‘G.I. Joe: Retaliation’ 4K UHD Blu-Ray Review – Dwayne Johnson Elevates Entertaining Action Sequel

Although a decent financial success, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was a film that was mostly ravaged by critics and not given a huge amount of kudos from die-hard fans of the franchise due to its selective adherence to the source material. In their infinite wisdom, Paramount decided to reboot the franchise – kind of – while also serving up a sequel to the first film that would hopefully not confuse general audiences. While most “general” audiences probably did not remember most of what happened in the first one besides things blowing up pretty often, the sequel tried to provide the semblance of connective tissue in the form of a returning Channing Tatum, Ray Park and Byung-hun Lee while stacking the rest of the cast with newcomers hoping to inject some energy into this follow-up. While arguably a slightly stronger effort than its predecessor, G.I. Joe: Retaliation stumbles in many of the same places. There are moments of great fun in the chaos, but the storyline still leaves a lot to be desired. 

This follow-up continues from the first installment where Cobra Commander and Destro have been imprisoned while master of disguise Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) keeps the Cobra initiative alive as he poses as the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce). Much to the dismay of the good guys, the real Zartan is rarely seen throughout the film as he flawlessly tricks everyone around him as he subtly enacts his plan to create a nuclear-free world. Have the bad guys suddenly grown a heart? Of course not! They just want to ensure that they cannot face retaliation once they start dominating the planet with advanced satellite-based weaponry called “Zeus.” The Joes have a dramatically different appearance this go around – Dwayne Johnson as a stand-in for Marlon Wayans is not a bad upgrade – but they are still in the world-saving business until Zartan disavows them and sends a strike team to eliminate the one group that could foil their plans. Some tragic losses are incurred – ones that would probably hit harder if it did not feel like studio meddling – until the Joes are whittled down to a sparse few including Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Flint (D.J. Cotrona), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), and Snake Eyes (Ray Park). 

Have the new screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Zombieland) done a better job of tapping into the G.I. Joe ethos? Yes and no. Dwayne Johnson – here in flawless shape but not in Hulk-mode at this point – is a much more charismatic lead character than we got in the first film, but this is due more so to the strength of Johnson rather than how the character is written. His natural chemistry with Tatum results in less forced humor that was inherent with Wayans in the first film. Johnson is the jolt of energy that this franchise needed, but the malnourished secondary characters keep the Joes once again at a disadvantage. I would be hard-pressed to pick Flint out of a lineup, and Lady Jaye rarely rises above the level of pure sex appeal. Snake Eyes gets at least a couple of notable confrontations against Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee), the most impressive being an escape down a mountain. The weirdest secondary character proves to be RZA in the role of the Blind Master, an inventive but distracting choice. There is also Bruce Willis as the original “Joe” – cashing an easy paycheck. 

The tone is more consistent this time around, but at the end of the day it does not amount to much more than a fantastically explosive spectacle. Director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians, In The Heights) steps out of his comfort zone a bit with this action-packed feature, and he handles the responsibilities quite dutifully. There is the typical modern style of shaky-cam and zooming in too closely on the action to see some of the fighting, but overall the set pieces are executed efficiently with a proper amount of tension built. The live action attempts at making the most of this franchise have been fun but lack a notable quality to make it an effective G.I. Joe film. They provide mind-numbing action like the professionals they are, but none of the great character work. Retaliation is a subtle improvement of The Rise of Cobra, but those who did not love the first installment will not consider this a revelation. 

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Video Quality

Much like its predecessor, the 4K UHD Blu-Ray of G.I. Joe: Retaliation offers a minimal uptick in quality over the accompanying Blu-Ray. Skin tones appear more natural with small improvement in crisp detail apparent on faces such as pores. The specific pops of color in the production design appear with greater intensity than ever before thanks to the Dolby Vision presentation. The increased range of the color spectrum helps bring more nuance to the visual palette of the film. Notable details like fiery explosions look incredible and quite vivid here. The transfer reveals an increase in the depth of field in the varied locations that we visit around the globe. In the wake of the various scenes of destruction, you can more clearly make out textures within the rubble and similar such elements. 

