With energetic and thrilling action, Snake Eyes is a fun summer blockbuster, even if the movie’s haphazard franchise setup leaves much to be desired.
Based on the line of Hasbro toy figures, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is the start of a new franchise set in the world of the elite military team and the evil organization they battle against. Snake Eyes operates as a reboot to the previously established G.I. Joe film series, which included 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and 2013’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation, but it’s one that focuses much more on the titular member of the Joes and – as the movie’s name implies – his origin. The film is directed by Robert Schwentke (RED, R.I.P.D.) from a script by Evan Spiliotopoulos (Beauty and the Beast), Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse (Rebecca). With energetic and thrilling action, Snake Eyes is a fun summer blockbuster, even if the movie’s haphazard franchise setup leaves much to be desired.
The movie delves into the past of the mysterious G.I. Joe character who only goes by Snake Eyes (Henry Golding), depicting him as a young boy witnessing the murder of his father, then growing up to be a solitary fighter. He’s recruited into the Yakuza by Kenta (Takehero Hira), who promises to find the man who killed Snake’s father. However, when Snake throws in his lot with Tommy Arashikage (Andrew Koji), he makes an enemy of Kenta and is forced to follow Tommy back to his home in Japan. There, he’s tasked with three challenges to prove himself and become the Arashikage clan’s newest warrior. Meanwhile, Kenta teams up with Cobra operative Baroness (Úrsula Corberó) to wage war on the Arashikage clan, which forces Tommy to call in their G.I. Joe ally Scarlett (Samara Weaving). Together with the clan’s head of security Akiko (Haruka Abe), Snake Eyes and Tommy will have to take on Kenta and Baroness.
Perhaps the biggest strength of Snake Eyes are the action scenes, which are frenetic and energetic – though Schwentke’s overabundant use of shaky cam is at times frustrating as it turns the fight scenes into confusing flashes of movement with little sense. When the fight choreography is allowed to shine, though, that’s where Snake Eyes‘ action really flourishes. And the action scenes arrive often enough to keep the film’s less than compelling story moving forward. There are plenty of ideas in Snake Eyes that have potential, but few actually meet expectations. Even those that provide for some of the most tense and thrilling scenes in the film, like the third challenge Snake Eyes must pass, don’t feel seamlessly interwoven with the rest of the movie. All told, the Snake Eyes movie script feels like it wants to be three entirely different movies and each part has been chopped up and forced to fit into an origin story about the G.I. Joe hero.
For their parts, Golding and Koji are an entertaining pair to watch onscreen, though Golding, of course, has plenty more to work with. There are certain character decisions made that don’t always work, but Golding has the charm and charisma to pull them off in a somewhat captivating manner. At the very least, Golding is fun to watch in the role. Koji’s Tommy sometimes feels like a caricature, largely because the character’s story must walk the line between explaining why he and Snake are friends and why he eventually becomes his alter ego from the Joes toy line. But neither the actor or the script pull off that balance well. As for the rest of the cast, Hira is clearly having fun in his role as Kenta, while Weaving plays her Scarlett a bit more straight, which is fine, though it doesn’t necessarily inspire excitement for a potential G.I. Joe spinoff. But then, all the female characters in Snake Eyes are frustratingly underdeveloped. Corberó’s Baroness is laughably over-sexualized for no apparent reason and Abe’s Akiko is similarly one-dimensional as the overqualified female sidekick whose only purpose in the story is to help the male hero. While Snake Eyes is Golding’s movie, the rest of the cast is left with very little to work with, to the detriment of the film.
In terms of Snake Eyes setting up the larger G.I. Joe world, it’s about as unobtrusive and unsubtle as is possible in the current Hollywood landscape of franchise filmmaking. While the movie does largely focus on Snake Eyes and his own journey – to the point that it seems like the studio has a full trilogy planned akin to the early Marvel Cinematic Universe heroes before Golding joins up with the Joes – there is the requisite info dump about who the G.I. Joes are and the evil organization that is Cobra. It’s inelegant, but it gets the job done for those unfamiliar with the Hasbro toy line and the previous films. Still, since it’s clear Snake Eyes endeavored to keep the movie focused on Golding’s character, all the G.I. Joe and Cobra elements – including Scarlett and Baroness – feel shoehorned into the plot, begging the question of whether the film would’ve been stronger without most of the larger franchise world-building (the answer is an unequivocal yes).
All that said, Snake Eyes is a fine enough franchise-starter, and it’s a super fun summer blockbuster, with its frenetic action and unrelenting pace keeping audiences captivated for the film’s full two-hour runtime. It’s perhaps not the strongest film meant to launch a big new movie franchise, but it’s serviceable enough and avoids many of the biggest mistakes series-starters tend to make. As a result, anyone looking for an entertaining action flick or any fans of the Snake Eyes character will find it worthwhile to check out – though seeing it on a massive screen only highlights Schwentke’s baffling overuse of shaky cam. But those already uninterested by the movie’s trailers and premise would be fine skipping it. Ultimately, Snake Eyes is big, silly summer fun, but doesn’t offer much more beyond that.
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is releasing in U.S. theaters on Thursday evening, July 22. It is 122 minutes long and rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence and brief strong language.
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- Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins (2021)Release date: Jul 23, 2021
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