July 23, 2021 Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins (Movie Review)
What makes a hero a hero? On Friday, July 23rd, Paramount Pictures will give audiences a glimpse into the early life of one of the franchise’s most iconic characters with Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins. Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians 2018, Last Christmas 2019) stars as the titular character, a lone wolf who is taken in by the Arashikage, an ancient Japanese clan, and trained to become an unstoppable ninja warrior. When his loyalty is tested and his past comes back to haunt him, Snake Eyes must choose where his true allegiances lie. With so many Action film hitting theaters as they re-open, how does director Robert Schwentke’s (The Time Traveler’s Wife 2009, The Divergent Series: Insurgent 2015) Snake Eyes measure up?
On the surface Snake Eyes may seem to be your standard summer blockbuster, but it manages to blend together enough unique features to feel refreshing. The character of Snake Eyes is built around mystery, but in this film he is an unmasked loner with an endearing sense of humor trying to carve out a purpose. Through his budding relationship with the members of the Arasikage clan, Golding does well enough giving depth to Snake Eyes in his first major Action role. In a franchise where the lines are often clearly drawn between good and evil, having a flawed, morally grey character at the helm keeps the story interesting.
Over seven years have passed since the release of 2013’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and while Snake Eyes remains part of the franchise reboot, it features an entirely fresh cast. Alongside Golding is the excellent Andrew Koji (Warrior 2019-present) as Tommy Arashikage/Storm Shadow, the heir and last-remaining son of his clan. While namely focused on Snake Eyes, there is space enough for Koji to shine in his role, making this just as much an origin story for Storm Shadow. The on-screen chemistry between the two was solid, but Koji often stole the show in their shared scenes.
While Samara Weaving is one of the top-billed actors, her role as Scarlett is comparatively minimal. Even so—unlike your standard Action flick—she and the other women of Snake Eyes all hold positions of great power with plenty of screen time to kick ass and run the show. Haruka Abe’s (Kiss Me First mini-series, Cruella 2021) Akiko is especially well-balanced with room to be both sympathetic and a skilled fighter. To top it off, none are (fully) forced into a romance with the male leads! Instead, these characters are given a surprising amount of room to become more than just action figures come to life. These are small, imperfect steps, but a breath of fresh air nonetheless.
At its core, Snake Eyes is such a sleek and stylish take on that you might forget you are watching a G.I. Joe movie. That is until the film violently reminds you that Cobra is bad and the Joe’s are good. Frenetic, well-choreographed sword fight sequences are a feast for the eyes thanks to some unique cinematography by Bojan Bazelli and a lush production design. By utilizing both sprawling ancient Japanese architecture and the cramped, neon-bright alleyways of contemporary Tokyo, Schwnetke nods to the classic samurai canon while showing what big-budget Action filmmaking is capable of.
Things get a little dicey once the supernatural elements are tossed in halfway through. Not enough explanation is given here for these to make enough sense for the average viewer, but those hardcore G.I. Joe fans may appreciate this. It’s one thing to expect viewers to suspend disbelief for wild action sequences, but it’s quite another throw in some giant snakes and powerful magical artifacts without exposition for the layman and expect all viewers to stay on board.
In some ways, Snake Eyes feels at odds with itself. What could have been a tight modern samurai story is cut-to-fit within the established G.I. Joe Universe, yet without these confines there would be no story. With that in mind, Snake Eyes still ticks all the boxes of a fun summer blockbuster. Even a person with no knowledge of the G.I. Joe franchise can hop into Snake Eyes and have a good time thanks to its non-stop action and memorable characters, and enough freshness to make it worth a trip to the theaters. There is no telling whether this origin tale will tie in with any further movies, but it would be great to see the dynamic between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow continued on screen. For These reasons, Cryptic Rock gives this film 3.5 out of 5 stars.