'Snake Eyes: GI Joe Origins' Looks Flashy in Stills but Blurry in Motion
We review the new 'G.I. Joe' adventure and determine whether the third time's the charm for this cinematic franchise.
As action figures, G.I. Joes were a blank canvas for children to dump their imaginations. As cartoons, G.I. Joe was an exhilaratingly silly commercial populated by increasingly bizarre characters. As comic books, G.I. Joe was an epic mythology worthy of obsession. As movies, G.I. Joe is a franchise filled with potential that never quite captures the childish wonder, the oddball individuals, or the ever-branching lore. Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins contains a great cast, a weak script, and a wretched edit of possibly good fight choreography. It's not the glorious train wrecks that were the last two cinematic entries, but it is painfully duller.
Ditching the massive supporting cast and focusing on G.I. Joe's most recognizable ninja badass was probably the right move. Ditching the iconic costume for a last-minute tease and spending the majority of your runtime bastardizing pre-established mystery for an embarrassingly two-dimensional revenge saga was not the right move. I'm not about to get high-and-mighty regarding the comic book, cartoon, or toy backstories because, quite frankly, my memory for those things is hazy and more dangerous than anything else. But if you are going to swerve and do your own thing, you gotta deliver on the promise of what your movie is suggesting. At the very least, give us a hero conflicted by rage and an outlet for hand-to-hand, sword-to-sword, combat wizardry.
The production hired the perfect team to astonish. Kenji Tanigaki's fight choreography has previously dazzled in flicks like Enter the Fat Dragon and Rurouni Kenshin: Final Chapter parts one and two, but Snake Eyes director Robert Schwentke refuses to show off his majesty here. The fights are close-up, extremely close-up, frequently hand-held, nauseatingly dizzy, and chopped into countless edits. Just when the audience should be on their feet cheering, they're rubbing their eyes and reaching for some aspirin.
Henry Golding as Snake is exceptional. He plays the Bruce Wayne vengeance bit well, bobbing back and forth between petulant aggressive and heartbroken puppy dog. You can sense the torment inside. The film opens with a child witnessing his father's execution, and Golding carries that trauma through the remaining movie.
Golding's Snake hasn't chosen a side yet. His Yakuza boss Kenta (Takehiro Hira) dangles the identity of his father's killer over his head, and Snake will follow him wherever that leads. This puts him in contact with Tommy (Andrew Koji), Kenta's rival cousin and the rightful heir to the Arashikage clan. Sneaking amongst the ninja, Snake possibly finds a new purpose, but his thirst for revenge and the introduction of the shadowy terrorist organization called Cobra confuses his identity further.
Snake Eyes' first half is rather basic and jammed with plot, but its second half bounds off into a bonkers realm akin to the cartoon and comic book weirdness. Rather than injecting energy into the events, however, the magically weird moments shine as muddy as the fight choreography. Nothing is given the proper space to be seen. It's all darkness and shadow and cut to hell. For the love of God, man, hold a shot!
Eventually, the Joes themselves enter the war. Tracking the Cobra shenanigans is Scarlet, played by the always welcomed Samara Weaving. Unfortunately, her character is an afterthought, and what you've seen of her in the trailer is mostly all you get in the movie. She delivers some one-liners, she gets to beat down a few dudes, but that's it. The little dialogue she has with Golding appears accomplished via ADR.
Snake Eyes is not an atrocity. It will kill some time and aid your appreciation for Golding. There is enough chemistry between him and Andrew Koji to sell you a ticket for a (hopefully superior) sequel. But if you came for the costume, the fights, the mythology, or your nostalgia, you'll be deeply disappointed. Once again, you're walking away from a G.I. Joe movie knowing there's a better one to be made. And knowing is half the battle? Ugh. Not this time.