Eight years after their previous attempt at launching a G.I. Joe universe, Paramount are at it again with the Henry Golding starrer Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins. The last big-screen G.I. Joe outing was Retaliation, which was funnily enough directed by Golding's first director Jon M. Chu. That film was hardly a critical darling, but it was unabashedly a big, dumb, and also fun (at least in this critic's eyes) blockbuster. Robert Schwentke's Snake Eyes shifts gears by telling the origin story of the Joes most popular character, Snake Eyes, the often silent and mysterious ninja who's a combat wizard. In addition to that, Schwentke tries to steer away from the “cookie-cutter” comic book films with a much more raw, intense, and authentic tale. Although the film shows promise, the end product doesn't quite live up to early expectations.
The film tells the story of Snake Eyes (Golding), who, after saving Tommy aka. Storm Shadow (Andrew Koji) joins the ancient Arashikage clan in Japan, where he learns the ways of the ninja. However, Snake Eyes' past continues to haunt him on his journey to becoming the Joes skilful ninja fans know and love today. Fortunately, in Snake Eyes, the majority of important story details and characters are all presented in a fast and furious opening 20-30 minutes, which is never a bad thing in a film like this.
The origin story kicks off with a flashback that shows a young Snake Eyes watching his father get murdered. It then transitions to the present day, where the titular character engages in a gritty yet captivating underground street fight that features blood and a host of weapons against a foe pro wrestling fans will recognise. Immediately after, he's convinced to join the Yakuza after Kenta (Takehiro Hira) dangles the carrot that he can find the man responsible for his father's death. However, when tested, Snake Eyes cannot kill Tommy, and both men gloriously fight their way out, and before you know it, they're headed to Japan. The film quickly establishes our antagonist, the protagonist's mentality, and his quest for peace and purpose, as well as showcasing the film's strong point – action.
Although it's hardly a surprise, the strongest element of Snake Eyes is, without a doubt, its beautifully crafted action scenes, which are often assisted by a shaky-cam presentation, that while overused, does add the desired intensity and realism to the fights. However, the action is also very character-driven and arguably does the best job of showing Snake Eyes' evolution, as he opens the film as a no-nonsense, fight to the death brawler, and then fight by fight, transforms into a smooth, effortless ninja that fights with “honour.”
Once the story settles in Japan, and it appears our hero is finally on the good path, Schwentke and co. provide us with an interesting twist, but unfortunately, it's here the film begins to unravel. The story quickly becomes messy, and despite audiences knowing the destination of this story, they are made to wait for an unnecessarily long time to get to the inevitable. The film wastes a lot of time focusing on Snake Eyes' relationship with Akiko (Haruka Abe). A prime example of this being their seemingly pointless sword fight that adds nothing to the narrative except painfully cheesy dialogue. Plus, the action scenes become less frequent, and the film reverts to the old G.I. Joe ways by including cheesy jokes that feel out of place for the tone that they are trying to establish.
Snake Eyes' climax, while visually stunning, feels rushed, and the sudden emotional shifts for characters are incredibly weak and far too sudden, especially when one thinks about the events that have transpired beforehand. It's a nonsensical cluster that you've been made to wait far too long for, and you're left wondering why the creative team wasted their time on irrelevant scenes earlier in the film instead of focusing on delivering a halfway memorable climax.
Golding's performance, much like the film, is up and down. His accent is inconsistent and can take you out of the story, but at the same time, he brings a great intensity. Whether in the action or his heart-to-heart with Akiko, where he reveals his past, Golding helps bring an emotion that's been non-existent in past G.I. Joe films. However, Snake Eyes ultimately loses its way, and unlike Retaliation, this film doesn't even possess that all-important fun quality. If more G.I. Joe stories are coming (as this film suggests), Paramount will struggle to get audiences interested after this outing.
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is in cinemas now.