Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins
The G.I. Joe franchise begins anew with an origin story for the ninja Snake Eyes in Robert Schwentke’s Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins.
Nobody would ever say the prior G.I. Joe movies were masterpieces by any stretch but they were a lot of fun in their own way. I personally have a lot of time for the first one and enjoy the second one to a lesser extent but still find it to be a good time. There is obvious potential in crafting cinematic experiences around larger than life gimmicky characters who routinely fight world domination plots. After all, Marvel has enjoyed massive success by doing much the same thing so there must surely be room for other properties to proceed along similar lines. Cynical minds would say that this franchise in particular exists to sell toys and those minds would be dead on but that doesn’t mean the potential for good storytelling doesn’t exist.
Unfortunately, Snake Eyes is far from the major draw that it needs to be. There is definitely merit to be found in the film but it’s unfocussed and falls flat because it’s unclear in what it actually sets out to do. It’s an origin story for Snake Eyes (Henry Golding) while also bringing in familiar elements such as COBRA and G.I. Joe but it throws all of these things in a blender and doesn’t weave them organically together so the end result is messy.
Despite the shortcomings Henry Golding is a great choice for the lead role. He’s effortlessly charismatic, charming and has believable physicality. The latter being very important given the frequent fight sequences. He is let down by some awful dialogue and the Snake Eyes character being very basic. He’s the standard directionless, angry at the world but with an innate sense of good and a heart of gold action hero archetype. His arc is around finding direction and something to believe in while avenging the death of his father. It’s nothing that hasn’t been done better countless times elsewhere but Henry Golding is engaging enough to create a character that can be invested in at least to some degree.
Snake Eyes looks for purpose by enduring trials to secure membership of a secret Ninja society. As he does this he works in secret to bring down gangsters in Tokyo with the addition of a magical stone that can vaporise people. Sufficed to say there’s a lot crammed into the plot and not all of it links together naturally. It has a lot of the problems typically associated with origin stories such as overt foreshadowing, assigning immense meaning to particular imagery and crowbarring development in so that things progress towards particular lines. The Snake Eyes character does function well within that and some of the emotional beats land really well but the plot is far too convoluted.
The other side of the coin is Tommy (Andrew Koji); the man who will become his nemesis Storm Shadow. He’s an interesting character when he appears and his purpose is clear but there’s an odd lack of coverage of him throughout despite his supposed importance to the mythology that the film is trying to create. Their interactions are strong but also very repetitive so it feels like there’s limited development of the supposed brotherly connection and the point of it splitting apart for them to head towards becoming enemies is entirely unearned. In this aspect and many others there is an end point that the film is mandated to get to with the journey to reach being far less important.
Other characters are featured but make very little impact. Akiko (Haruka Abe) has a single defining trait that she can never break out of, Peter Mensah’s Blind Master is little more than what his name suggests and the others attached to the secret Ninja society are less than impactful. Similarly the characters connecting Snake Eyes to the wider G.I. Joe elements fail to inspire. Scarlett (Samara Weaving) is the typical badass female action hero with absolutely no depth which provides absolutely no opportunity for Samara Weaving’s talent to be effectively utilised. Úrsula Corberó’s Baroness is even less noteworthy with very little overall impact on the plot. If the film had been stripped of these characters and the references that come with them then very little would change. As such they’re clumsy additions that fail to justify their presence.
The film really struggles in its approach to worldbulding. It starts out being fairly grounded with Snake Eyes battling his way through underground fight clubs and without missing a beat introduces a secret ninja society before escalating to a magical stone with no work put in to make everything that belongs to the world hang together. Similarly G.I. Joe and COBRA are introduced with very little context. The audience is expected to accept everything the film presents at face value but many of the elements need more explanation than they are given. It’s incoherent which makes the story difficult to invest in because outlandish things are introduced haphazardly.
Another issue is the action. It’s not bad but there’s also nothing particularly inventive about it. What could have been impressive fight sequences are badly let down by choppy editing making them impossible to follow and the set piece moments are recycled from better action movies. The G.I. Joe franchise lends itself to a lot more creativity when it comes to sci-fi weapons or over the top action but for the most part Snake Eyes plays it safe which is a massive misstep given everything the concept has to offer. Nothing stands out and the stakes are never what they should be.
A disappointment filled with missed opportunities that can’t quite be rescued by a strong lead. Snake Eyes is far too unfocused and incoherent to work because it’s trying to do so much and does so little. Worldbuilding is a major problem as it starts out being fairly grounded before haphazardly introducing outlandish elements without giving them the necessary explanation. The action is another issue; it’s not bad but it’s also not particularly inventive. Fight sequences are let down by choppy editing and set pieces are recycled from better action movies. Little advantage is taken of the potential for the creativity that comes with the G.I. Joe franchise. The film plays it safe which is a massive misstep. One saving grace is Henry Golding who carries the film with his charm and charisma but that’s not enough to make up for the many shortcomings.
- Henry Golding’s engaging performance
- a clear arc for Snake Eyes to follow that works well enough
- Tommy as an interesting presence when he appears
- sloppy worldbuilding
- poorly executed action sequences
- falling into origin story traps that let the film down significantly
- characters that make little to no impact
- expecting the audience to accept outlandish elements at face value
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