Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins (2021)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 7/24/21
Cast: Henry Golding, Andrew Koji, Haruka Abe, Takehiro Hira, Iko Uwais, Ursula Corbero, Samara Weaving

A cage fighter named Snake Eyes (Henry Golding) wants revenge for his father's murder, and finds himself in trouble with a Yakuza clan led by the suave, but sinister Kenta (Takehiro Hira). Fate puts him in the good graces of Tommy Arashikage (Andrew Koji), and he is invited to become a member of the Arashikage ninja clan, assuming he can pass a series of challenges. Things get complicated when Snake Eyes learns that there's more to the Arashikage clan than just family drama. Their conflict extends to an international terrorist organization called Cobra and a global network of peacekeepers known as G.I. Joe. After some poor life choices and a falling out with Tommy, Snake Eyes tries to set things right by confronting Cobra, but it's too late.

The film is a considerable improvement over the previous installments, but the bar was set pretty low. It's big stupid fun, and works best if you can ignore the G.I. Joe branding altogether and just view it as a standard ninja movie. The action scenes are well-staged and exciting to watch, but the sloppy and overly shaky camera work is infuriating. The trailer also shows all of the best scenes and gives away most of the plot, which leaves you little to look forward to. Henry Golding gives a good performance as the troubled and morally conflicted Snake Eyes, but I don't find him to be charismatic at all and I had trouble connecting with his character. It's Andrew Koji who manages to steal the show with his honor-bound intensity and dark impulses. Scarlett (Samara Weaving) and Baroness (Ursula Corbero) show up as representatives of the G.I. Joe universe, but they are woefully underutilized. However, to be fair, the movie isn't about them. Ursula Corbero gives a satisfying performance as Baroness, although she suffers from an embarrassingly bad haircut and awful shoes. They're not as bad as Sienna Miller's shoes in "The Rise Of Cobra" (2009), but they're still a disappointing and unnecessary eyesore. Samara Weaving, on the other hand, has nice hair and decent shoes, but falls flat as Scarlett and only has one halfway memorable scene. (also, who brings a crossbow to a gunfight?) Iko Uwais has a small role as Hard Master (or "Hard-on Master," as Snake Eyes calls him), but his talents are wasted with poor camera work and editing.

The film looks great and the exotic Japanese setting is thrilling to take in. The visual effects are good and keep the viewer engaged, regardless of how ridiculous they are. Like previous G.I. Joe incarnations (including the animated series), the film is shockingly and outrageously violent, but the PG-13 rating ensures that no blood is seen and that there are no consequences for lethal action. Endless hordes of faceless henchmen simply fall to the ground and disappear when they are defeated. This is particularly disappointing when the majority of combat involves close-quarters swordplay, which shows a certain lack of social responsibility. Similarly, they shoot a lot of bullets in the film, but never seem to actually hit anything. Of course it's pointless to nitpick the film about its illogical and unrealistic cartoon violence, but as an adult, it's also impossible to ignore. My thirteen-year-old self would have probably loved this and not given it a second thought, and honestly, I'm not in the target demographic anymore.

Not surprisingly, the writing isn't very good, and the film goes off the rails into supernatural territory after the more grounded and serious first half. While the brotherly relationship and tension between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow is appropriately dramatic, the romantic subplot between Snake Eyes and Akiko (Haruka Abe) feels forced, pointless, and cringey. The motivations and morality of the characters are also questionable and inconsistent. The film goes out of its way to establish that Snake Eyes is not a murderer, but that apparently doesn't apply to the dozens of foes that he cuts down in cold blood with a katana. Maybe we're supposed to believe that counts as self-defense and not premeditated? Kenta, on the other hand, is a murderer, but when he literally has the power to kill all of the heroes with a single thought, he fails to do so. Are they somehow resistant to supernatural magic, or does Kenta prefer to foolishly toy with them? And lastly, Storm Shadow's defection to Cobra is hilariously abrupt. After devoting his entire life to honor, justice, and peace, he just snaps and decides to become an international terrorist instead. It reminded me very much of Anakin Skywalker's ridiculously swift turn to the dark side in "Revenge Of The Sith" (2005). "Oh, I guess I'm a bad guy now. Maybe I always was." Come to think of it, they both have eye scars and brothers who betrayed them, and are both highly emotional masters of the sword who have strayed from the path of enlightenment, so maybe there's a deeper connection there... Regardless, I found "Snake Eyes" to be an enjoyable slice of adolescent male wish fulfillment fluff. It's a soft reboot of the franchise and is supposed to be part of Hasbro's new cinematic universe which includes "Micronauts," and that really speaks to my inner child.