Synopsis – A G.I. Joe spin-off centered around the character of Snake Eyes.
My Take – Originally launched in the 1960s by Hasbro as military-themed action figures, the G.I. Joe franchise grew and found prominence especially in the 80s with the success of its comic books (particularly the ones produced by Marvel Comics), its animated series, and video games, even crossing over with Hasbro‘s other franchise, Transformers, at times.
And like everything nostalgia, the franchise eventually received the big Hollywood blockbuster treatment with G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) helmed by director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy). While the film was a loud, dumb, yet admittedly fun blockbuster on the lines of director Michael Bay‘s Transformers films, and did somewhat well at the box office, earning $302.5 million worldwide on a $175 million budget, its critical lambasting even from its own stars, Channing Tatum and Christopher Eccleston saw the film getting a soft reboot with its sequel, G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013). A sequel which did marginally better by throwing Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis into the mix.
But if there was one thing that particularly worked in both the films was its treatment of Snake Eyes (portrayed by actor-martial artist Ray Park) and his rivalry with Storm Shadow (portrayed by Korean actor Byung-hun Lee).
Over the years, despite being a supporting character, the silent but deadly commando has become one of the franchise’s most popular characters mainly because of his unparalleled ninja abilities, infantry, and hand to hand combat. With his lack of discernible features and mysterious backstory only making him more imposing.
Hence, to an extend it made sense that he became the center focus of Paramount‘s latest reboot, which sees director Robert Schwentke (R.I.P.D., Insurgent) and writers Evan Spiliotopoulos, Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse, provide an origin story for a character often touted as the most deadly ninja of all time. With ‘Crazy Rich Asians‘ actor Henry Golding filling in the titular role, he is no longer Caucasian, nor famously faceless and mute.
Sadly, if Paramount was hoping that this film would revive interest in the property, it certainly is not going to thanks to its shoddy film making and generic plot. The problem is for its entire 121 minutes run time, director Schwentke, seemingly inspired by director James Mangold‘s yawn inducing The Wolverine (2013), is focused on raising the standard of the shallow film with production values, letting all the action fall to the side, while affecting its pacing terribly.
Adding more hurt to the injury is how the revamped version of the titular character is no longer likable. He talks too much, takes many blows and repeatedly needed assistance. Even his notoriously recognizable suit, which is plastered all over the marketing material, does not appear until the final minutes of the film.
There is no doubt that on technical terms the 2009 film is quite bad, but at least it made an effort to be an enjoyable and cheesy blockbuster by cramming enough recognizable elements of franchise. But this film is so mediocre that it even makes it difficult to enjoy a bunch of ninja fights, making both its predecessors look excellent in comparison.
Making this film just another classic example of recklessly using names of popular characters and casual references to the source material and foolishly thinking that will suffice to guarantee an audience. I think its weekend box office numbers are enough of an answer.
The story follows Snake Eyes (Henry Golding), a mysterious man, who after bearing witness to the murder of his father as a child, moves from city to city, taking part in underground fights, until the paying audience chooses to bet against him. That is until, Kenta (Takehiro Hira), a Yakuza arms dealer offers him a job in exchange for finding his father’s killer for him.
But when he is asked to prove his loyalty by killing his cousin, Tommy (Andrew Koji), Snake Eyes does the opposite and instead helps him escape. Determined to pay his debt for saving his life, Tommy gives Snake Eyes an opportunity to be initiated as a member of Arashikage, an old Japanese Ninja clan, off which he is an heir. However, Snake has a secret that tests his honor and allegiance, leaving him in a battle against his own beliefs, even if it means losing the trust of those closest to him.
The film actually starts off quite well, even though it lacks a sense of self or uniqueness, its grounded approach makes it clear that it is far from the colorful, gadgets filled and explosions friendly predecessors. That it until it begins to muddle by throwing in every ninja flick trope and even adding a supernatural element of a magical stone called Jewel of the Sun into the mix, making you lose every ounce of patience.
And when the film finally does get around to introducing G.I. Joe in the form of Scarlett (Samara Weaving) and Cobra in the form of Baroness (Úrsula Corberó) into the mix, their arrival proves too little, too late in a film that has already sunken down deep into the abyss. It’s never clear if director Robert Schwentke and his screenwriters have any any familiarity with Snake Eyes as a character or G.I. Joe in general or if they really thought by drastically shaking things up the film would connect with fans seeking a completely different take or a simply wider audience, as the narrative doesn’t make much sense either, banking on name rather than storytelling to drive the film.
While director Stephen Sommers‘s 2009 film and director Jon M. Chu‘s 2013 sequel had a lot of flaws, they were never dull, with a single mission – entertain. However this film doesn’t even seem to be interested in trying given its familiar story and predictable plot turns. And the only department where it could worked, it even fails in that i.e. the action.
The action set-pieces, which are supposed to be the film’s main attraction, are edited to the point of incoherence, and they feel the same, just in a different location. They could have gone ninja-style all the way, and that would’ve been fun to see, instead, we get repetitiveness and no inspiration. Making matters worse is that Henry Golding is completely miscast in the role.
Though he is not necessarily bad, Golding just doesn’t deliver enough energy or swagger to keep the famous character interesting. He reacts with the same bland expressions throughout the entire film, even if it’s an impactful moment or a fight scene. On the other hand, Andrew Koji does a much better job. As the one who will eventually become known as Storm Shadow, Koji is so good and so much of the story is told in a way that makes Tommy feel more heroic and empathetic.
As the main antagonist, Takehiro Hira just hams it up, while Haruka Abe, who has a loopy arc, is just generic. The film even wastes the talents of Peter Mensah and Iko Uwais. The only ones who seem to be having fun in their relatively small roles are Samara Weaving and Úrsula Corberó, as they get to enact fan favorite characters of the G.I. Joe universe. On the whole, ‘Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins’ is a tedious action thriller backed by an uninteresting and plodding story that will fail to revive the franchise.
Directed – Robert Schwentke
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 121 minutes