To be frank, is there any real clamoring for G.I. Joe movies? It seems that even those who grew up on the toys, cartoons and comics of the Hasbro property aren’t exactly doing cartwheels for them. The past two adaptations, ranged from inept to cynical acts of brand management. But now there’s Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, a reboot and origin story, concocting a new history for one of the most interesting members of the G.I. Joe team. But it feels so perfunctory, so joyless and uninventive, that it feels like it was only made because some years has passed and it’s now time to try the franchise again.
Snake Eyes was always a mysterious character — not because we didn’t know much about his past, but because he didn’t talk and never showed his face. If anything, we knew more about Snake Eyes’ past than was know about any other of the Joe’s because the other characters were usually blank slates distinguished primarily by their weapons and skills. (There was a Pilot Guy, a Skiing Guy, etc.) The fact that no G.I. Joe really comes with an ironclad backstory gives filmmakers a wide range of room to cook up pasts for these people; they could literally by anyone from anywhere. In the case of this movie, Snake Eyes starts off as a young boy who sees his father murdered by a group of sinister men, one of whom likes to roll a pair of dice before killing his targets. We then see our hero as an adult (Henry Golding) working for the Yakuza, helping smuggle guns in fish carcasses. When Snake Eyes saves a fellow worker, Tommy (Andrew Koji), from being executed, he’s suddenly whisked off to Tommy’s family compound near Tokyo, home to the Arashikage Clan, who have been a clandestine source of power for centuries.
To join the clan, Snake Eyes must complete several challenges, which seem to vary from rappelling up a wall to fighting three giant magic anacondas. One even requires him to and steal a bowl of water from the Hard Master while also holding his own bowl of water and not spilling any of it. Which, on paper, lends itself for moments elegant fight choreography, especially given that the Hard Master is played by the great Iko Uwais; a skilled martial artist who’s one of the greats in delivering the kind of “they really did that” long-take fight sequences that’s rarely found in Western cinema.
But, we get none of that — instead, it’s a barrage of cuts, with director Robert Schwentke staging action as if he strapped the camera to the backside of a bucking bull that he then unleashed in the direction of the actors. Generally, not even the nadir of Hollywood’s shaky-cam heyday could adequately prepare you for the Dadaist nonsense on display whenever people start punching each other in Snake Eyes, as there isn’t a single fight scene in this movie that wouldn’t have been more stronger if it were shot on an iPhone that’s placed against some bowl of chips on the craft services table.
Thankfully, the movie isn’t nonstop action, but it’s also filled with vague fan service; the kind that still gives creative freedom. Yet you’d think such freedom would have possibly helped give Snake Eyes more backstory than “he worked for the Yakuza once.” Or, for that matter, dialogue that doesn’t feel like a cut-and-paste job from any number of other films. The character in Snake Eyes always seem to be in climax-speak mode; even the most throwaway lines are steeped in portent. This likely wouldn’t really be a problem if the level of action ever approached the mythic or was just coherent. But amidst all the big lines, the film remains debilitatingly generic, stripped of creativity, intensity, or grace. Snake Eyes seems to constantly be drudging through a checklist of derivativeness; from the murky, incoherent action to the toneless attempts at emotional heft.
Snake Eyes is currently playing in Theaters nationwide, as of July 23