Movie Review: Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins

I was a kid when toy company Hasbro introduced G.I. Joe. The 12-inch doll was marketed as an “action figure” to make it appealing to boys who may have been quietly suffering from Barbie envy. Joe was an immediate success not just with the boys but probably with more than a few girls too. Back then though, Joe’s origin story was whatever its owner wanted it to be. We didn’t need marketing execs and Hollywood suits to tell us who Joe was. But times changed and so did “America’s movable fighting man”, as Hasbro’s trademarked tagline reminded everyone. In the early 1980s, long after I lost any interest I may have had in the character, Joe and his team of fellow soldiers and adventurers were shrunk down to 3¾ inches so that they could fit into vehicles and playsets that Hasbro had now launched. The toy company also created a background story that involved an ongoing struggle between the Team and the evil Cobra terrorist network that was seeking to take over the Free World. Inevitably, comic books, animated TV shows and films followed. G.I. JOE: THE MOVIE was released in 1987 and went straight to video. The big budget G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA, starring Channing Tatum, came out in 2009. Although Tatum won the Teen Choice Award that year for Choice Movie Actor: Action, the film received six Razzie nominations including Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst Supporting Actress, Worst Supporting Actor and Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-off, or Sequel. Needless to say, the film didn’t make a profit. Nevertheless, G.I. JOE: RETALIATION was released four years later, directed by Jon M. Chu, the same guy who recently made IN THE HEIGHTS. This film, starring Tatum, Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis, was slayed by the critics. Audiences, however, loved it and the film was a box office hit.

Now we have SNAKE EYES: G.I. JOE ORIGINS, the first of what may or may not be many films about the “Joes”, as they are referred to by Scarlett (Samara Weaving, BILL & TED FACE THE MUSIC; READY OR NOT; THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI). In this origin story, we first meet the film’s eponymous character when he’s just a boy. He and his father are, for a reason that is revealed at the end of the film, holed up in a ridiculously huge cabin for just two people somewhere in the woods. Some bad guys arrive, dice are rolled, snake eyes (ones) come up, the father is killed and the boy runs off. Fast forward to the present and the boy, who is now a man (Henry Golding, LAST CHRISTMAS; CRAZY RICH ASIANS), is an MMA fighter going by the name of “Snake Eyes”. He gets a job working for Kenta (Takehiro Hira/平 岳大), a yakuza leader who is smuggling guns into Japan. After a fight breaks out, Snake is whisked off to Japan by “Tommy” Arashikage (Andrew Koji, TV’s WARRIOR), the sole heir of the Arashikage clan. There, Snake is inducted into the clan, learning the way of the ninja and undergoing three tests, two of them meted out by Hard Master (Iko Uwais, MILE 22; THE RAID films) and Blind Master (Peter Mensah). While Tommy is happy to have Snake there, his head of security, Akiko (Haruka Abe/安部 春香, CRUELLA), has her doubts about where Snake’s loyalty lies. That concern is brought to the fore when she catches Snake trying to steal the Arashikage gem for Kenta and his associate, the Baroness (Úrsula Corberó, TV’s MONEY HEIST), who is an international terrorist affiliated with Cobra.

Get the air freshener out because SNAKE EYES: G.I. JOE ORIGINS is one helluva stinker! There is absolutely no joy to be found here, and the few “funny” lines that there are, land with a thud. It starts off dour, continues to be dour and ends dour. But that’s not even close to being the worst part of this two-hour adventure into drudgery. There are at least three martial arts professionals in the cast – Uwais, Mensah and Koji – all of whom could have put on a spectacular show for the audience yet director Robert Schwentke (two of THE DIVERGENT films) relies on shaky camerawork, low-level lighting and quick cuts as a substitute for poor or non-existent fight choreography. Then there’s the problem that the script pretty much rips off MORTAL KOMBAT and, to a lesser extent, BLACK WIDOW.

Golding, bless him, puts his all into his character but he’s way out of his league here. He’s just doesn’t have enough charisma to be an action star. Maybe if the script weren’t so dull, he could get away with it but with this clunker even someone like Chris Hemsworth would have trouble keeping the audience from falling asleep. To be fair to Golding though, part of the problem is that Snake is pretty unlikeable. He’s single-minded to the detriment of his friends. That makes it hard for the audience to care whether he lives or dies. With the exception of Eri Ishida/石田えり, who plays Sen, the head of the Arashikage clan, the rest of the cast isn’t very interesting either… although I do have to mention that the Baroness sports some pretty fierce stiletto heels. Unfortunately, she doesn’t use them. Missed opportunity!

Not surprisingly, it has already been announced that a sequel is in development. Whether it goes through or not, time will tell. I’ll bet it does regardless of how well or how badly this film does at the box office.  If it does, the producers may want to look at bringing in some new writers and a new director.

SNAKE EYES: G.I. JOE ORIGINS opens today in Hong Kong (July 22nd) and in major markets around the world tomorrow. If you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s pretty crap(s).

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