A film review by Craig J. Koban August 19, 2021

SNAKE EYES: G.I. JOE ORIGINS j

2021, PG-13, 121 mins.

Henry Golding as Snake Eyes  /  Andrew Koji as Tommy / Storm Shadow  /  Úrsula Corberó as The Baroness  /  Samara Weaving as Scarlett  /  Haruka Abe as Akiko  /  Takehiro Hira as Kenta  /  Iko Uwais as Hard Master  /  Steven Allerick as Father  /  Peter Mensah as Blind Master

Directed by Robert Schwentke  /  Written by Evan Spiliotopoulos, Joe Shrapnel, and Anna Waterhouse
 

 

 

 

The awkwardly titled SNAKE EYES: G.I. JOE ORIGINS might be one of the dullest films about a super sweet action figure that I can ever recall.   

It comes after two previous silver screen adaptations of one of the most popular toy lines of the 1980s (of inconsistent worth) in 2009's goofy and just-okay G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA and the fairly terrible sort-of-sequel, sort-of-soft-reboot G.I. JOE: RETALIATION from 2013.  Both of those militaristic Hasbro toyetic films featured every kid's favorite mute assassin in Snake Eyes, and now  comes his very own film here, which serves as a origin tale and a larger and complete redo of the G.I. JOE cinematic universe as a whole.  Despite having some decent production values and a more insular focus, SNAKE EYES: G.I. JOE ORIGINS kind of pathetically fails as compelling backstory tale for this character, not to mention that it seems like one big placeholder film for more fully realized future entries to come that may or may not even come in the first place. 

Snake Eyes here (played in a not entirely convincing performance by CRAZY RICH ASIANS' Henry Golding) must avenge the death of his papa.  That's the overriding arc of this picture.  His father died cruelly after an assassin's attack when Snake Eyes was just a little boy, but as he grew up and into adulthood his rage to find his dad's killer only intensified, leading him down a dangerous rabbit hole of vengeance.  But, well before he dons his signature all black suit and goes completely mute, Snake Eyes works a less glamorous job as a fishmonger with ties to organized crime.  He also spends much of his time honing his mind, body and spirit as a cage fighter.  One day he's recruited by Kenta (Takehiro Hira), a local yakuza gun supplier, and it's through him that he hooks up with Tommy (Andrew Koji), who in turn is a member of the Arashikage Clan, a celebrated ninja clan.  Tommy is the main heir to this clan, making him a relatively important figure in it, and when his life is saved by Snake Eyes he gives him a new home back in Tokyo and offers him a chance to train in the ways of the Arashikage. 

While in training, Snake Eyes has a target on his back, so to speak, placed by Arashikage security chief Akiko (Haruka Abe), who believes that something just doesn't smell right about this mysterious newcomer.  Things get dicey for Snake Eyes when he's approached by Kenta, who makes a promise to deliver his father's killer and his whereabouts if Snake Eyes does one thing: Turn over an all-important mystical MacGuffin stone that's in the possession of the ninja clan that he now calls home.  Of course, the Arashikage clan have sworn to protect it at all costs, placing Snake Eyes between a rock and a hard place, and when agents of Cobra begin to make their appearance felt (they also want the stone), Snake Eyes soon begins to have a crisis of conscience.  Does he betray Tommy and his clan to find his father's killer?  Does he steal their magic artifact and risk having it be taken by Cobra and used for nefarious purposes?  What's a Snake Eyes to do??? 

 

 

 can appreciate the genuine challenge that a film like this places on its makers.  Director Robert Schwentke has to somehow re-imagine the G.I. JOE film world from the ground up and do so by focusing in on one of its more enigmatically cool personas that's best known for his cool suit, martial arts abilities, and obsessive manner of keeping his mouth shut.  In some ways, I can modestly admire the film trying to forge a coming of age tale for this character and introduce us to him when he's a far cry away from his legendary JOE status.  That, and SNAKE EYES: G.I. JOE ORIGINS is a much smaller scale film about this toyline than the massive (and some would say overproduced) scale of G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA.  Instead of having to wade through heavy expositional waters for dozens of JOE heroes and Cobra villains, this film tries to tell a more intimate narrative about one man seeking revenge.   

