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Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins Review

July 23, 2021 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

Directed By: Robert Schwentke
Written By: Evan Spiliotopoulos, Anna Waterhouse & Joe Shrapnel; Based on Hasbro’s G.I. JOE Characters
Runtime: 121 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Strong Violence|Brief Strong Language

Henry Golding – Snake Eyes
Andrew Koji – Storm Shadow/Tommy Arashikage
Samara Weaving – Scarlett
Úrsula Corberó – Baroness
Haruka Abe – Akiko
Iko Uwais – Hard Master
Peter Mensah – Blind Master
Takehiro Hira – Kenta Takamura
Eri Ishida – Sen Arashikage

The G.I. Joe film franchise gets another chance at-bat with a rebooted origin story on the team’s most iconic member, Snake Eyes. Unfortunately, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is a failed, misguided attempt at reigniting the classic action figure toy line into a new film series. It doesn’t help that the title, G.I. Joe Origins evokes one of the worst installments of the X-Men film franchise, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Somewhat ironically, the similar titles symbolize Hollywood’s tendency to make the same mistakes over and over again, with desperate attempts at building franchises and shared cinematic universes, instead of getting the actual movie right in the first place.

Rather than the starting point for a whole slew of new G.I. Joe live-action installments, the movie is an awkward, clunky schlock-fest filled with bad acting, direction, writing, editing, and fight choreography. Snake Eyes has little in the way of anything to excite the audience that they are seeing a live-action G.I. Joe movie on the big screen featuring cool ninjas with swords fighting and jumping over cars. Despite a cast with potential, there’s virtually nothing redeeming about this film. It’s another sad attempt at a Hollywood popcorn flick with delusions of grandeur and starting other spinoffs and sequels for a shared universe that will likely never come to fruition. In its 121-minute runtime, Snake Eyes offers very little in terms of value to get the audience invested in seeing these characters again. It’s a story far too focused on setting up future installments rather than focusing on the here and now.

In the comics and many cartoon adaptations, Snake Eyes is generally a man of mystery. He doesn’t talk. He’s a master of martial arts, and his real name and background are classified. A huge part of the appeal of Snake Eyes is his mystique. So, if a story endeavors to tell his backstory, it better be one worth telling. There have been comic stories that do peel back some of the mystery for Snake Eyes, from his original creator Larry Hama in the original Marvel Comics series and its continuation from Devil’s Due Publishing, along with the animated series G.I. Joe: Renegades. All the more interesting and compelling aspects of Snake Eyes’ origin have been jettisoned from this story. The backstory for a young Snake Eyes more closely resembles the abominable Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. This movie shares startling similarities to The Legend of Chun-Li and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, especially with the shared mistakes.

After an orphaned boy manages to escape his father’s killer, he grows into adulthood as a drifter (Golding) driven for revenge. His real name is unknown, but he took the name Snake Eyes for a reason the filmmakers probably thought was insanely clever. The killer of the boy’s father rolls dice that come up Snake Eyes. Get it? The now-adult Snake Eyes makes his way by taking part in underground cage fights against the likes of former WWE Superstar Mojo Rawley. His fighting skills eventually earn him the attention of the Yakuza gangster, Kenta Takamura (Hira), who hires him into his crew. After the Yakuza expose a hidden spy in their midst, Snake Eyes saves the man’s life. However, this man happens to be Tommy Arashikage (Koji); a high-ranking member of an elite family of ninjas who use their skills to fight crime and protect the clan.

Tommy brings Snake Eyes into his inner circle, believing his clan needs to recruit outsiders to defeat their enemies. To become a full-fledged Arashikage, Snake Eyes must pass three trials. But Snake Eyes’ heart is still poisoned by his desire for revenge against his father’s killer, and that could mean the ruin of the Arashikage clan.

Whatever potential Snake Eyes might have had is lost with the film’s poor direction, along with herky-jerky cinematography and editing. This is a movie about ninjas that are so highly trained that their skills should look almost superhuman. Instead, when the action ramps up, the slashes and strikes are almost indecipherable. The moments where there could be some interesting fight choreography are lost with insanely quick cuts and spastic, handheld camera work.

When the action slows down, the cinematography constantly shoots things very tightly and close up. This makes much of the movie look rather claustrophobic and diminutive in scale. When there’s a story about Snake Eyes and clandestine ninjas in Japan, the story should not look this small in scope. There’s a sense of a wider scale that’s lost in the narrative. A feeling of claustrophobia might work appropriately for the right story and setting. However, it is unwanted in a story about Snake Eyes, G.I. Joe, Cobra, and secret ninja clans.

