Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins review

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins would be a lousy movie by any criteria. Having the unmitigated gall to drag the good name of Snake Eyes and G.I. Joe in this mess makes it even more of a misstep. The title character might be overly chatty, but this latest G.I. Joe adaptation definitely left me speechless.

Hollywood execs (in the non-Marvel Studios category) continue to overestimate the strength of licensed brand properties if they’re going to continue to strip away everything that appeals to the fanbase in the first place.

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Make no mistake. G.I. Joe Rise of Cobra was a bad movie, but at least there was an (misguided) effort to cram numerous elements of the cartoon and comic book series into one film. Snake Eyes hits an entirely special level of mediocrity to make Rise of Cobra look better by comparison.

Snake Eyes is another classic example of recklessly using names of popular characters and casual references to the source material and foolishly thinking that will suffice. While it was nice to see a cameo from Larry Hama, the legendary Joe comic book and action figure bio writer, it would have been even better to see characters resembling the ones he crafted for over 30 years on screen.

Getting G.I. Joe right isn’t as complicated as the Marvel Cinematic or DC Comics universe. There’s no superheroes flying around, smashing through buildings or shooting lasers from their eyes. It’s dudes fighting a colorfully dressed snake-motif militia force with wild over the top ideas for world domination. And the most popular character happens to be a mute ninja clad in black.

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Yet somehow this remains a puzzle no filmmaker can solve. G.I. Joe Retaliation remains the high point of the franchise despite ignoring easy ways to make it more faithful to the comics or cartoon.

It’s not clear if screenwriters Anna Waterhouse, Joe Shrapnel and Evan Spiliotopoulos have any any familiarity with Snake Eyes (or GI Joe in general) or really thought drastically shaking things up would connect with Joe fans seeking a completely different take.

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The often ignored rule of licensed properties is make a movie appealing to the built-in core fanbase. If it’s good enough for those legacy fans it will connect to a wider audience. That’s why Marvel Studios is rolling in the billions why every other studio save Fast and Furious is still on Developing a Cinematic Franchise for Dummies.

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As a kid, Snake Eyes watched his father get killed and he devotes his life to revenge. Instead of some interesting training sequences a la Batman Begins, the script immediately shifts to adult Snake Eyes (Henry Goulding, Crazy Rich Asians) competing in fight clubs. This was how audiences were introduced to Logan in 2000’s X-Men release so this isn’t exactly the freshest way to kick off a solo movie.

From there, Snake Eyes befriends Tommy (Andrew Koji, Fast & Furious 6), next in line to head the Arashikage ninja clan. Snake Eyes’ motives aren’t entirely altruistic making for a bizarre scenario where the main character is more of the villain. Imagine watching a Captain America movie where Steve Rogers was the villain (or even worse, a Hydra soldier).

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That’s essentially the set up for Snake Eyes and it’s an incredible betrayal of a character who’s all about honor and a shoddy treatment of the Snake Eyes/Storm Shadow dynamic. By the time the film ended, Storm Shadow had a legitimate beef and still came off more like the hero. That’s a major failing of the writers.

Goulding is too naturally charismatic and charming to play an underhanded, scheming character while Koji has a default edginess that would have been ideally suited for a take more consistent with the comics.

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Snake Eyes accepts Tommy’s invitation to train to become one of the Arashikage. There, he learns from The Blind Master (Peter Mensah, 300), Hard Master (Iko Uwais, The Raid: Redemption) and starts a flirty romance with Akiko (Haruka Abe). One sequence has Snake Eyes encounter snakes that would be far better suited as part of a Cobra lair.

To name check a few more characters from the mythos, the screenwriters lazily throw in Scarlett (Samara Weaving, Ready or Not) and The Baroness (Úrsula Corberó, Money Heist). Weaving looks the part of the popular Joe but she can’t kick her way through the shoddy script.

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Corberó is perfect casting as she comes off like the most untainted translation from comic/cartoon to the film. She’s easily the best aspect of the film. While G.I. Joe is running out of reboot lives, hopefully Corberó (and Weaving) can be included in the next movie.

Robert Schwentke (R.I.P.D.) is a competent director who capably handles the action sequences. The fights are mostly clean and easy to comprehend save for the distracting scenarios when all of the combatants are wearing black. The action is fine although there’s no real standout scene that will stick with viewers afterwards.

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Don’t expect to see much of Snake Eyes or Storm Shadow wearing their masks. That’s not anything the filmmakers are overly concerned with less fans confuse this with an actual G.I. Joe movie. There’s a post-credit scene that feels like a cheap way to get to a G.I. Joe movie instead of naturally building on much that occurred in the film.

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Snake Eyes: GI Joe Origins has the names and similar costumes of the beloved Real American Hero property, but that’s only half the battle.

Actually comprehending what goes into the characters and their motivations or simply just sticking to Hama’s continuity would actually make for an adaptation that would happily leave fans yelling something beyond “No Joe.”

Rating: 3 out of 10

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

Pre-Order the GI Joe Classified Series Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow on Amazon.

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