Franchise movies with the word origins in the title don’t have the best track record of quality, but that doesn’t stop studios from making them; case in point, Snake Eyes: GI Joe Origins, which promises to tell the backstory of the fan favorite character from the GI Joe animated series and Hasbro toy line.
When you have a toy company producing a movie, it’s a safe bet that whatever shows up on screen will inevitably be packaged and sold on a shelf somewhere, mostly likely bought by dudes in their 40s struck with nostalgia and a bit too much cash in their pockets. Do young kids even buy action figures anymore? Not important – there’s product to sell, and the single F-bomb to drop so the filmmakers can prove their movie is dark and gritty and not (just) for kids.
Funny thing, though: if you approach Snake Eyes: Not the Brian DePalma Movie on its own level, amongst the shakycam, the goofy story connections to the larger GI Joe (and that’s not something I’m ready to type again any time soon), and some basic digital effects, there’s a relatively entertaining movie inside.
Sure, it’s got the standard revenge plot, but the actors commit to the melodrama. They treat the script as holy writ, and never wink or nod at the audience to show they’re in on the joke.
That level of commitment to the bit is respectable, and I imagine if I were 12-years old on a Saturday morning hopped up on sugary cereal, Snake Eyes would be my total jam.
Snake Eyes (Henry Golding) grew up tough on the streets of Los Angeles, after his father was brutally murdered by unknown assailants when Snake was a child. Snake Eyes (we never learn his real name, but I bet it’s probably Eugene or Harold, something nerdy like that) is recruited by Kenta (Takehiro Hira) as a fighter in his crime syndicate, but when called upon to kill Tommy Arashikage (Andrew Koji), Snake refuses and escapes with Tommy.
Tommy takes Snake in to become a part of the Arashikage Clan, fighting evil, but Snake has other motives in mind: to find his father’s killers and have his revenge. But the longer Snake spends time with the Araskikage family, including Tommy, Akiko (Haruka Abe), and matriarch Sen (Eri Ishida), the stronger the bond becomes.
But Snake Eyes must master his own inner turmoil; COBRA is coming, and they will stop at nothing to destroy the Araskikage family.
While the fight sequences are well choreographed — with talented actors like Koji, Iko Uwais, and Peter Mensah involved how could they not be — they are undercut by the camerawork, which like too many films in the past, mistakes shakiness for intensity. Still, the best fights have emotional stakes, and build character relationships, especially between Golding and Koji’s characters.
If you’re even vaguely familiar with GI Joe, you can see the arc of Snake Eyes’ and Tommy’s relationship from orbit, but it’s played so earnestly by both Golding and Koji that you don’t mind just how predictable it all is. When Snake Eyes stays close to the central characters, the movie mostly works. It’s cliché and hokey, but it works.
When the movie goes off into the GI Joe/COBRA conflict, with glowing rocks, giant snakes, and cartoony story twists, the movie becomes deeply silly and stupid. But hey, it sticks close to the source material. The movie always looks impressive, inspired by so much Japanese cinema and anime, but it’s mostly surface level appreciation.
Director Robert Schwentke is mostly known for standard Hollywood fare — a couple of Divergen movies, Flightplan, R.I.P.D. — but it’s interesting that the film he made before this one, The Captain, is a well-crafted movie about a German soldier who steals a Nazi officer’s uniform and how the nature of evil is ephemeral and seductive.
It’s a German-language independent film and it’s amazing and it blew me away when I saw it a couple of years ago. It’s also interesting that Schwentke, after The Captian, jumps right back into the routine.
I can’t exactly recommend Snake Eyes: GI Joe Origins, but I won’t lie – I was more entertained than not. While we aren’t exactly dealing with Shakespeare, the actors treat it as such, and that level of commitment should be respected.
SNAKE EYES: GI JOE ORIGINS REVIEW SCORE: 6.5/10
Paramount Pictures will release the film in theaters on July 23, 2021. You can get your tickets at Fandango.