Snake Eyes: G.I Joe Origins Review – Oh No, Joe!
There’s a moment about an hour into Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins that will either win audiences over completely, or utterly alienate them. Up to that point, it’s a relatively “real world” action movie, give or take some Crouching Tiger style vaulting up the sides of buildings. But then (without giving away any details you’ll never guess) it takes a hard swerve into the weirder aspects of G.I. Joe mythology, and it’s a bold move. If only the rest of the film didn’t play it so safe as to be dull and predictable the rest of the time. Wild swings are better than the same old story we’ve seen in many, many hero origin tales before.
Ninja commando Snake Eyes always used to be more like a benevolent Boba Fett in G.I. Joe. He was fully covered in a suit loaded with weapons, never spoke, dressed like a villain despite being a hero, and generally held a mysterious aura. But now that Boba Fett’s getting his own TV show, Snake Eyes apparently needs his own spotlight too. One that demystifies him completely.
Even if you don’t know his backstory as told in this movie, you actually do. It’s the same story (at least onscreen) as Batman, Wolverine, and every out-for-revenge action lead. A young boy loses his family and survives as a drifter, teaching himself to become the best fighter in the world. Will he get pulled into an adventure larger than his own issues, and have to learn to be a selfless hero rather than a selfish vigilante? Do ninjas wear black?
Henry Golding makes for a charming romantic lead in other movies like Crazy Rich Asians. He could even be a passable James Bond someday. But he’s not like any Snake Eyes we’ve seen before. As an action hero, his biggest battles are with the American accent he’s incapable of consistently keeping. Not that accent issues need be a deal-breaker — just ask Arnold Schwarzenegger or Liam Neeson. Regardless, Golding’s appeal is in playing suave, not gritty. And he lacks the sardonic delivery that would make his offhand uttering of, say, a “hard-on” joke, feel natural. Maybe that’s the real reason Snake Eyes stops speaking in the future.
During the moments that the movie intersects with the main G.I. Joe universe, it makes fans want more of that. Samara Weaving plays Scarlett as a casual badass who barely breaks a sweat in battle, while Ursula Corbero correctly portrays Cobra’s Baroness in full battle fetishwear. But they’re both essentially here as teases for a sequel, which probably won’t happen. And alas, G.I. Joe is still an “international” organization. In a world that saw three Captain America movies score box office success, must “A Real American Hero” still stay taboo?
The actual villain here is a Yakuza boss named Kenta (Takehiro Hira) who bears an old grudge against Snake Eyes’ new BFF Tommy/Storm Shadow (Andrew Koji). Incidentally, the screenwriters come up with a hilariously corny origin for that codename, apparently unaware that Tommy’s ninja clan name “Arashikage” literally means “Storm Shadow” in Japanese.
Action sequences are aggressively “fine.” The best is the bike sequence that has already been overplayed in the trailers. Cinematography lands somewhere between Paul Greengrass shaky-cam and fully coherent. It really makes a viewer miss those post-Matrix days when Jet Li was working with Aaliyah, and the Yuen brothers were choreographing everything from Ben Affleck’s Daredevil to The Transporter. As a character, Snake Eyes deserves that level of expertise. Ray Park gave it to him in the previous movies; say what you will about everything else. But then, Ray Park doesn’t need training.
Golding may be miscast, but at least he’s surrounded by better characters. Iko Uwais and Peter Mensah come across as suitably badass while playing the Hard Master and Blind Master. Meanwhile Haruka Abe’s Akiko, the head of Arishikage security, layers her character so well that she could have been the protagonist instead. Scarlett and Baroness feel much more like the O.G. characters than previous actors to play those roles. G.I. Joe Presents: Scarlett and Baroness would have been the project to make.
There’s more creativity in the film’s end credits — the credits themselves, not the mid-credits stinger — than most of the movie itself. Had this flick truly embraced the weird, it would at worst get credit for ambition. But it never goes to that well quite enough, leaving Joe fans thirsty for something else.
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins opens in theaters July 23.
Recommended Reading: G.I. Joe: Snake Eyes/Storm Shadow
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