Time: 121 Minutes
Age Rating: Violence & offensive language
Henry Golding as Snake Eyes
Andrew Koji as Thomas “Tommy” Arashikage/Storm Shadow
Úrsula Corberó as Baroness
Samara Weaving as Scarlett
Iko Uwais as Hard Master
Director: Robert Schwentke
An ancient Japanese clan called the Arashikage welcomes tenacious loner Snake Eyes (Henry Golding) after he saves the life of their heir apparent (Andrew Koji). Upon arrival in Japan, the Arashikage teach him the ways of the ninja warrior while also providing him something he’s been longing for: a home. However, when secrets from Snake Eyes’ past are revealed, his honour and allegiance get tested — even if that means losing the trust of those closest to him.
I was somewhat interested in Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins (not to be confused with Snake Eyes starring Nicolas Cage and directed by Brian De Palma). I’m not that invested with G.I. Joe, I only watched the first live action G.I. Joe movie in the late 2000s and I don’t remember much from it. So hearing that Paramount would be making another attempt at a franchise based off the popular action figure line didn’t really get any reaction from me. However, the casting of Henry Golding in the role of the character of Snake Eyes interested me, as Golding has been great in the films I’ve seen him in. Here he would get the spotlight in his own action movie. Also from the trailers, the action looked pretty entertaining, and eventually I was interested enough to check the movie enough. I know that critically it’s not been receiving the warmest of receptions, but I enjoyed the movie for what it was despite its many issues.
I should preface this once again with the fact that I am not that familiar with the lore of G.I. Joe, so I’m coming in as an outsider. First of all, the story is not all great, in fact it’s pretty formulaic and generic. The plot has a MacGuffin as a big part of it, there are 3 trials or challenges that the lead character needs to pass, and there are plenty of cliches with honour, loyalty and the like. On the whole it plays things kind of safe and slow with not much standing out about it, but it is serviceable and kept my interest well enough. The film moves at a decent enough pace, though the first act is a little too slow. Despite my issues with the story, it actually does have some good parts to it, and gave the story more humanity than I was expecting. Even though the film does contain some somewhat large action set pieces, the scale of the story is fairly small and personal. This film serves as an origin story for not only Snake Eyes, but also his soon to be rival Shadow Storm, their character work was interesting and I was invested with what was happening with them. Snake Eyes is a flawed and conflicted character. Without getting into plot points as the trailer doesn’t show them, he is not the most likeable of people, especially with his main goal throughout much of the movie and what he does to get closer to it. Usually some blockbuster movies try the whole ‘flawed hero’ approach to the protagonist that feels by the numbers and weak, but this film actually stays way more committed to that idea than I thought it would. The character is not likeable for the most part, but that was a choice, a risky one that I at least admire. Also this movie made Storm Shadow a very sympathetic and interesting character, it was interesting seeing the origins of the feud between him and Snake Eyes. If there are more movies developed in this universe it would be interesting to see them again. I know that die hard G.I. Joe fans won’t be happy with some of the decisions made, as this movie changes up some of the backstories, especially for Snake Eyes. Again though, I am not a G.I. Joe fan, and I thought it made for an interesting enough origin story. As you might’ve noticed from the tag at the end of the title, this is essentially setting up a G.I. Joe cinematic universe. There are a couple of known characters from the series who play small but notable parts in the story of this movie. The setting up of the larger universe doesn’t quite gel with a fairly contained morally ambiguous tale of revenge that the movie is going for. With that being said, it mostly focuses on the Snake Eyes origin story despite its sequel baiting moments.
The cast on the whole do well. Henry Golding plays Snake Eyes and he’s one of the highlights of the movie. He had a lot of charisma as expected considering his past performances, it’s also just as well that he is playing the role considering this new take on the character. Andrew Koji also stands out as Storm Shadow and is really good in his part. The two characters as mentioned earlier are the strongest parts of the movie, and the actors delivered on their roles. Other notable actors are Samara Weaving and Ursula Corbero respectively as Scarlett (from G.I. Joe) and Baroness (from Cobra). They are in this to play small roes to tie this story into the G.I. Joe universe they are setting up. They are good but are only in it for a little bit. Outside of them however, the cast are wasted, even those who have martial arts talents like Iko Uwais. All the characters outside of Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow are dull and underdeveloped, more or less a tool for action sequences and exposition dumpers. The main villain is particularly very boring and doesn’t have any screentime to have a character or personality.
Snake Eyes is directed by Robert Schwentke, whose past work included Red and the last two Divergent movies. I thought the direction was mixed overall. I will say that there are some technical elements that are quite good. First of all it has a sleek look to it with some nice scenery. I appreciated the use of real locations and sets, Tokyo particularly gives some visually striking production designs. Where the problems start is when you look at the action. From the early responses when the movie came out, I heard that the action was quite bad. I personally don’t think it’s that bad but it definitely has a ton of issues. There were legitimately good shots, set ups and pieces of stunt chorography, so it’s not lazy by any means. However, some of the camerawork is unnecessarily shaky, and the rapid editing really makes these scenes worse. Thankfully some of the action actually works quite well and is entertaining. It’s just disappointing that the action wasn’t better considering the amount of work put into them.
I know that Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is being negatively received, and while it has many issues I don’t think it’s bad. The somewhat generic story, most of the supporting characters, as well as some handling of the action really brought down the film, but some of the cast (particularly Henry Golding and Andrew Koji) really delivered on their parts, the main origin story made some decisions that I surprisingly liked, and even some of the action was fun. I would actually like to see this universe continue especially with these actors, hopefully in something less formulaic and better directed.