So… Snake Eyes
As a major fan (salutes) of G.I. Joe, with free reign to blog about whatever I feel like in this space, you know I write about G.I. Joe a lot. Whether it’s about the still hot new G.I. Joe Classified toyline, series in development, or video games new and old, G.I. Joe sees more play here than most franchises except maybe the MCU. And even I acknowledge that G.I. Joe is no MCU.
So naturally, when a new G.I. Joe movie hits cinemas, you’d expect me to cover it.
But I don’t wanna…
First Things First
Before I get into Snake Eyes – G.I. Joe Origins, full disclosure (and total brag and self-promotion, but for serious, I need to state this as part of writing about things on the Internet): I’m one of the authors on Renegade Game Studios’ upcoming G.I. Joe RPG.
As someone technically working on the brand, feel free to speculate on how much of I say about the film is based in bias.
There isn’t much info out there about the game yet, but expect all to be revealed at the upcoming Renegade Con Virtual Special Edition. I have a panel on Saturday at 5:30pm Eastern (2:30pm Pacific).
Snake Eyes – G.I. Joe Origins
Snake Eyes – G.I. Joe Origins is a new feature length action film based on Hasbro’s G.I. Joe action figure line. It centers around the line’s best known and most popular character, Snake Eyes, before he joins or has even heard about G.I. Joe, and includes iconic characters Storm Shadow, Scarlett, and Baroness, as well as characters introduced in the comics Hard Master and Blind Master. Starring Henry Golding, the film offers a new take on the character’s origin, and is the first film in a planned G.I. Joe cinematic reboot, and a Hasbro cinematic universe.
I’ve been quietly alluding to not liking this movie. The thing is, I liked it a lot. Up to a point. It lost me fast and hard in the third act, which I’ll get into in the next section. Just a warning that most of my dislikes are spoilers, so I figured I’d slip my overall feelings in early -I like a lot of it, but what I disliked took away from what I liked- before breaking it down into more specific likes and dislikes.
Despite the largely negative reviews, Snake Eyes – G.I. Joe Origins has a lot going for it.
The movie features a lot of actors with real screen presence. Andrew Koji brings much more anger and stoicism to Storm Shadow than Lee Byung-hun brought to the first two G.I. Joe movies (although I though Lee Byung-hun was one of the better casting choices in Rise of Cobra). Haruka Abe plays original character Akiko, who is the emotional center of the second act of the movie. Iko Uwais and Peter Mensah play Arashikage masters, both of whom steal the scenes they are in. Úrsula Corberó preserves the poise and evil of the Baroness of the cartoon. And Samara “Hugo’s daughter” Weaving plays an effortlessly impressive Scarlett.
Not mentioned: Snake Eyes himself, Henry Golding. I’m kind of torn here. On the one hand, not one of Snake Eyes’ quips lands. Not one. And that was my takeaway at first, that Golding may be Hemsworthy handsome, but he doesn’t have the range of a Hollywood Chris. But, the more I think about the scenes I enjoyed, the more I realize he has a cool resonance that made me care about what happens to him.
Speaking of caring, it was so nice to have an actor in a G.I. Joe movie who seemed excited about it on the press tour. Name an actor in any of the other G.I. Joe movies. Odds are, they were indifferent (The Rock, Ray Park), or openly badmouthed the experience (Channing Tatum, Marlon Wayans, Dennis Quaid, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Look at that cast! Rise of Cobra was loaded with established or up-and-coming actors, and so many of them hated the movie. Even Brendan Frasier made jokes about how their first choice for his cameo (Gung Ho) looked like a Village Person.
Meanwhile, you have Henry Golding playfully tweeting at G.I. Joe fan podcasts, and playing as Snake Eyes in Fortnite. There has never been a better ambassador for G.I. Joe as a brand.
This isn’t Iron Man 2, or The Mummy reboot, where so much focus is on building a cinematic universe that the movie gets sacrificed. In fact, this might be the best example of a movie balancing the needs of the story with seeding intriguing details about the world at large.
First, we meet Snake Eyes. Then Storm Shadow. Then the Arashikage. We spend a lot of time with them before we get the first hints of Cobra, by way of a well-placed logo. That leads to meeting Scarlett, learning about the Joes, and finding out the Arashikage are global peacekeepers who work with G.I. Joe. We learn more about Cobra, then meet Baroness. All in a series of small, well paced reveals that raise the stakes of the film.
Some of the Fights
There are a couple of fight scenes that really hit home. My favourite was Snake Eyes’ first challenge at the Arashikage temple. He and the Hard Master dual, each holding a bowl of water. To pass the challenge, Snake Eyes must get the bowl of water from the Hard Master without spilling his own.