The biggest improvements are in fine detail and well-defined textures, but the difference may be hard to spot. The black levels do seem a bit overly bright in this presentation, but still give way to great detail. The highlights in the film are more defined with whites more pure and balanced with no instances of blooming to be found. This new presentation is not a monumental difference from the Blu-Ray, so don’t expect this one to blow you away. There does not appear any noise reduction or black crush that we detected at any point. If you have not had any complaints with the Blu-Ray up until this point, you may not find the upgrade to 4K a necessary leap, but those who have not owned the film previously should go ahead and pick up this version. 

Audio Quality

This 4K UHD Blu-Ray release boasts a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 lossless track recycled from the previous Blu-Ray that kicks major butt. Every action sequence features some impeccable sound design that comes through flawlessly. The implementation of environmental effects such as helicopter blades and bullets whizzing by come through in a natural way. There is an insane amount of activity in the low-end which will keep your house shaking with every massive crash or explosion. Dialogue comes through clearly without getting muddied by the score or any sound effects. This disc brings the chaos right into your living room with a depth and clarity of sound that is staggering. As the Joes move throughout their mission, the sounds of the environment flow out of your side and rear speakers. Each sound is precisely placed with perfect spatial awareness. The track engages all of the channels with panning effects and sounds of destruction that really makes you feel like you are in the thick of the fight. Paramount knocked it out of the park with this track, so those with a good surround sound setup should have a blast with this one.

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Special Features

  • Audio Commentary: Director John M. Chu and Producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura provide a competent commentary track in which they reveal a lot of fun background information including how they went about establishing the film’s tone, the decision on how plausible to make the plot, shooting locales, the construction of action scenes, and more of the typical anecdotes that one might expect. 
  • Deleted Scenes: Three scenes of unused material is provided here totaling four minutes are provided here including the “President” taking a place in the interns, a visit to the Arlington cemetery and more. 
  • G.I. Joe: Declassified – Mission Briefing: A ten-minute look at what director John M. Chu brought to the film, how this film evolves from the first one, the process of shooting in New Orleans, the design of the vehicles and more. 
  • G.I. Joe: Declassified – Deployment: An eight-minute look at the military professionals that were brought on to ensure the cast were properly prepared for all of their work on the film. This gives some good insight into the action pieces. 
  • G.I. Joe: Declassified – Two Ninjas: An eight-minute piece which examines the construction of the Dojo, training for the martial arts action sequences, changes in the Snake Eyes suit and more. 
  • G.I. Joe: Declassified – The Desert Attack: A nearly nine-minute look at the shooting location in Louisiana of one of the major early scenes and the impact of killing off a major character. 
  • G.I. Joe: Declassified – Cobra Strikes: A nine-minute look at the underground prison, the character of Storm Shadow, the look of Cobra Commander, introducing Firefly and more. 
  • G.I. Joe: Declassified – The Lone Soldiers: An eight-minute featurette which further explores the emotional elements of the film, the introduction of Bruce Willis, the history of some of the action figures and more. 
  • G.I. Joe: Declassified – The Monastery: A ten-minute look at the epic fight between Snake Eyes and Storm shadow, some of the visual effects and more. 
  • G.I. Joe: Declassified – Fort Sumter: A twelve-minute look at the action that takes place at Fort Pike and the shooting conditions during production. 


Final Thoughts

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a slightly more entertaining film than its predecessor mostly thanks to the power of Dwayne Johnson, but it also shares its shortcomings in a deeply compelling plot and thin characterization. Those who appreciate an action-packed film that plays like an assault on the senses should have a great time with this one. Paramount Home Entertainment has released a new 4K UHD Blu-Ray that serves as a minor upgrade from the Blu-Ray, but unlike The Rise of Cobra it actually transfers over all of the supplemental features. Once again, do not go in expecting a monumental difference in quality from the Blu-Ray. 

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is currently available to purchase on 4K UHD Blu-Ray and Digital. 

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the 4K UHD Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: Paramount Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

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