G.I. Joe is a Hasbro brand that is closely associated with big action. The counter-terrorism group attempts to stop the terrorist threat of Cobra. Weird weapons are used, the explosions happen, and the day is saved with a “Yo, Joe!”
The fans may be dismayed to learn that Snake Eyes is a more subdued Joe picture. The action is less fantastic and the more absurd elements are downplayed. While this new direction is rather interesting, it is not without some major flaws.
The New Origin
Unlike the previous films, Snake Eyes (Henry Golding) is not established as a ninja avenging his master. This new interpretation finds him as an orphaned Asian-American who falls into a life of crime. His father was murdered when he was a kid and Snake Eyes aims to find and kill the culprit as his life goal.
Snake Eyes finds himself allying with the yakuza leader of Kenta (Takehiro Hira). Kenta has offered Snake Eyes access to the killer he desires if he can complete a tricky task. He needs to infiltrate the well-guarded Arashikage clan of Tokyo and swipe a mystical stone of great power.
To do so, however, requires that Snake Eyes become integrated into the clan. This involves completing training that involves more than just violent skills but emotional balance. That’s a tough front to up considering one of the tests involves man-eating snakes.
A Revenge Story
The film has some solid writing in how it focuses on the aspects of revenge. Snake Eyes wants revenge but what he needs is a family. His quest doesn’t showcase his bloody revenge as the ultimate solution to his problems.
Consequently, Arashikage’s Tommy (Andrew Koji) is bound by such aggression. His desire for more power transforms him from an ally of honor to a villain of vengeance. Kenta also has bone to pick with the Arashikage and things don’t work out well for him either.
It’d be so easy for a film such as this to locus focus on this theme. Most films that center on revenge often take the fantastical answer of murder being the solution. In this picture, revenge is the monster that must be overcome.
The Conniving Cobra
Cobra is posed as a terrorist organization well-suited for taking advantage of these dark desires. They operate from the shadows and profit off the backs of those blinded with rage. It’s why Cobra’s Baroness (Úrsula Corberó) is able to swoop in and make threats in high heels.
This also better explains why G.I. Joe is more needed for such a scenario. Scarlett (Samara Weaving) drops into the third act as a third party to aid in stopping Cobra. Both organizations appear sparingly utilized in this picture that’s more about a heist and clan dispute.
Not So Much For Fans
Of course, the lack of familiar G.I. Joe and Cobra characters is sure to aggravate fans. With no Cobra Commander or Duke, the film feels like it’s taking a cue from the Hasbro property. Most fans are probably not used to seeing such a restrained approach.
Fans will also be out of luck if they’re hoping for Snake Eyes to slip into his faceless costume. That costume is present but more as an epilogue afterthought. The same goes for Tommy transforming into Storm Shadow, given so little time to develop he declares his title in the post-credit scene.
The one area where the film could feel more like a G.I. Joe movie is in its action. Those hoping for more of that explosive excitement of sci-fi tech from previous entries may be dismayed by how grounded the action appears. That’s not to say the action isn’t compelling.
The choreography present is staged quite well with moments of sword fights and car chases. The camera work, however, ranges from basic to blurry. Several scenes of great action are nearly ruined by the shaky camera.
It’s only once the film starts embracing the more elaborate special effects that the camera is steadier. Scenes of giant snakes and the Arashikage’s stronghold being set aflame are shot well. One particularly gorgeous shot is that of the secretive stone-safe, placed in a room of endless lanterns.
Better Idea, Rocky Execution
Truthfully, I kinda dug the direction of taking this G.I. Joe movie. This isn’t so much because it’s more serviceable to an audience not familiar with all the toys. It’s more a case of finding some fresher perspective on the property.
One of my favorite G.I. Joe revisions has been G.I. Joe Renegades. It’s an underrated animated series where the Joes are labeled as terrorists and Cobra is a conglomerate who covers up their own terrorist acts. It creates an alluring dynamic not seen in other Joe media.
Sadly, Renegades never really took off past one season. I suspect that not much will come of this Snake Eyes movie either. The future G.I. Joe could very well be restricted to mindless action blockbusters or no movies at all.
Conclusion: Snake Eyes
It’d be too easy to say that Snake Eyes is not for the fans. I’ve been a fan of the G.I. Joe cartoon since I was a kid, however, and I found this premise had promise. It’s not executed well but the potential is there.
In the film’s attempt to court a new crowd, however, I doubt it’ll leave much impact. The acting is wooden, the camera work is clunky, and there are perhaps too many fantastical elements to swallow. There’s also a questionable script where characters make last-minute declarations of their Joe titles.
The final result is more likely to be remembered with lesser thoughts. Joe fans will mark it down as the film without much Joe and the non-fans will write it off as a generic action picture. If only this film was stable enough to be the slow Joe is aimed to show.
Did you see Snake Eyes in the theater? What did you think of it? Is it better than Black Widow? Let us know in the comments below.
A decent G.I. Joe origin story with poor execution.
- Unique angle of revenge.
- Great action choreography.
- Sparing use of fantastical elements.
- Shaky camera work.
- Some wooden acting.
- Lacking in more G.I. Joe and Cobra characters.