Will the G.I. Joe franchise ever die? With this latest installment, it seems unlikely. Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins focuses on the most iconic member of the team’s entrance into the good guy military group. He’s usually depicted in his recognizable black suit, but when shown he dons the typical blonde hair and blue eyes. Thankfully in this iteration, he’s Asian and played by the captivating Henry Golding (an understandable deviation from the source material that we should have gotten with Marvel’s Iron Fist). Going further, the mostly Asian all-star cast makes this an exciting moment to lead out this blockbuster. There’s a lot of ground to re-establish for those who are even remotely familiar with the Joes and their previous film exploits. Though at times, it falls into its own trap of reboot rather than standalone origin – despite the film’s ironic title.
The film begins with a young Snake Eyes (Max Archibald) living with his father (Steven Allerick) in a remote location who subsequently is murdered by a mysterious group of men. Flash forward to adult Snake Eyes who, surprise, isn’t mute! Crazy Rich Asians standout Henry Golding makes the shift into a scrappy fighter. He’s enlisted by Japanese crime boss Kenta (Takehiro Hiro) for a special job and in return, he’ll help him find his father’s killer. There’s unfortunately little exposition on Snake Eyes’ journey prior, how he became an excellent fighter and what does he want besides revenge?
Director Robert Schwentke (best known for the Divergent series) helms the mix mash of East meets West action. The fight choreography and action sequences pack a powerful punch when it’s shown as just. However, at times it’s overshadowed by the unnecessary camera jolts, shakiness, and quick cuts used. If you’re used to that, this is the film for you. Generally speaking, it could be really disorienting, actually going as far as to cause headaches. The key players who make these moments worthwhile are martial arts star Iko Uwais as Hard Master (sigh) and Peter Mensah as Blind Master (double sigh). The two get the job done regardless, but you would expect so much more with fighting talent like this. Did I mention the whole second half of the film is set in Japan? This is where the film really gets lost in the sauce with franchise setup and character introductions.
The focus shifts to introducing Tomisaburo (Andrew Koji), who later becomes prominent villain Storm Shadow. He’s the future head of the Arashikage clan whose set purpose is to protect Japan from outside forces. Tommy, for short, forms a bond with Snake Eyes when he saves his life from his cousin Kenta. Tommy introduces Snake Eyes to his clan and immediately prompts him to begin his ninja training on their estate. Only thing is that Snake Eyes himself is unsure of his allegiances between Kenta and Tommy, which leads to some interesting twists from the character that we have yet to see on film. You just can’t help but think how stronger this aspect would have been if Snake Eyes was given more to build off than just your average revenge angle.
Golding and Koji do a brilliant job of establishing an undeniable brotherly relationship. It makes for a heartbreaking third act when Tommy goes dark. The sword fights are exciting and pay lots of respect to the yakuza picture. Besides Tommy, we meet the questionable Baroness (Úrsula Corberó) who works for the Cobra Organization – linking to the greater world of this IP. On the other side, we have the less utilized Joe representative Scarlett, played by the talented Samara Weaving. You almost forget that you’re watching a G.I. Joe movie until she continuously pops up here and there only to deliver exposition. It almost feels criminal to have someone like Weaving come in and out just for the paycheck, but hey, this is only just the beginning, right?
All that considered, the casting of Henry Golding is a win for both the studio and audiences. Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is a fun summer blockbuster with a lot of heart. It’s a much-needed update from its past counterparts and a great reintroduction to the series for those interested. It loses its footing in lieu of a lacking script and rough jump cuts. Needless to say, there wasn’t much to expect when entering this movie. Fans are sure to be pleased with seeing all their favorite characters again. Come for the action, stay for the knockout performances. This is a ride that doesn’t hold back, for better or worse.