Do you remember the “G.I. Joe” movies? I say movies, plural, because there were two of them—2009’s “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” and 2013’s “G.I. Joe: Retaliation“—although it has been so long since the films based on the line of Hasbro toys was released that I can’t imagine anyone but the most diehard fans remembering that they even existed. Out of curiosity, I looked up my original 2009 review of the first film, and from the looks of it, I quite enjoyed it at the time, but the fact that I had virtually forgotten about the series until now, when it is receiving a spin-off approximately eight years after the release of the last movie, is a testament to the impact—or lack thereof—that it ultimately had.
That spin-off, “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins,” had a lot of promise (key word, “had”). The film, directed by Robert Schwentke, stars Henry Golding as the titular character, who as a child watched his father be murdered and is now a skilled martial artist seeking revenge. Perhaps I should have known the level of nonsense about to ensue after finding out that Snake Eyes calls himself that because his father was killed when he rolled snake eyes on a pair of dice to determine his fate. After he refuses to kill a man after a Japanese crime boss named Kenta (Takehiro Hira) orders him to, Snake Eyes helps the man, Tommy (Andrew Koji), escape. Grateful to Snake Eyes for saving his life, Tommy—a member of the ancient ninja society Clan Arashikage—brings him to his dojo in Japan so he can be initiated as a member. The head of security, Akiko (Haruka Abe), doesn’t trust Snake Eyes at first, but he eventually wins everyone over—although his allegiances are not what they seem.
“Snake Eyes” is meant to serve as a sort of reboot of the G.I. Joe series, and it does get a lot right as far as casting goes. Snake Eyes and Tommy, aka Storm Shadow, were both present in either one or both of the previous movies, the former being played by martial artist Ray Park. Having an almost entirely Asian cast at the forefront of this film is a great shift, especially given the setting and the centering around a fighting style steeped in tradition. Other recast characters including G.I. Joe agent Scarlett (played by Samara Weaving) and Cobra operative the Baroness (played by Úrsula Corberó), but they aren’t given much to do outside of the requisite girl power scenes. In fact, much of the charm of this cast, including Golding, gets lost in a lackluster script that delivers neither an interesting story nor meaty dialogue. The script makes it clear that he and Abe’s Akiko are supposed to have some chemistry, but we only get that from their words, not from their performances. Even though his allegiances shift about as much as Snake Eyes’ do, Koji’s Tommy is perhaps the character who has the most impact, as his story, tangled up as it is in familial expectations and power, is more intriguing than Snake Eyes’ straightforward quest for vengeance.
But most of us are likely coming to “Snake Eyes” for the action, and it’s there where the movie really disappoints. I’m no martial arts expert, but if I do say so myself, I’ve seen enough movies—whether they are Chinese kung fu movies or Japan’s incredible “Lone Wolf and Cub” series—to know how impactful the action in those movies is when the camera lets the incredible fight choreography play out. “Snake Eyes” is over-edited to the point where it detracts from the choreography, and the action lacks any flavor. That, in addition to some bland special effects and the aforementioned lackluster script, makes “Snake Eyes” so painfully generic, it’s a snooze to watch.
It should come as no surprise that “Snake Eyes” attempts to set up multiple potential sequels and spin-offs. But as much as the previous two films benefited from a complete reset, “Snake Eyes,” with its flat characters and surface-level world-building, already feels like it needs it even more.
Runtime: 121 minutes. Rated PG-13.