But, yikes, is this film ever a watch checking chore to sit through.  At 121 minutes, it felt like 221 at times.  I think one major question that this film poses and never thoroughly answers is whether or not someone so famously detached and calculated like Snake Eyes really needs to have his history fleshed out and explained in the first place.  Some characters work better when the inherent mysteries that surround them remain intriguingly aloof (call it the Boba Fett effect).  That, and some G.I. JOE fundamentalists may cry foul at the idea of having a fresh faced, chatty, and quippy Golding in this role, who struggles mightily throughout this film to make me believe that he'll ultimately become the clandestine badass of our childhood toy closet memories.  Golding has a decent presence and has the physicality to fill the shoes of this action heavy role, but he's hopelessly wooden and lacking in intimidating charisma here; there's simply no ethereal intensity on display.  He's not assisted by a screenplay that doesn't give him much to work with, outside of posing, fighting, posing some more, fighting...rinse and repeat.  There's also a fundamental lack of tension to be had in the film, most of which boils down to which person Snake Eyes will betray: Will it be Kenta or Tommy?  As the film unfolds and reveals Snake Eyes' choice it's hardly surprising in the least, which makes story momentum kind of null and void.  

And when the scripting kind of fails to percolate audience interest all we are left with essentially are the action sequences, which I'd argue is one of the main reasons why we want to see films like this.  Unfortunately, Schwentke is an extremely uninspired choice for this material, having previously helmed two instantly forgettable DIVERGENT sequels and the ungodly in its awfulness R.I.PD.  The martial arts heavy scenes should have made for easily digestible guilty pleasure food here, but SNAKE EYES: G.I. JOE ORIGINS is yet another modern action film on an mournfully long list of genre efforts as of late that are so aggressively slavish towards using every eye fatiguing and headache inducing trick in the book.  We get mind numbing shaky cam permeated throughout the film on top of editing that's so choppy and so amateurishly lacking in basic coherence and fluidity that you feel obligated to reach out to the makers here and check their pulses to see if they even know what kind of action picture they're even trying to attempt.  I keep referencing it so often in action film reviews, but the JOHN WICK trilogy has become such a go-to, upper echelon benchmark for how to do these kind of films that when directors go in the polar opposite stylistic and qualitative direction you just want to throw your hands up in the air in disgust.  And so much of SNAKE EYES: G.I. JOE ORIGINS looks shoddy and cheap at times: Look at one high speed chase sequence - that seems inspired by a similar high speed chase in THE MATRIX RELOADED, which featured characters battling on moving vehicles - and it looks so horribly fake here compared to what we got nearly twenty years ago.  Was this film's not-so inconsiderable $100 million budget spent on travel and catering instead? 

This film really cheats its audience too, especially for the manner that its heavy advertising campaign seems to indicate that we'd be getting the classical Snake Eyes in costume of old, but then pulls a frustrating and audience alienating bait and switch (SPOILER ALERT - we only see Golding in costume right at the end for a few seconds).  Plus, SNAKE EYES: G.I. JOE ORIGINS feels like one big near two hour prologue installment to future G.I. JOE heavy productions to come.  We get some secondary JOE heroes appearing here, like the crimson haired Scarlett, who's played here by an utterly wasted Samara Weaving that was so bloody sensational in READY OR NOT, but here appears more or less comatose in a walk-on cameo.  By the time we get the obligatory mid-end credit scene that sets up future sequels to come I simply...didn't...care.  There's such a yearning to jump start a new hot franchise here, but little effort was utilized to ensure that this first chapter worked as a solid and self contained film.  SNAKE EYES: G.I. JOE ORIGINS makes G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA look like SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.  That 2009 intro to the Hasbro 3 and 3/4 inch figures of many a childhood wasn't high art by any stretch, but it embraced its high cheese factor (it was disposable dumb fun at times) and never took itself as seriously as a heart attack as SNAKE EYES does.  This film is more of a cynical and completely disposable mass marketed product than a worthwhile time at the cinema; its feeble attempt at shamelessly selling a well established toy brand isn't worth your playtime.  

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