The extent of my interest in the G.I. Joe property only ever came from my brother’s love of the classic action figures. I enjoyed playing with the toys and I even had some of my own. So watching those two original G.I. Joe movies from the early 2010s, I was able to enjoy them for all their goofiness. But the problem with the latest reboot/retool/retelling/redo of the franchise, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously or seriously enough… it completely feels like it was fast tracked and put together quickly so that Paramount could keep the film rights to these characters.
Snake Eyes begins like every other bad action movie about a one-man army type of lead — with young Snake Eyes (Max Archibald) watching his father be killed at the hands of some bad guys. It’s not always a bad sign when this happens, but in this specific case, the rest of the movie doesn’t do anything to validate the choice.
After the prologue, it turns out Snake Eyes has been spending much of his adult life fighting underground and looking for the man who killed his father to get revenge. He’s also played by the stunningly handsome and charismatic, yet consistently misused Henry Golding. After an impressive victory in his most recent fight, Snake Eyes is recruited to work for the Yakuza because the boss promises to help him find his father’s murderer. So he starts running guns in Los Angeles and from here on out, he’s an antihero at best and a villain at worst.
This is the most baffling part of the film. The movie is called Snake Eyes and Snake Eyes is the protagonist, but thanks to most of the choices the character makes, you won’t find yourself rooting for him very much. It’s fine if the filmmakers were trying to make a movie about an antihero or straight up villain, but knowing the background of the character and understanding filmmaking language, it’s quite obvious that you’re meant to root for Snake Eyes. This all makes it difficult to follow the story, let alone take it seriously when it feels like the creators are at odds with what they know their main character to be.
With the disappointing story being what it is, you’d hope that there would at least be some interesting filmmaking choices to keep you interested, but sadly that’s not the case at all. At least with something like F9 or Old, the action is engaging or the cinematography is original and motivated. That’s nowhere near the case in Snake Eyes. Apart from one early action sequence, most of the choices the movie makes seem completely uninspired. The action is as dull and heavily-cut as anything you’ll see, and the spacial awareness of the characters just isn’t there. It’s been a while since I became this rapidly disinterested in what was happening on screen during an action movie like this. At a certain point, you’d think the industry would understand that seeing a slow motion flip isn’t cool just because it’s a slow motion flip, but rather because it’s informed by the rest of the actions on the screen. Here, there’s nothing that has me wowed and it just looks like more poorly and overly-done Hollywood CGI.
To add insult to injury, there is a wonderful MacGuffin that brings down the quality of the movie. A MacGuffin isn’t inherently a bad technique, but it’s essentially an Infinity Stone that’s used poorly. I’m not one to say that a movie needs to be faithful to its source material to be good, however thin that source material might be in this case, but I’m pretty sure the sci-fi-adjacent G.I. Joes never had to deal with anything quite like this. And for a movie about a bunch of people who are great with swords, it’s unfortunate to see it devolve into a movie about a magic rock that blows things up.
Now, the character who comes across as the hero, but is forced into the position of being the villain is Tommy (Andrew Koji). As a character, he’s given the most to do. He’s the soon-to-be head of the Arashikage Clan in Japan and his desires to please his family while still standing up to Snake Eyes are really the only thing to grab onto thematically since the revenge plot is tired and unmotivated. Koji has the most to work with as an actor and easily gives the best performance in the movie. And I won’t spoil too much about his character, but he makes an expression that someone calls, “the shadow before the storm,” so if you know even the bare minimum about the G.I. Joe property, you’ll know what that means.
Lastly, I’ll address the elephant in the room, which is Snake Eyes’ appearance. Golding is great and I hope he continues to get big time opportunities, but I saw his face way too much in this movie. Part of what makes Snake Eyes interesting is the mystique behind him. Again, I’m all for your own spin on the source material, but there’s no motivation behind why Snake Eyes is given the suit at all. It feels as if the screenplay was completed without a scene of him donning his iconic garb, so the screenwriters had characters simply hand it to him at the end. And infuriatingly, I think every shot of Snake Eyes wearing his suit appears in the trailer, leaving next to no reason to even see the movie at all.
Snake Eyes is mostly an exercise in futility. Based on the other G.I. Joe characters who appear like Scarlett (Samara Weaving) and Hard Master (Iko Uwais), it’s pretty obvious that this is meant to be a G.I. Joe origins movie as the title suggests, instead of simply a Snake Eyes origin movie along the lines of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. But with the total movie feeling like an uninspired flop that equates to the trumpet sound effect from The Price is Right, I highly doubt we’ll be getting more entries in this second attempt at making G.I. Joe happen.