Snake Eyes (2021) Review

A FUN (YET SERVICEABLE)

FRANCHISE STARTER


 

Hasbro’s G.I. Joe property has been awhile for quite some time, demonstrating the action figure toy line within the derive nature of militaristic “G.I. Joes” of various US military branch outlets (i.e army, navy, air force, Marine Corp, etc.) that form an organization, who do battle with terrorist organizations, such as the likes of Cobra, to save the world. While the animated cartoon series, which ran under several names and span the late 80s to the early 90s was well-received, it took Hollywood some time to see the potential G.I. Joes had in the cinematic arena. However, time passed and eventually the franchise made the jump into live-action CGI-hybrid blockbuster arena with the release of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra in 2009. The film, which was directed by Stephen Sommers and starred Channing Tatum, Marlon Wayans, Dennis Quaid, and Christopher Eccelston, did face mixed reviews, but was still able to manage to be considered a box office success by raking in roughly $302 million worldwide. Because of this, a sequel was greenlit and a few years later G.I. Joe Retaliation was released in 2013. Much like its predecessor, this sequel, which was directed by Jon M. Chu and starred Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Bruce Willis, Adrianne Palicki, and D.J. Cotrona, faced mixed reviews, but was able to manage a sizeable return at the box office worldwide, with the feature considered to be a “success”. However, the idea stopped there as the G.I. Hoe film franchise did not move forward after the release of the 2013 film. Now, almost eight years after the release of G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Paramount Pictures, Hasbro Toys, and director Robert Schwentke present the third live-action film of this popular toy line (acting as a reboot) with the release of Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins. Does the film rise above its predecessor for something new and exciting or does it just a bland blockbuster endeavor that never gets its footing off the ground?

THE STORY


When he was a young child, Snake Eyes (Henry Godling) witnessed the deadly murder of his own father, with an assassin using the toss of dice to determine his chance of survival. Fueled by revenge and determined to find his father’s murderer, Snake Eyes develops into a man on a mission, becoming a skilled cage fighter. Soon, the young man is recruited by Kenta Takamura (Takehiro Hira), a wealthy and powerful yakuza gun supplier, and is introduced to Tommy (Andrew Koji), a member of the Arashikage clan. Saving Tommy from certain death, Snake Eyes, after betraying Kenta, is offered refuge in Tokyo, presented with a chance to join the Arashikage clan upon the completion of his training, which involves three sacred challenges to prove his worth. Mentored by Hard Master (Iko Uwais) and the Blind Master (Peter Mensah) and watched carefully by head security officer Akiko (Haruka Abe), the newcomer is soon contacted by Kenta, who offers to deliver the murderer of Snake Eyes’s father in exchange for a special magical jewel the Arashikage clan are sworn to protect. Conflicted by his moral judgement, Snake Eyes must choose a side to pursue, which may cost him his newly found friendships in the Arashikage clan or miss the opportunity to exact revenge from his past.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


Growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, I remember G.I. Joe. I didn’t collect any of the toys, video games, or anything like that, but I always remember watching the original animated TV series. I remember a few main characters here and there (Duke, Scarlett, Baroness, Cobra Commander, Destro, etc.), but there was just too many for me to remember them. Likewise, the story arcs presented were great, but a lot of them I forgot. I do, however, still remember a few of the episodes, including the creation of Serpentor in “Arise, Serpentor” five-part story arc and the two-part episode titled “World Without End” as well as a few others. Plus, who couldn’t forget those little PSA safety announcement at the end of each episode with the classic catchphrase “And knowing is half the battle….”. After that, I really didn’t hear much about the G.I. Joe brand until the release of 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Yes, the movie had its problems (a bit way too much CGI visuals), but I did like it as I found it to be fun and entertaining in the mindless big, budgeted blockbuster endeavor. G.I. Joe: Retaliation was (like I said in the opening paragraph) a “return to basics”, but I actually thought it was pretty boring. I have a copy of it on Blu-Ray, but I’ve only watched it once and never again. It just didn’t leave a memorable impression with as did The Rise of Cobra. In the end, I think that the G.I. Joe is a good franchise to build upon, with Hollywood returning the popular military action series every once in a while.

