they do for active military, perhaps our veterans wouldn’t need to have their stories of abuse or neglect be B stories in Disney+ television programs in order for folks to acknowledge how fetishizing the military without concern or thought for the soldiers themselves is a bad thing.

Chance are, if you’ve seen Rise and Retaliation, none of the above is particularly too shocking of a thought. You know the films are dumb fun, you know that they honestly capture that “play in a sandbox” feeling, and you know that it’s ok to just enjoy a little escapism. Ideally, you also know that it’s ok to explore what that escapism is offering to you and whether or not it’s a message worth absorbing.


L-R: Ray Park as Snake Eyes and Elodie Yung as Jinx in G.I. JOE: RETALIATION.

When all is said and done, the re-release of Rise and Retaliation has more to do with making new audiences aware of these films or remind older ones that these films still exist. If you had fun with them and don’t own them on Blu-ray already, this may be the perfect time to snag them. If you have them already, just the HDR inclusion may not be enough to warrant the cost. But if you like the newest and best version of the films you like, well, this becomes a no brainer, but at least you know your options as well as possible, and knowing is half the battle.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra Special Features

4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

  • Feature film in 4K Ultra HD
  • Commentary by director Stephen Sommers and producer Bob Ducsay


  • Feature film in HD
  • Commentary by director Stephen Sommers and producer Bob Ducsay

G.I. Joe: Retaliation Special Features

4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

  • Feature film in 4K Ultra HD
  • Commentary by director Jon M. Chu and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura


  • Feature film in HD
  • Commentary by director Jon M. Chu and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura
  • G.I. JOE: Declassified
    • Mission Briefing
    • Deployment
    • Two Ninjas
    • The Desert Attack
    • COBRA Strikes
    • The Lone Soldiers
    • The Monastery
    • Fort Sumter
  • Deleted Scenes

Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and digital July 20th, 2021.

Categories: Home Release, Recommendation

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