From action figures to cartoons, the world of GI Joe has been powered by simple characters, sophisticated hardware, and imagination. Two big budget live-action blockbusters followed suit with GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) and GI Joe: Retaliation (2013), with overwhelming action and exaggerated personalities. However, unlike Hasbro’s other transition from toys to movies, the films weren’t the monster hits that guaranteed an ongoing franchise. Never anyone to give up an IP, Paramount is back with them eight years later Snake-eyes – an origin story about two of the more mysterious characters in the GI Joe world. Unfortunately, it’s the one that isn’t mentioned in the title and is by far the most interesting, engaging, and exciting.
A young boy witnesses his father’s murder by a man whose loaded dice determine his fate, and twenty years later he has grown up to fight in illegal brawls under the name of Snake Eyes (Henry Golding). A little boss with the yakuza named Kenta (Takehiro Hira) recognizes his talent and hires him, and while Snake initially hesitates, seals the promise that Kenta will find the man who killed his father. He befriends a mouth-dead enforcer, and when Tommy (Andrew Koji) Outed as a traitor and sentenced to death, it is Snake who fights by his side and helps him escape. It turns out that Tommy is next in line to rule the centuries-old Arashikage clan, and he had gone undercover to investigate the Yakuza gun shop, and now he welcomes Snake to his well-guarded home. They’d be best friends forever if Snake wasn’t there for two-faced intentions.
We can never have enough ninja movies, so the idea of giving GI Joe’s infamous enemies, Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow their own movie, seemed promising, but the end result is disappointing. Snake Eyes is surprisingly boring – for an action movie, for a ninja movie, and for a GI Joe movie. The script goes down an overly familiar avenue with its narrative and devoid of new perspectives, and while it is punctuated by action beats, they are consistently overwhelming for a variety of reasons.
To be clear, the previous GI Joe films wouldn’t win writing awards themselves, but they also take advantage of the inherent silliness of science fiction hardware, over-the-top heroes of the ’80s, and over-the-top villains like Cobra Commander. Snake Eyes dips his toes into the absurd with a magical jewel, anacondas the size of a train and Cobra favorite The Baroness (Úrsula Corberówho makes her best impression of Cory Chase) but way too much of the script (by Evan Spiliotopoulos, Joe shrapnel, and Anna water house) focuses on the overly calm and simple. While the film is billed as the origin of Snake Eyes, it serves better as a glimpse into what Tommy is turning into Storm Shadow. Snake’s journey sees him as an idiot with an unsatisfactory heroic bow, but Tommy’s departure into the dark actually brings understanding and sympathy to the viewer. It’s an oddly designed dynamic.
The cast is equally deceptive in their promise, starting with Golding’s appearance in the title role. He’s a charismatic actor, personable and engaging, but while he’s physically present – and yes, he’d make a James Bond like Sean Connery or Pierce Brosnan hell – he’s an inevitable second fiddle to Koji in an action. Warrior (2019-) is a legitimate action star who has mastered mesmerizing moves and awe-inspiring acrobatics, and Golding just can’t keep up.
That brings us, of course, to the biggest problem with Snake Eyes – the action is instantly forgotten. Despite Koji’s abilities, the presence of the greats is behind the scenes Kenji Tanigaki (Fight choreographer on numerous Donnie Yen films and the Rurouni Kenshin franchise) and action giant Iko Uwais in a supporting role, everything that teases impressive or cool fights is castrated in post-production. director Robert Schwentke and editor Stuart Levy Break down the sequences with an abundance of misdirected cuts, cuts, and reporting options that leave battle scenes a jumble of uninteresting blur. Larger action sequences are not better because CG and green screen work is not convincing or convincing.
While the movie doesn’t actually work, there are elements that are noteworthy. The most important of them is Koji, who proves that his warrior success is no accident. He’s more than just an action fan, and he gives Tommy both sincerity and weight. Haruka Abe does a good job as security chief of the Arashikage clan despite her poorly written character – we’re told she’s a force to be reckoned with, but she gets hit twice (by Snake) and instantly falls in love (with Snake). Samara weaving plays Scarlett and is just as welcome as Uwais, but she’s just as disappointed with her character as he is with the editing.
To paraphrase a line from Snake Eyes itself, all studios make mistakes, it depends what you do next. In this case, hopefully that means one of two things (or both if Paramount is particularly ambitious) – bringing GI Joe back into the realm of big, goofy, action-packed entertainment or hiring people who know what the hell they’re doing and when it’s going about creating, editing and presenting killer action sequences.