This brings me back to talking about Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, a 2021 action movie that is set to be a reboot of the franchise in the live-action realm. I think I did remember hearing some rumors and talks of trying to reboot the G.I. Joe brand with another attempt in feature films, but I never really paid much attention to them; believing that the live-action franchise had come and gone. However, I was proven wrong when it was announced the third attempt at a G.I. Joe feature film was going to be made and that it was going to focus on the character of Snake Eyes (as an origin movie) rather than a main grouping of characters in the franchise. After that, I remember hearing actor Henry Golding was going to be attached to the project and was going to be the main lead role. I do like Golding as an actor, so I was very curious to see this movie. The film’s movie trailer came a bit later than normal movie trailers, but the project did (from the trailer alone) grabbed my interest and I was curious to see how this movie was going to ultimately pan out. Snake Eyes was originally going to be released on March 27th, 2020, but, due to the on-going events of the COVID-19 pandemic, was delayed and shuffled around several times before it finally landed on the date of July 23rd, 2021. So, I decided to check out this movie a few weeks after its initial theatrical release, but, due to my hectic busy schedule of work, I kept on pushing back doing my review for the film. Now, after completing several of my other reviews, I can finally give my personal “two cents” on this movie. And what did I think of it? Well, I kind of liked it. Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is a fun and somewhat entertaining summer popcorn blockbuster endeavor, despite the feature fumbling in a new franchise starter entry. The movie is not perfect and stumbles in several areas, but I found it to be decent and enjoyable.

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is directed by Robert Schwentke, whose previous directorial works include such films like The Time Traveler’s Wife, Red, and two of the Divergent films (i.e., The Divergent Series: Insurgent and The Divergent Series: Allegiant). Given his background in a few key films (like the Divergent movies and Red), Schwentke does know how to handle action sequences, which makes him a somewhat good choice to direct a project like this. To be quite honest, I really didn’t have high expectations for this movie, so my expectations for Snake Eyes were a bit low. However, I actually pleasantly surprise how much I enjoyed this movie and, while not perfect, was still quite enjoyable. I found that Schwentke did a good job in trying to make the film’s story more focused on a single character from the G.I. Joe franchise (i.e., Snake Eyes) rather than a larger narrative that has multiple Joe and Cobra characters that are introduced and juggled around within a two-hour timeframe. In truth, Schwentke and his team make Snake Eyes feel like one like superhero origin tale that’s something akin to what Marvel does when they introduce a new character (i.e., like 2008’s Iron Man, 2011’s Thor, and 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, etc.) before jumping into a broader “saving the world” team up / Avenger’s style endeavor, which was, more or less, what the two previous live-action G.I. Joe movies did. This approach dials back all the large-scale “world ending” set pieces and heroics, but maybe that’s a good thing; finding Schwentke easing into Snake Eyes with a sort of “back to basics” and more of a smaller scale endeavor to start out the franchise with. I personally liked this and that’s what makes the film more enjoyable to me, with a more character-driven narrative framing the feature rather than fully jumping into the foray of G.I. Joe heroics.

That’s not to say that the movie doesn’t drop hints and / or references of the G.I. Joe organization throughout the movie, with the story subtle mention the group as well as the terrorist organization of Cobra. However, both the Joes and Cobra are not the main focuses of good and evil forces in Snake Eyes, but are merely hinted at for a future larger narrative for a potential sequel in the near future. Again, this approach is something I liked, with Schwentke keeping the camera focus on Snake Eyes’s journey and not so much on the broader scope of the large hero and villain organization. I do have to mention that I don’t know the fully encompassing lore behind Snake Eyes’s true background story, so I can’t what is true or false in the feature. I’m sure purists out there might cry “foul” in how certain things play out from the translation of “page to screen” from the G.I. Joe source material, but I think it was better than most other toy line franchise endeavor.  Still, the idea of references is well-met, and I can’t wait to see where this franchise (if it moves forward) goes after this installment.

