Directed by Robert Schwentke, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins stars Henry Golding, Andre Koji, Iko Uwais, Úrsula Corberó, Samara Weaving, Haruka Abe and Tahehiro Hira. The G.I. Joe origin story is in cinemas now.
Henry Golding stars 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’ honour and allegiance will be tested – even if that means losing the trust of those closest to him.
The G.I Joe franchise is something of an anomaly by modern standards. In twelve years the franchise has only produced three movies and grossed a little shy of $700M. Whilst neither of the first films was a critical success, both returned a profit for the studio.
But with a similarly critical fanbase to another Hasbro property, Transformers, Paramount took a long look at the franchise ahead of the release of Sneak Eyes. The results of which are a mixed bag of improved storytelling and heavily stylised imagery which often detracts from the action.
Fans of the G.I. Joe source material may struggle with Snake Eyes (Henry Golding) update origin. The silent assassin is much less silent this time around, opting instead for a much more straightforward character history. But let’s be fair. Had writers Evan Spiliotopoulos, Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse kept the character silent for the 121 minute runtime it would have been drastically different movie.
Golding makes for a compelling lead. Snake Eyes ticks all the boxes when it comes to an origin story. Flashbacks effectively communicate his tragic past before we catch up with the adolescent Snake Eyes cage fightings and being hired by the Yakuza. Contextually there is more than enough in the story to make Snake Eyes a well realised character. Infused with Golding’s personality there is a compelling lead at the centre of the narrative.
The supporting cast features a number of standouts. Andrew Koji puts in a spirited performance as Storm Shadow. His story feels the most well rounded in comparison to other supporting players. There’s a strong arc on his journey from heir of the Arashikage clan to Snake Eyes’ arch enemy.
Takehiro Hira, Iko Uwais and Eri Ishida all put in strong performances in their respective roles. Each character adds another layer to the G.I. Joe world. it surrounds Snake Eyes with characters who feel real and exist in a world steeped in Japanese culture. It brings a sense of family which plays in to the vulnerability of this version of Snake Eyes.
Haruka Abe’s Akiko is a double-edged sword. Abe brings a sense of feminine strength to a genre so easily dominated by her male counterparts. There’s also a strength of character which can be sorely lacking in supporting roles for women in tentpole franchises. But on a knife-edge her character flips to seemingly fall in love with Snake Eyes. It happens within an instant and with little provocation, twisting her from a source of strength to something more derivative.
Overall, the story of Snake Eyes flows well. It’s not overly complicated but neither is it too simple to become engaging. Character motivations can be contrived, but objectively they are no different to other movies of this caliber. As with plenty of these franchise movies, the origin exists to setup future movies and that setup is tangible here. There are plot threads left dangling which, sadly, may never be picked up. But I hope that fans (and the studio) will look past any shortcomings to see how far this movie is a leap in quality from previous efforts.
Director Robert Schwentke brings with him experience enough in the action-adventure genre to carry off the film. The G.I. Joe franchise needed a fresh set of eyes to break the formula. Schwentke was able to do that here. Whilst the results might not be wholly successful, it was certainly the kick in the ass it needed.
As is typical for an IP like G.I. Joe the production is rich with visual and practical effects. The movie could have benefitted from more action scenes. Those which do exist are deftly choreographed and befitting of a character like Snake Eyes. The use of shaky cam does often distract from the action but it doesn’t take away from quality. Likwise, the amount of practical effects means the use of any VFX is minimised and they are well executed.
Snake Eyes marks a huge leap forwards for the G.I. Joe franchise. Improved storytelling and characters push the series forwards creatively whilst excessive shaky cam and a haphazard production threaten to derail its progress.
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