It’s fast, but the stakes are so clear and the challenge so precarious, the fight demands so much of the viewer’s attention. Plus, Iko Uwais as the Hard Master does a great job making you hate him immediately and throughout the scene, making it that much more frustrating to watch Snake Eyes struggle against him.
Spoilers are coming at you hard soon, consider this your last warning.
Some of the Fights
Too many of the fights are incomprehensible messes. Just dozens of yakuza in suits, half of which have swords, charging at Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, who fight them off… somehow?
Based on the training videos we’ve seen of the actors, I thought that the one aspect of Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins we could count on was the action. So when this turned out to be one of the disappointing elements of the movie, especially with the first act ending in the worst example of it, I was worried.
Snake Eyes Is The Worst
Not the movie. The character.
We think we’re watching the story of a beacon of bad luck making a choice to help an honourable acquaintance and finally find his place in the world.
Then *spoiler!!!* it turns out he is working for Kenta, the Yakuza boss who tried to have Storm Shadow killed. It was all a ruse to get a man inside the Arashikage, because Kenta is Storm Shadow’s cousin and he feels he deserves to not only still be a member, but the leader. Now he wants revenge.
Here’s the thing: I like that twist. A lot. Snake Eyes is working for him because Kenta knows who killed Snake Eyes’ father, and can get him for Snake. Revenge for revenge, basically.
And that’s why the slow introduction of Cobra and G.I. Joe works. Snake Eyes only knows Storm Shadow as a guy who infiltrated the Yakuza. He didn’t really get his deal, or the purpose of the Arashikage. But as Snake Eyes comes to realize the global scale of the conflict he’s involved in, and that he’s working for someone who’s working with terrorists, he’s morally conflicted.
But -and here’s why he’s the worst- he still goes through with the plan. He gets kicked out of the Arashikage for failing the last challenge, but swears a blood oath with Storm Shadow on his way out. But he only did so because Storm Shadow’s blood unlocks a vault holding a powerful artifact. Which Snake Eyes steals and gives to Kenta! Despite multiple opportunities to do the right thing, Snake Eyes commits two unforgiveable acts: betraying a blood oath to someone who takes that kind of thing seriously, and handing a weapon of mass destruction over to a terrorist!
Forget that this is a Snake Eyes movie. Any protagonist who does what Snake Eyes does in this movie is a bad person. It’s a movie about someone with the potential for good choosing evil.
Except the movie doesn’t believe that.
Kenta and Baroness, proving themselves to be more trustworthy than Snake Eyes, hand over his father’s killer, as agreed. Ends up, his father’s killer works for Cobra. And, when Snake Eyes witnessed this man offer his father one chance at survival by rolling dice, they were loaded to always roll snake eyes (the Craps result, not the movie or character). So this terrorist murdered tortured his father with false hope before killing him.
Snake Eyes lets him live. And lets him free.
And the movie acts like this is a good thing.
At no point did this guy (who is not an established Cobra character, but I’m going to pretend is Dice) redeem himself. And Snake Eyes certainly doesn’t redeem himself by sparing him. Especially when, 5 minutes later, Snake Eyes is kicking mooks under cars to their deaths.
Storm Shadow still feels betrayed and wants to kill Snake Eyes. But Akiko -whose role in the movie up until now was telling Storm Shadow he can’t trust Snake Eyes- tells Storm Shadow that now they can trust Snake Eyes.
After Kenta kills a bunch of Arashikage -who are only dead because of Snake Eyes- Storm Shadow gets his hand on the artifact Snake Eyes stole, and uses its supernatural powers against Kenta. Not even killing him, either. Somehow, that costs Storm Shadow his chance to ever lead the Arashikage. But, Snake Eyes coming back to barely minimize the damage he helped Kenta cause, earns him full forgiveness.
The only character whose motivation and actions in the last act make sense is Storm Shadow, when he swears to kill Snake Eyes the next time he sees him, then joins Cobra in a post credit scene.
What do you expect in a Snake Eyes movie? Probably what we got from Retaliation: A dude in that awesome costume being a quiet martial arts bad ass.
Snake Eyes never loses his ability to speak. And he only wears the costume for 1 minute at the end, in a scene that’s in all the trailers.
I’m not saying he needed to get a pet wolf here, but a Snake Eyes origin movie where he speaks from beginning to end? I’m willing to accept a lot of changes to the character’s lore and presentation, but Snake Eyes not talking is on par to Deadpool talking in terms of central character elements. They Wolverine Originsed Snake Eyes.
Snake Eyes – G.I. Joe Origins is 3/4 of a good movie, with such a bad last 1/4 that it hurts the movie as a whole. And yet, I am so on board for the G.I. Joe universe this movie exists in. I need Hasbro to somehow ignore Snake Eyes’ critical and box office results and power through. Hopefully finally making a G.I. Joe movie that audiences enjoy.