Looking beyond that, Schwentke makes the feature the sole character focus of an origin tale for Snake Eyes; showcasing his dark beings as a child that haunted / followed him into a young man and how his relationship with Tommy Arashikage. There’s a few other stuff that plays a part of the film’s narrative and overall framing of the feature, but the main focus is always on Snake Eyes, and I think that’s a good idea for a good origin tale (again, never straying too far away from the task at hand). For its action, I think that Schwentke does a good job; presenting and showcasing action sequences in a very entertaining way. Naturally, there’s nothing too “original” or “groundbreaking” throughout the film’s action sequences, but it definitely keeps the feature very excitable and energetic throughout. There’s plenty to stage and choregraphed actions stunts, which feels frenetic and heightens the stakes of the narrative. It definitely works and I liked it. Thus, while there are so faults in the genetic make up of the movie, I think that Schwentke’s direction was ultimately the right one for the feature and keeps Snake Eyes much more “grounded” and a tad more “gritter” than Rise of Cobra and Retaliation did. So, I would probably say that this movie is probably my favorite G.I. Joe movie of the three live-action ones (so far).

As for the film’s presentation, I felt like Snake Eyes was really well-done, with a great production quality that is on full display throughout the movie. While the standard CGI visual hybrid of live-action is felt in several key sequences (towards the film’s third act), the production quality definitely deserves praise, with some beautiful Asian locations and set-pieces, especially those that recreate the Arashikage clan compound and the nearby forest area. Everything within the feature’s backdrop setting is pristine, intricately detailed, and looks real. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” team, including Alec Hammond (production designs), Sandy Walker (set decorations), and Louise Mingenbach and Behood Javaherpour (costume designs) for helping in aiding in bringing Snake Eyes’s movie world to life in a very cinematic / believable way. The film’s cinematography by Bojan Bazelli is good for the most part, though I do have a few problems with some camera techniques (more on that below). Beyond that point, I think it was good and met the industry standards for slick cinematics within a blockbuster flair. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Martin Todsharow, is actually pretty good. Todsharrow isn’t a “household” name of well-known film composers, but his musical composition for the film took me a little by surprise and I enjoyed it. So…. kudos to Todsharow.

 

Unfortunately, Snake Eyes does have its fair share of criticism that the feature faces that hold the film back to reaching cinematic glory and / or achievement. Perhaps the biggest criticism that many have with the feature is how the film’s script is writing. Penned by Evan Spiliotopoulos, Joe Sharpnel, and Ann Waterhouse, the film’s script leaves a lot to desire for such a ambitious project, which is suppose to be a reboot franchise starter. Thus, the expectations are set for an “introduction” to this new and more grounded take on the G.I. Joe IP identity. The result? Well, the script starts out really strong; providing a movie world that feels gritty and has a sense of realism. Heck, the first act of the movie almost feels like it could’ve been a totally different movie that didn’t need the usage of the “Joes” and / or “Cobra” nods and reference. Meaning that the movie could almost stand on its own merits without the usage of the G.I. Joe property. However, the script then switches to a more fantasy-esque approach towards the latter half of the feature’s narrative, especially during the third act. This includes a few areas of mysticism, a magical jewel (that acts as a McGuffin towards the end), and some giant reptilian snakes. It’s a bit jarring, especially compared to the first two-thirds of the film, and the script gives Snake Eyes a sort of “mistaken identity” by mudding its story with a few areas where it doesn’t know what it wants to be…. a gritty martial arts revenge thriller or an adventure-fantasy-esque superhero endeavor.

Another proportion of criticism within the script is in how the film’s story is a generic. From the superhero blockbuster angle, it’s quite predictable, with several classic tropes and rudimentary narrative paths of superhero endeavors have taken recently cinematic flicks. Even from the classic revenge angle, the story is rooted in formulaic touches as I wasn’t too “wow” over the film’s narrative path. Yes, I still found the movie to be entertaining, but the story itself (and how it was constructed) was a bit underwhelming; coloring inside the lines a bit too much. This also directs in the idea of its characters, which I will get into a few paragraphs below, but, suffice to say, the characters throughout the film needed to have more substance and more dynamic than what was presented. There’s also a few cheesy dialogue moments, which distracts from the more edgy and gritty take on the movie. I think that if the feature’s script was more refined and added more substance (i.e., taking the story in new and / or creative directions), then Snake Eyes would’ve been more well-received by both critics and moviegoers alike.