To give an example of the film’s insanely awkward dialogue, the writers and director do not seem clued into the fact that Tommy’s clan name, Arashikage, is literally translated into English as “Storm Shadow.” Yet midway through the movie, a character beseeches Storm Shadow with the clunker of a line, “That look in your eyes…like a shadow before the storm!” The film’s reasoning behind Snake Eyes’ codename is even more stupendously ridiculous, despite the presence of a different sequence that almost looks like it was tailor-made for that purpose.

Rather than focus on Snake Eyes’ initiation into the Arashikage clan, the movie is dragged down by adding way too many subplots and characters than needed to service its franchise goals. The idea that the clan normally forbids outsiders before Snake Eyes comes into the picture is largely laughable when the Arashikage clan appears made up of nothing but “outsiders” other than Tommy and his grandmother (Ishida). Not to mention, they like to team up with outside organizations, which is how Samara Weaving comes into the picture as Scarlett, another iconic character who is unnecessarily forced into this story in the hopes of enticing future franchise dollars.

This results in the movie with only minor, surface-level grasp of its source material. At one point, a character does casually belt out “Yo Joe,” in a moment where it makes little sense, has next to no buildup, and provides the impact of an annoying thud. Even when the movie is attempting to pay lip service to its namesake, Snake Eyes plays half-heartedly. The little bits of fan service that are on display lack any sufficient impact.

As a G.I. Joe fan, it is off-putting that the story and characters lack so little in resemblance or spirit to their classic counterparts. Robert Schwentke’s schlocky direction and style fail to elevate this action movie about ninjas with unique action flair.

Actor Henry Golding likely thought he could break out here as the headliner of his own franchise. He has a good pensive stare, but he lacks any sort of charisma, charm, or mystique as Snake Eyes. Additionally, he struggles to maintain a consistent American accent that starts to fall apart midway through.

Golding gets to play a pseudo-romance with Haruka Abe, who portrays the Arashikage’s head of security, Akiko. It’s one of those total non-romances that have sadly become the norm in many popcorn films, where any semblance of romance has become taboo. The two lack any sort of chemistry. As a result, Akiko’s feelings lead to dramatic turning points involving Snake Eyes that lack any sort of credulity. There’s just no emotional chemistry between the two. The same goes for Weaving and Golding, which is massively unfortunate considering Scarlett and Snake Eyes’ history.

Andrew Koji is a talented actor. He does have the presence and charisma of Storm Shadow, but the qualities he exhibited in a great show, such as Warrior, are not brought forth here. His anger and rage look forced. Additionally, the way the story contrives the epic rivalry between these two iconic characters is beyond convoluted. As a character, Storm Shadow is written poorly. From the movie’s narrative standpoint, Tommy is treated unfairly in a way that makes no sense. The cause of the rift between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow to begin their classic conflict is more convoluted in this film than in any comic book or cartoon.

Even the promise of depicting Snake Eyes’ whole origin and backstory fails here. Since all the aspects that define Snake Eyes as a character have been jettisoned from the plot, the movie genuinely expects fans to be okay with that and entices the audience with sequel bait. It’s almost as if the filmmakers are taunting fans with a dangling carrot. “You didn’t get what you want to see, so you’ll have to wait until next time!” The way failed reboots or franchise starters sequel-bait the audience in this way is maddening. All Snake Eyes does is deliver more failed promises after two hours of them.

There’s no trust or belief that the filmmakers will follow through with the promise of the more iconic Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow. Despite the presence of the Arashikage, Baroness, Scarlett, and hints of COBRA & G.I. Joe, the movie never truly attempts to show exactly how this man comes anywhere close to becoming the franchise’s most iconic and popular character.

Rather than a franchise starter, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is a franchise blunder.

The final score: review Torture
The 411
The potential for Snake Eyes is squandered by an awful script, poor direction, and execrable editing and cinematography. Rather than delivering on the promise of a true Snake Eyes origin story jam-packed with swords, ninjas and cool action, the film is unable to deliver on any of those elements. As an action movie, the action looks indecipherable and annoying to watch. As a G.I. Joe story and origin story for Snake Eyes, it's even worse. Now you all know, and knowing is half the battle, that this is the worst live-action G.I. Joe movie in existence.