MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Action/ Stars: Henry Golding, Andrew Koji, Úrsula Corberó, Samara Weaving, Iko Uwais, Haruka Abe, Takehiro Hira, Peter Mensah/Runtime: 121 minutes
It’s not exactly a closely guarded secret that in the world of making a cinematic franchise, the origin story will always be something that is integral to the construction of said franchise. That is because at their core, origin story movies are designed to give us more background and dimension to specific characters whilst also laying seeds for future installments to work with. I bring this up to you dear reader because it is in that respect that the new slice of cinematic pie that is Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is one that is successful, but perhaps not in the way you might be thinking. This is because even though the movie’s title might have you think (and understandably so) that the titular protagonist (played this time by Henry Golding who does a fairly good job in the part) is the key reason to watch, it is actually his co-star Andrew Koji who gives the better performance in the role of Tommy aka the friend of Snake Eyes’ whom those familiar with this franchise know will eventually turn into…. someone else that is integral to G.I. Joe franchise lore. (What? If you know you know. If not then find someone who does and ask them). Now this usually is not the worst thing in the world since there are quite a few entries in the history of cinema where a key supporting role managed to completely overshadow the work done by the lead (Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight for example), but the fact that it happens here does manage to sum up what is truly wrong with this film: that being that this film has no focus to its proceedings whatsoever. Indeed as it threads for us the origin story of the Joes’ silently stoic yet lethal swordsman, this slice of cinematic pie does hurl a lot of narrative at you, the movie goer and whilst yes it does have a lot of solid moments throughout, it also just as regularly feels rushed, messy, and not entirely sure of its ability to succeed. As a result no Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins might not be a bad movie per se, but by no means is it the movie that fans of this franchise were likely hoping it would be either.
The plot is as follows: Penned by no less than a trinity of writers, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins gets underway courtesy of (what else?) our main character’s heartwrenching past as we see his dear ol’ dad brutally killed by a gang of enigmatic soldiers for hire as a kid and then leaps forward so we can spend time with our protagonist as a grown-up who spends his days wandering around making money in underground fight clubs (seriously where is Tyler Durden when you need him?). Suffice it to say that our “hero” has no path in life save for his urge to get his vengeance against the people who bumped off his pop and this in turn makes him quite easy to recruit by a ruthless Yakuza boss named Kenta who offers to give our hero much needed intel about the man who led the hit squad in return for Snake Eyes coming to work for him and the Yakuza. Thus after some time, we see that our hero is working in L.A. as a fish cutter so the bosses can then use the fish to low-key send out weaponry, but things soon come to a halt when Kenta shows up and assigns our hero with the task of bumping off a co-worker of his by the name of Tommy since he is an operative from a rival clan. Yet we soon see that our hero makes the choice to instead rescue Tommy from this most gruesome fate and from there the duo make their way to Tokyo where Snake Eyes soon learns that not only are Kenta and Tommy related, but that Tommy is the heir apparent to the Arashikage clan. To that end, we see that Tommy graciously invites our hero into his home whilst also vouching for him since he wishes for his new found friend/ brother in arms to join his clan. A membership application that requires going through a trinity of trials in order to be approved. Yet unbeknownst to Tommy is the fact that Snake Eyes may or may not have a secret or two of his own that he hasn’t exactly taken the time to share. Secrets that also include possessing machinations that he could only carry out if only someone would let him in the borders of the Arashikage compound…
Now between Snake Eyes’ quest for vengeance, his attempts to become parts of the Arashikage clan, several secrets best left unsaid, and a more direct tie to the overall G.I. Joe lore courtesy of returning (albeit recast once more) characters Scarlett and The Baroness among other ingredients, I think it can quite easily be said that not only does Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins have a lot of material crammed into a, including credits, 2 hour movie, but it also isn’t always triumphant in making sure these elements flow on the level that they should. As a result we see that when the assorted components to this narrative intersect, it’s oddly not that difficult to forget about distinct narrative components only to then be downright astonished when they come back into the film including the arc that iconic G.I. Joe heroine Scarlett has in this as well as the exams that Snake Eyes must pass in order to be accepted by the clan. Yet perhaps the oddest thing this movie has going for it however is in just how the film chooses to set up its iconic characters. By that I mean I get that Henry Golding’s titular character is definitely meant to be this movie’s protagonist (I mean it IS his story after all and Golding to his credit does do a good job in the role), but he most assuredly does not act like a “hero” in this. Rather, I would go so far as to say that Snake Eyes actually functions more or less as a villain through the majority of this film due to being depicted as a vengeance motivated and slimy individual who is willing to do the things that he does to the people that he does them to without seemingly a care in the world. With that in mind, I can’t really lie and say I’m really astonished that Golding’s co-star Andrew Koji was able to take the film right out from under him since the character of Tommy actually is the representative of the values system that one would think the lead in this kind of film to possess to say nothing of doing wonderful work in his action beats and having a wonderful degree of charisma about him. Suffice it to say then that the narrative does result in you looking at these time-honored characters in a different way and if the rest of the film wasn’t so chaotic I might be able to appreciate this stab at changing things up, but as it is it just adds to the excruciating amount of chaos on display in the film.
Now the word chaotic I feel is also a wonderful one-word description that can be utilized to describe the action beats this film presents you with. That’s because this is a movie that, due to a distinct narrative and a talented cast, has a chance to give us some of the best action beats this side of a movie with the words John Wick in the title, but that is a chance that is tragically wasted. Yes this film’s helmer, one Robert Schwentke, is able to showcase a genuine fondness for the utilization in shooting the sword and action beats in a handheld format which is quite ingenious since it, in theory, would let the audience feel like they are right in the middle of the action, but from a practical standpoint it’s a true disappointment. That’s because whilst the action scenes in this are appropriately thrilling and intense in equal measure, it is also a pain in the butt to figure out just what is going on because the camera work is in such a state of flux that you’re unable to get a clear look at just what is supposed to be happening. I mean I suppose you could make the excuse that because this film is a PG-13 rated movie you really couldn’t show that much in the way of violence lest your movie wish to get slapped with an R-rating, but that would still be little more than a pitiful excuse as to why the action beats in this are so frustratingly filmed in the manner that they are.
All in all astonishing as it may be, it has been 2 years shy of a decade since anything G.I. Joe related hit the silver screen as film helmer Jon Chu’s stab at the franchise G.I. Joe: Retaliation came out to audiences all the way back in 2013. I guess the reason I bring this up is because despite all that time having come and gone, the G.I. Joe franchise still hasn’t managed to make the jump from being good popcorn entertainment all the way to anything resembling a legitimately great cinematic franchise. Sure there is the right amount in this film to really respect and therefore call it a decent film, but it’s also extremely difficult to call it anything else because like the previous two stabs at this iconic brand there is still so much in the way of potential for it to be better than what we ultimately get. As such, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is not bad and I wouldn’t mind seeing where a follow-up to this film could potentially go, but at the same time this reviewer is still holding out hope with his fingers crossed that audiences still one day get a G.I. Joe movie that is actually worthy of the iconic brand’s legacy. Make of that therefore what you will; after all: knowing is half the battle…. On a scale of 1-5 I give Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins a solid 3 out of 5.