Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins
Do we really need a G.I. Joe movie? I understand the franchise has its fans, kids that grew up with the toys from the 1960s, 1970s, and of course the 1980s when the cartoon came out and the brand refined itself from a generic "military toy" into "brightly colored Saturday morning chaos", but do we still need G.I. Joe at this point? The cartoon ended decades ago, and the toys (while still made) have lost much of their cultural cache. Kids don't scream from the Good Ol' Joe the way they used to.
Beyond that, though, isn't there just an inherent silliness to the old 1980s cartoon that would make any modern adaptation difficult? That certainly seems to be the case considering the botched effort of Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins. Meant as a franchise reboot for the Greatest American Heroes, Snake Eyes (not to be confused with the Nick Cage-starring suspense movie, Snake Eyes, from 1998) was instead met with general indifference from the viewing public (okay, just like the Nick Cage film), earning only $40 Mil against a production budget that ran as high as $110 Mil. That's really bad. But then, so was the film.
The movie focuses on our titular hero, Snake Eyes (Henry Golding). As a boy he witnessed the murder of his father, killed by a cruel criminal mastermind who forced the dad to roll a pair of dice to seal his fate. The dice came up as two ones, "Snake Eyes", and the dad was killed. The boy, though, escaped and ran off to find a way to survive, the thrive, and to one day get the revenge he so richly deserved. He ended up learning to fight, and becoming a big winner in the underground cage match circuit, where he gained the attention of Kenta Takamura (Takehiro Hira), a powerful Yakuza boss.
Now going by the name of "Snake Eyes" (because clearly you want to name yourself after the very thing that led to your father's death, right?), our hero agrees to work for the Yakuza in exchange for a lead to his father's murderer. While working as a criminal, Snake Eyes meets Tommy (Andrew Koji), who is actually a member of the elite Arashikage clan of ninja. Tommy screws something up, and Kenta wants Snake Eyes to kill Tommy. Instead, the two break out together and go on the run, ending up back at Tommy's ancestral home where, against the wishes of the rest of the clan, Tommy enlists Snake Eyes as their newest member. But Snake Eyes might not be the honorable warrior Tommy expects, and he might just be playing both sides for his own agenda...
Let's be clear right up front: Snake Eyes is an outlandishly stupid movie. Stupid movies are fine when they have some humor about it, but this film plays everything dead seriously. This is a movie based on a cartoon based on brightly colored action figures with names like "Snake Eyes", "Storm Shadow", "Airtight", "Big Brawler", "Hot Seat", "Mutt", and "Sgt. Slaughter". This is not a franchise meant to be taken seriously. Say what you will about the 2009's G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, which was bad in its own way, but at least that film knew everything was stupid and went for it. Snake Eyes plays everything with such a straight face that it's hard to accept the reality of this world.
The movie thinks its smart when, at every turn, its unbelievably dumb. For starters, there's the fact that Snake Eyes gets his name not because he's a cool ninja who always looks out through the slits in his mask but because his dad was killed by the bad roll of some dice and he takes those dice as his name. Really? Or how about the fact that Tommy meets Snake Eyes while working for the largest criminal organization in Japan, and then the second Snake Eyes decides not to kill Tommy, the dude is all, "yeah, you have honor. I can trust you." Then, when later in the film Snake Eyes betrays him, he's shocked about it. Bro, he worked in the Yakuza. He was clearly not the most honor-bound dude.
I think my favorite issue is what sets the whole film truly in motion. Snake Eyes works for Kenta. Tommy is sent to work for Kenta, this despite Tommy being an honorable ninja. Kenta should know this, as Kenta is Tommy's cousin (who was then ejected from the clan). He should clearly, then, already know that Tommy can't be trusted as a criminal because Tommy was raised to be honorable. Tommy should never have been able to blend into the Yakuza considering everything Kenta knows about him and all that this would imply... and yet, the film never even thinks twice about it. It's just one of the many things that happen in he film without explanation, just so we can bounce ahead to the next chunk of Snake Eyes' story.
Frankly there's about three movies worth of plot that's breezed through in this film. That's part of why it feels so dumb, because the film has to go, go, go to get Snake Eyes from young kid to ninja to, then, G.I. Joe by film's end (because this is an origin story for a G.I. Joe character, so that's clearly the goal), so it has to burn through plot and have characters make logic leaps every step of the way just so it can fit this whole story in a tight two hours. Snake Eyes growing up and becoming a prized cage fighter could have been its own story. Snake Eyes being recruited by the Yakuza, only to learn that he was selling his soul to seek revenge, and then getting a way out by saving Tommy, that could have been its own story. Snake Eyes training to be a ninja could have been its own story. Putting all of them together just makes a rushed mess.
And that doesn't even cover the hard left turn the film makes halfway in. Up until mid-way in the film, we're basically watching a crime drama with Snake Eyes in the middle. But then, right around the halfway mark, as Snake Eyes is going through the second of three trials to prove he's worthy to join house Arashikage, magic is introduced. Actual, literal magic. There was no hint of magic before this, no reason for us to assume we were watching a fantasy film. But then there's magic. Magic spells, a magic rock, giant magic snakes. It comes out of nowhere, with no explanation, and it feels like we suddenly fell into a different movie. I watched a bit of G.I. Joe and, despite all the stupid shit that happened in that series, it didn't have magic either. This was just dumb.
It's also around the halfway mark that the first hints of the war between COBRA and G.I. Joe are introduced. We get one Joe that arrives to explain things (in a long and boring info dump), Scarlett (Samara Weaving), and between this plot taking over, and the magic, and the stupidity we'd sat through up to this point, the film loses all its momentum. I checked out, honestly, and while I continued watching the movie I found that it was hard to care about anything happening in the second or third acts because all sense of the world we had seen built up to that point had been violated. The movie couldn't even bother being internally consistent. Why should I care?
Maybe, just maybe, the film could have at least worked as a late night schlock-fest if the action were at least decent. It's clear the filmmakers wanted to give Snake Eyes his own John Wick, what with all the bright neon lights in certain fight sequences, as well as plenty of elaborately staged battles. The problem is that the creators had no clue how to film good action. The camera angles are all wrong, and the editing obscures as much as it shows. Worse, most of the action is "enhanced" with CGI to cover for all the times things weren't done practically and properly. It reaches its nadir in a big car chase sequence where people are flipping in, on, and around a bunch of cars, and all of it feels so fake. This should have been a climactic fight but, instead, feels like characters in a video game. The action just doesn't work.
I'm clearly not the only person that hated this film as the movie failed to make anything at the Box Office. Yes, we were coming out of COVID times and movies didn't make as much then as they had before the pandemic hit. But even by that metric, a $40 Mil total haul is pathetic. Production studio MGM bet hard that this would be a big franchise starter, and it blew up in their faces. COVID or no COVID, this film was an absolute dud.