CAST: Henry Golding, Andrew Koji, Úrsula Corberó, Samara Weaving, Iko Uwais, Haruka Abe, Takehiro Hira, Peter Mensah
RUNNING TIME: 121 mins
BASICALLY…: A lone fighter known as Snake Eyes (Golding) is given the chance to exact vengeance…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Was anyone really that surprised when Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins underperformed at the US box office, bringing in a measly $13 million during its opening weekend (which, even for a pandemic release, is pretty poor) and decreasing rapidly from there? After all, the G.I. Joe movie franchise is more or less a damp squid by this point; aside from the previous two live-action adaptations performing poorly with critics and audiences (even headlining star Channing Tatum has been very open about how much he hates those films), the brand recognition doesn’t stretch any further than the US, squandering most of its international appeal and alienating those who aren’t familiar with – or, more crucially, don’t care about – the basic concept or anything else it has to offer.
There is, however, another possible explanation as to why Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins hasn’t lit up as much as hoped; it’s a pretty dull, unengaging movie that offers new audiences little reason to care, and G.I. Joe fans not enough of what they might be hoping for.
The film is intended as a full reboot of the cinematic G.I. Joe universe, with completely recast characters and entirely new backstories to rejuvenate itself (to little effect, but more on that later). It tells the origin of popular character Snake Eyes (Henry Golding), the black-suited warrior who is here reimagined as a nameless fighter who seeks revenge on the man who killed his father when he was younger. He is given an opportunity to find the killer by Yakuza boss Kenta (Takehiro Hira), but ends up sparing the life of Kenta’s cousin Tommy (Andrew Koji) when asked to murder him in cold blood. A grateful Tommy brings Snake Eyes to Japan so that he may train to become a member of his family’s Arashikage clan, an ancient society of ninjas dedicated to preserving order. However, Snake Eyes is more focused on his own mission to exact vengeance, which causes loyalties to be tested, friendships to become rivalries, and somewhere along the way G.I. Joe and their archnemesis Cobra become involved too.
It’s honestly easy to forget that this is even a G.I. Joe movie at all, because most of the action revolves around the titular character and his personal journey, which is good because it means the movie actually has focus and isn’t hopping around from one unnecessary plotline to another just to cram in G.I. Joe references or set-ups. It’s clearly trying to follow the Marvel formula established in films like Iron Man, which focus on individual characters before the big team-up event further down the line, but the problem is that Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins never gives us a reason to care about anything in the plot and especially the characters we’re supposed to follow. The character of Snake Eyes himself is written like a first-draft Marvel hero with very basic motivations and not much of a personality, despite actor Henry Golding’s smooth charm which honestly feels wasted on a bare-bones script like this. There’s nothing in the writing to suggest that we should be invested in his plight, other than he is the protagonist and is a popular character in the G.I. Joe lore, and by the time we are actually asked to spare some sympathy for him, it’s too late in the game to truly give a damn about what he does and where he’s destined to go later.
The plot follows suit in being as ill-defined as its lead, becoming so tangled up in trying to remain grounded that it is suddenly jarring when it’s established that giant snakes and gemstones that can set people on fire also exist in this universe. It packs so many layers upon itself, each getting more and more outlandish than the last, that it becomes hard to determine what kind of tone or mood the movie is aiming for: is it this gritty ninja tale, or a big dumb effects-heavy blockbuster? Who knows, and honestly who cares, because the film doesn’t do a good job of making any of it fun or entertaining enough to pass as either, especially not in its poorly-executed action sequences. It’s not that the fight choreography is bad – you can tell that the stunt performers have a certain rhythm going on between them – but the way that it is shot and edited can be so discombobulating that not only can you not tell what’s going on or who’s fighting who, but you’re close to getting a migraine just from trying to follow any of the shaking camerawork or the rapid-fire cutting. Director Robert Schwentke has helmed some stylish action in previous films, but the sequences on display here are an unfortunate mess, clearly bogged down by a lack of cohesion and, more significantly, no reason to care about any of it.
Let’s just call Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins what it is: a fruitless attempt by the studio to cling on to the G.I. Joe franchise rights, even though at this point it’s obvious that nobody cares about this series anymore. Simply trying to ape the Marvel formula isn’t going to cut it, because as it has been proven on several occasions, it’s extremely difficult to naturally build an expansive cinematic universe while also delivering a solid standalone movie, and Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is no exception. If you are looking for a Marvel-esque blockbuster with a predominantly Asian cast, just wait until Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings comes out; there’s no real reason to watch this, other than you want to see something that will make that movie seem a lot more inventive and personality-driven by comparison.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is a dull and pointless attempt to rejuvenate the dormant G.I. Joe movie franchise, failing to give enough reason for viewers to care about its bare-bones characters, inconsistent plot, and poorly-executed action which pleases neither casual viewers nor long-standing fans of the property.