Review: 'Snake Eyes: G.I Joe Origins' (2021) Dir. Robert Schwentke
This origin story for a beloved character from the Hasbro G.I. Joe toy franchise also serves as a proposed reboot of the film series, following 2013s lukewarm 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation'...
A wandering street fighter, known as Snake Eyes (Golding), has lived his life seeking revenge after watching his father murdered before him when he was just a boy. It's only when he is recruited by a Yakuza clan member, Tommy (Koij) does he find purpose.
Snake Eyes is taken to Japan and taught ancient ways of ninja combat and stealth to help battle injustice and protect both the clan and the good in the world. Their current enemy is terrorist cell COBRA led by The Baroness (Corberó).
Snake Eyes and the clan discover than an ancient power source is being hunted by COBRA that could spell certain doom for all. The question is, will Snake Eyes see past his blind vengeance and help those closest to him for the greater good...?
The opening fifteen minutes of this new incarnation of the popular Hasbro toy line makes it clear this is not the same universe as our two previous films. Gone is the fantastical science-fiction elements and all-American military might. Now we have underworld Yakuza crime syndicates, deadly samurai swords, grim Los Angeles fish docks and implications of how the real motivations in life are trust and family. You know these two are going to come back and play a real part in the evolution of our heroes and villains.
Going back to the start for the martial artist turned ninja Snake Eyes, Henry Golding gives a new face and style to one of the most loved characters in the Joe franchise. The film serves as very routine exploration of events that led him to become the man we see in full stride serving the protect the free world - it's nothing we've not seen before of character origins. You will be looking for the relationships that make and break him, the training that he excels and fails in, the gadgets and weapons he uses to skill and survive with, and life lessons along the way that make him the hero he is. In this sense, it's predictable and not very overt in taking great steps to offer something new or fresh.
While entertaining as a very basic origin / action film, the foundations of G.I Joe as a brand for a film franchise is not strong enough to warrant great investment in this story from casual, or even hardcore, fans.
Henry Golding may embody Eastern and Western culture thanks to his upbringing and career, and on the whole is a likeable actor and headlines the film, but he brings little to the role of Snake Eyes, proving the namesake is bigger than the actual actor. Golding's Snake Eyes is too ordinary; too pedestrian and too much of a character we have seen before - he's the Bruce Wayne of the Joe's. However he has capability to sell the action and combat sequences, with some impressive fight choreography (be it a little TOO choreographed to look totally natural).
A strong international supporting cast help add authenticity to the Japanese culture and formation of the ninja clans that play a part in the story. Andrew Koji is on fine form as Tomisaburo Arashikage, a man with many secrets and many morals who is enjoying every moment on screen with his Bond-villain esque looks and voice. Haruka Abe is the love interest, with Úrsula Corberó and Takehiro Hira equally having fun with their roles, be them a little flat and unexpanded on to really care about. Samara Weaving and Iko Uwais falls dangerously into bracket of being under-used and under-appreciated, especially Uwais for his true martial arts talent. One of the dissapointing aspects is that many of the characters here feel so bland, they are almost stripped of anything to make them appear true to their franchise counterparts or at least retain something fantastical. Too many people simple dressed in black with little imagination used.
One thing the film does get right, something more and more seen on screen in films nowadays, is the use of Eastern culture and locations to great visual effect and authenticity. Be it rain soaked neon streets that offer endless backstreets, alleyways and roof-tops to run, jump and battle across, or the dangerous and fast-paced combat with hands and / or swords. In terms of the action, it's fast and frantic when it wants to be, full of assisted wire-leaps, dramatic framing and bold colours to give it a graphic-novel feel thanks to the vibrant and ever reliable background of Tokyo.
However, the introduction of terrorist cell COBRA at least keeps things moving in terms of the actual franchise this is based on. But it's all about Snake Eyes; it's just a shame his story is so basic, and his character is also so...mundane and ordinary, relying on the bloodless martial arts fights and slick CGI shots to make things appear interesting and Hollywood level exciting. But we get a few nods to where the series would be heading was this worth a sequel or expanding on, which it isn't. The story here itself takes too many twists and turns and alliances and deceptions to make it easy keeping track of who is fighting who and why. It's this level of complexity you just don't want for an origin story in order to care much towards the end.
If the intent is there to reboot a dwindling movie franchise, it has got to be carried out in a far more grander and special way than what Snake Eyes offers. It's easy to look back on the 2009 original G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and fall back into a more tongue-in-cheek way of enjoying the franchise and spotting the more colourful characters, locations and iconography of the Joe's that is all but lost here in favour of the new gritty, darker and more "realistic" take on things.
Not so much 'GI Joe' but more 'Average Joe'. A formularic, predictable origin story that looks good on the surface, but fails to deliver anything worthy of making this a reboot worth taking note of.
'Snake Eyes: G.I Joe Origins' is a co-production between Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Skydance Media, Entertainment One and Di Bonaventura Pictures