As for the film’s direction, I think it was good, but Schwentke just need that extra “oomph” to the project to make more than just serviceable. It definitely works and I can see why the film’s final cut was greenlit for a theatrical release, but there was a lot of potential felt like a missed opportunity throughout the feature’s execution. It’s kind of hard to actual pinpoint to where was needed, but its clear that something (a special “It” factor) that Snake Eyes needed to have. As more of minor quibble of criticism that I had with the movie is some of the camera work that is utilized in the feature’s action sequences. Of course, I’m talking about the whole “shaky cam” technique, which does give a more grounded and heightened feeling when used in action scenes, but it sometimes can be a bit distracting. This happens in Snake Eyes and is used a bit too much….in my opinion, which causes several action scenes to be a bit wonky and distraction. It doesn’t derail the movie, but it becomes a bit obstructive in a few sequences.

The cast for Snake Eyes is good, but nothing truly grand. Its not for the lack of talent that is selected to play all the various characters (both major and minor), but mostly because of the film’s script limitations in how they characterized each individual characters throughout the entire. The end result is something that creates half-baked characters, with little to no depth or well-roundness to the proceedings; making the character themselves sort of “one-note” personas in their development. Leading the charge in the movie is actor Henry Golding, who plays the film’s central main protagonist character…. the unknown man who goes by the name of Snake Eyes. Golding, who is known for his roles in Crazy Rich Asians, A Simple Favor, and Last Christmas, has certainly been making a name for himself in the recent five or so years, especially after playing the role of Nicholas Young in Crazy Rich Asians. His role in this movie is Golding’s first jump into the action / blockbuster foray and I do have to admit that he does a decent / serviceable job in portraying this particular character. He handles himself well in all the various scenes of dialogue and action, but I think its just hard to take him completely seriously in an action genre. To me, Golding is more of the “pretty boy” (with class, grace, and poise whenever he’s on-screen), and I can’t fully buy into his role in the movie…. much like when he played the bad guy character in Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen. The character journey that Snake Eyes goes through is very straightforward and easy to follow, but is probably the more compelling story character arc of the film. In the end, Golding’s performance of the film’s main character is okay and gets the job done, but it is nothing to gush over or rave about. It’s decent (not performed bad) and serviceable to the film. So…. I guess that’s a good thing.

Behind Golding’s performance, actor Andrew Koji does a good (almost impressive) job in the role of Tommy Arashikage, a skilled member and the heir apparent of the Arashikage clan as well as Snake Eyes’ close friend. Known for his roles in The Innocents, Warrior, and Peaky Blinders, Koji isn’t the “household” name like some of the other acting talents involved in this project, but he certainly makes the case for a solid, prominent character in the movie. The character arc of Tommy does get a good meaty substance for us (the viewers) to follow throughout the feature’s story; reaching a conclusion that, while predictable (if one knows what he becomes) is still entertaining. Plus, Koji’s acting is good and fits the character. So, for me…. I like him as a character, with an almost Shakespearean relationship with Golding’s Snake Eyes as the classic “brothers-in-arms” friendship that slowly changes into rivalry.

While Koji is good in the movie, the character of Akkio, the head of security for the Arashikage clan and who warms up to Snake Eyes throughout the movie, is woefully generic and underdeveloped. Played by Haruka Abe, who is known for her roles in Kiss Me First, Stagger, and She’s Just a Shadow, the character of Akkio is just another stereotypical / generic large supporting player in the movie that has romantic ties to the lead character. Thus, her character development is quite predictable and almost a cookie cutter formation. Abe tries her best with the material she has, but it all comes off as undercooked and I find her romantic chemistry with Golding’s Snakes Eyes a bit “meh”. Thus, I could not really buy into her character that much…. or rather didn’t find her character memorable. As for the film’s antagonist, the character role of Kenta Takamura, Tommy’s cousins, a member of Cobra, and one who seeks control of the Arashikage clan, fills that role in the movie’s narrative. Played by actor Takehiro Hira, who is known for his roles in Girl / Haji, Sekigahara, and Lost Girls and Love Hotels, the character of Kenta starts out quite strong as good and formidable villain for the feature, with Hira playing the role perfectly. However, as the narrative moves forward, Kenta becomes increasingly generic and almost becomes a cartoon-ish caricature villain, which is disappointing as there was plenty of potential for him to be a memorable baddie. It’s not a lacking of trying on Hira’s part to help elevate the character, but the script’s generic nature holds him back.

