Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins stars Henry Golding as Snake Eyes, a tenacious loner who is welcomed into an ancient Japanese clan called the Arashikage after saving the life of their heir apparent. Upon arrival in Japan, the Arashikage teach Snake Eyes the ways of the ninja warrior while also providing something he’s been longing for: a home. But, when secrets from his past are revealed, Snake Eyes’ honor and allegiance will be tested – even if that means losing the trust of those closest to him. Based on the iconic G.I. Joe character, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins also stars Andrew Koji as Storm Shadow, Úrsula Corberó as Baroness, Samara Weaving as Scarlett, Haruka Abe as Akiko, Takehiro Hira as Kenta and Iko Uwais as Hard Master. (from SnakeEyesMovie.com)
So what do you do when a potentially lucrative franchise doesn't become the cash cow it is hoped to become? Start over, of course. After two G.I. Joe live action films performed to disappointing results in 2009 and 2013, Hasbro focused its attention on continuing to produce relatively successful Transformers sequels before trying to figure out how to reignite the fires of their G.I. Joe property. And, instead of starting with a brand new G.I. Joe film, they decided to focus their energy on just one character to start - the beloved ninja, Snake Eyes. But even before the film's release -- which had been delayed almost a year because of the COVID pandemic -- controversy has surrounded the film as the character, who has always hid his face behind a mask and has never uttered an audible word, was rewritten to be a much different character altogether. Casting Crazy Rich Asians' Henry Golding as the title character, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is a much different, modern take on a fan favorite hero.
The movie's original trailers drew mixed reactions from the Joe fanbase, but it looked to be a lot more in line with what fans hoped for from a live action G.I. Joe movie than what came before it. (2013's G.I. Joe: Retaliation really wasn't a bad effort for a live action movie based around a cartoon series and toy line, but it made some significant mistakes, like - oh, I don't know - killing off most of the characters in the series?!) But the fact that Paramount Pictures forced a review embargo that wouldn't lift until the day the movie released never bodes well for any movie, and when the inevitable reviews were mostly sour, including some diehard fan reactions, hope was mostly lost for Snake Eyes' own movie.
While I was cautiously optimistic for Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins from the start, now I was mostly expecting a trainwreck, as some fans blatantly dubbed the film an outright "bad movie." I suppose my definition of what makes a "bad movie" are different than others', but I left my IMAX viewing of Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins being quite pleasantly surprised. In fact, I definitely enjoyed my viewing experience throughout the course of the film. The biggest complaint I had heard about Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is how badly the camera shook during fight scenes, and I have to agree that that was a bizarre choice on behalf of director Robert Schwentke, who has proven capable of making a good movie with 2010's RED. It's definitely the movie's biggest problem. Pretty much every action sequence in the first third of the movie looks like it was filmed by a camerman who had the camera mounted on the end of a tape measurer... while operating a jackhammer. It isn't completely impossible to follow the action (as some viewers described), but it really is super shaky. It's true that some moments during a given fight scene are completely indiscernible. (It's kind of like watching a "cartoon tornado" of action until the hero emerges and runs away.) The only logical explanation I can guess as to why this option was taken, was in an effort to minimize the brutality of the violence -- while trying to establish the action as chaotic. Most of these fights are indeed bloodless, but they're still quite violent. Through it all, you assume characters are getting stabbed and slashed by knives and swords. Still, especially in the earliest fight scenes in L.A, I started to feel a little queasy from all of the dizzying motion, and my insides were pleading for the camera to settle. Thankfully, Schwentke clearly mounted the camera for many of the dialog scenes and more serious moments, which made those moments of visual tranquility much more obvious. (The relief it gives the viewer is palpable.) The previous Joe movies had a fantastical, stylized and almost cartoonish feel to them. Snake Eyes opts for a significantly more serious and gritty tone. The shaky camera especially added to the feeling like I was watching a martial arts-style Jason Bourne film (one of the Paul Greengrass-directed sequels), and then all of a sudden a Cobra logo would show up somewhere. It was kind of cool.
One of the other criticisms the filmed received was Henry Golding's performance as Snake Eyes. I actually thought he did pretty well. However, the choices the character makes during the movie are often questionable. They often make you want to yell at the screen, urging Snake to make the right decisions. On the other hand, Andrew Koji is fantastic as Tommy, who keen eyes will realize quickly will go on to become - spoiler alert - Storm Shadow. (That's really not much of a secret, though.) Koji turns in one of the best performances in the movie, and the movie's best moments arguably involve him and Golding together. I was pleasantly surprised by the rest of the cast as well, to be honest. While I could whine (like the 6-year-old I was when I originally watched the cartoon show) about all of the casting missteps in the previous two Joe movies, I was happy with who they cast this time around. Bill and Ted Face the Music's Samara Weaving is a decent Scarlett, and isn't objectified sexually this time around, while Úrsula Corberó as the Baroness gives me pure "Yes! They finally got her right!" joy. I found it a neat surprise to see little threads for Cobra and G.I. Joe being woven into the story, and it didn't feel too obtrusive in the way it was handled. It leaves me wanting to see more of this particular G.I. Joe world, and I do hope we get to.
The movie definitely earns its PG-13 rating. They finally scaled back the profanity immensely this time, which was a breath of fresh air, but they curiously chose to have Úrsula Corberó utter the movie's only "F" word. It's said with an accent, and rather quickly, but it's still pretty clear (I think she mutters, "Oh, "**** this!"). Otherwise, there might be one use of the "S" word on a radio transmission, and then there are clear uses - one each - of "a**," "b*tch," and "For G-d's sake." That's it. While the other Joe - and Transformers - movies had quite a bit more language, I'm glad they dialed things back here. The violence, as I mentioned earlier, is mostly bloodless, but there are a lot of martial arts brawls, with kicking, punching, slicing and dicing happening quite a bit. We see some people get stabbed with swords and sliced, but blood is rarely - if ever - seen during these fights. One more focused-on moment has a character cut their hand on a blade and then another follows suit. We see the bloody wounds briefly, with blood on a rag. Later, a gigantic snake's head is cut off, and a man is swallowed whole by a snake. The opening scene shows a young boy in a cabin with his father when some bad guys come in and threaten to kill the man. The boy tries to intervene, but his father is shot in the head (off screen), and then we see the dead body lying on the floor. The boy then watches helplessly as the cabin is engulfed in flames. It's a pretty intense scene. The aforementioned snake scene is also pretty intense as it involves gigantic snakes that coil around their prey in a sort of mystical snake pit. Overall, while it's less gruesome than 2009's The Rise of Cobra, it's more serious and the action is still pretty violent.
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is definitely not the movie it could have been, and it's really unfortunate that that's the case. However, it's probably still the best G.I. Joe movie yet, even if that isn't saying much. Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is an enjoyable - albeit flawed - action movie with good performances and a nice setup for some really iconic characters. But for those of us still waiting for that really great Joe movie, we'll just have to keep waiting a bit longer... (Oh, and don't expect to see Snake Eyes in his full regalia for more than a minute. Sadly, the iconic Snake Eyes look doesn't appear until the movie's last moments. Oh, and do stay tuned for an end-credits scene -- but there is nothing after it or at the very end of the credits.)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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