As mentioned, the movie doesn’t fully involve the wide variety of the G.I. Joe characters into the narrative, but there are several characters that make an appearance, which comes in the form of Major O’Hara / Scarlett, who is played by actress Samara Weaving (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Ready or Not), and Ana DeCobray / Baroness, who is played by actress Ursula Corbero (Money Heist and The Tree of Blood). Their acting is fine, and I have no problem with Weaving and Corbero in their respective roles, but their characterization is a bit thin. I get that they (the writers) didn’t want to heavily involve these two “Joe” characters fully into the movie, so they are merely supporting characters. Again, as I previously said with a lot of things about this film, their involvement is serviceable, but I kind of wanted to more incorporation of these two characters in the film. Regardless, their appearance in Snake Eyes is a welcomed one.

Sadly, the other supporting players in the movie, including actor Iko Uwais (The Raid: Redemption and Mile 22), as the formidable mentor of the Arashikage clan / uncle of Tommy known as the Hard Master, actor Peter Mensah (300 and Spartacus: Blood and Sand) as the blind mentor of the Arashikage clan called the Blind Master, actress Eri Ishida (Free and Easy II and Asa ga kuru) as Tommy’s grandmother and leader of the Arashikage clan, sort of get pushed to side more often than not. Again, most are serviceable to the story and the acting of the talent that plays these characters are good, but the story just merely drops them into the movie to propel several key sequences forward and nothing more. It’s disappointing because all of them could’ve been easy expanded upon.

Lastly, the film does an Easter Egg scene as a mid-credit scene. Naturally, I can kind of expected this scene to play out the way it did (as many fans out there are expecting it to be), but it was still good and planted the idea for a either a sequel and / or spin-off endeavor.

FINAL THOUGHTS


Determined to find his father’s murderer, a skilled and lone fighter combats new enemies and goes on a mysterious journey of self-discovery and honor in the film Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins. Director Robert Schwentke’s latest movie sees the revival of the G.I. Joe brand name for a live-action treatment for a new franchise reboot; providing a more character focused origin tale on one of the more iconic character in the G.I. Joe roster. While the movie does stumble in a few areas, including its writing, overused shaky camera techniques, some wonky decisions, and the weak development of its generic characters, but the movie still finds its rhythm of being a mindless popcorn flick (the good type), thanks to Schwentke’s direction, the more smaller scale narrative, the action sequences, and production quality. Personally, I kind of liked this movie. Yes, it isn’t perfect as the feature is rough around the edges and the narrative is a bit vague / convoluted in a few areas, but I think that movie feels like one of those big, mindless blockbuster that many out there can embrace for all the right reasons…. despite its own limitations. However, I can also see why some might have mixed feelings about this movie. Thus, I would say that my recommendation for this movie is a “recommended” one, especially those looking to watch something on a lazy afternoon or just simply switch off their brain for a good two hours for cinematic blockbuster escapism, but I would also give this a “iffy choice” as a few might be disappointed with it. It all depends on how a person’s expectations are. Though I was curious about the movie, my expectations were low, so might that’s why I kind of liked it a bit more than others out there. Naturally, the film’s ending leaves the door open for potential sequels and spin-offs and, while I do hope that there a bit more refined and slightly better handled than this particular feature, I do welcome it. In the end, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is a serviceable yet still popcorn fun entertainment to get lost in and explore. Let’s just hope that a franchise is born out of this movie and not end up like an unfinished project like several potential franchise starters out there have done and faded from cinematic existence.

3.6 Out of 5 (Recommended / Iffy-Choice)

 

Released On: July 23rd, 2021
Reviewed On: September 17th, 2021

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins  is 121 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, and brief strong language