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MOVIES: Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe - Origins - Review

25 Aug 2021

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Arriving in the UK later than its original US release, Robert Schwentke’s Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is a cluttered, franchise-starter that stalls before it can truly get going, making the same mistake that the 2017 Mummy remake did in that it spends too much time in setting up an established universe without really giving you any reason to keep watching. Schwentke’s track record is spotty at best – the Divergent films are something of a weak link in the myriad of teenage dystopias that occupied the previous decade, and whilst the cast on paper is full of promise with the likes of the normally excellent Henry Golding, Samara Weaving, Iko Uwais and Andrew Koji, Snake Eyes doesn’t really know what to do with any of them – wasting their potential in a hopelessly bland affair. Is there room for a G.I. Joe franchise in an age of superheroes? This feels like the franchise’s attempt at The Wolverine, moving the action to Japan in the attempts at a fresh start. But does it pay off? Not entirely.

The film borrows plenty from a Phase 1 Marvel film – only, if it were in the Marvel universe, it wouldn’t crack the top half. In fact – the storyline almost feels worryingly similar to 2016’s Doctor Strange, and the mid-credits stinger even calls back to Iron Man’s “I’m here to talk to you about the Avengers’ initiative”. It’s like nobody learned anything from the Tom Cruise vehicle that bombed before it could truly kickstart the doomed Dark Universe, as there’s not one memorable moment about Snake Eyes as it feels like the worst kind of movie, a film that's boring and never really tries to have any sense of fun. Like G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra – the film that aired in 2009 that was launched with a similar aim to start a franchise capitalising on the wake of the Bayhem fuelled Transformers franchise it didn't work, and even The Rock couldn’t save it in 2013 with Retaliation. Henry Golding, to his credit, tries – but this is not his finest hour, and the most regrettable thing about Snake Eyes being the way that it is probably killed any chances that we're going to get as him as Bond.

Caught between two worlds, Snake Eyes saves the life of the heir apparent – Tommy – played by Andrew Koji - to an ancient Japanese clan called the Arashikage. After a bloody flashback in which we learn how Snake Eyes came to get his name when his father was killed, we flashforward to the present day Los Angeles before quickly moving to Japan. The film wastes no time in getting going, but unfortunately due to its rapid pace and interest in action it never stops to slow down and give you a reason to care, it feels like maybe there’s one or two scenes left on the cutting room floor as character motivations change far too quickly to feel organic, with Haruka Abe’s Akiko going from not trusting Snake Eyes to trusting him in a matter of minutes after barely any reasoning to do so, and Tommy’s motivations in the final act feel all too sudden, like the film needed to get him to a certain point but left it far too late.

The final ten or so minutes feel entirely unnecessary, Snake Eyes falls into the same trap that most doomed first series of television shows did on network TV, arrive with the self-confidence that they’re going to get a sequel before they even start. Therefore instead of looking to the future Snake Eyes may have been best spent looking back on itself – take ten minutes out of the ending and apply it to character development could allow more room for everyone to breath, and nothing of value would have been lost. In fact - this film might even have gained some.

Snake Eyes wastes a talented cast in arguably one of the film’s biggest offenses, relegating The Raid’s Iko Uwais to the role of a side character and never giving him any meaningful fight sequences that we all know he’s capable of pulling off. In addition to this, the fight choreography is as bland and generic as Mortal Kombat that preceded it earlier this year, committing the cardinal sin of having characters wearing black costumes fighting against a black backdrop in one of the film’s final act fight scenes set on a busy highway. It’s almost unrecognisable -as is most of the action in the entire film. It’d be maybe okay to justify the lack of character development if you got a streamlined, mean, lean action thriller that opted for a simpler approach with minimal franchise-building complications.

However, Snake Eyes runs before it can walk – and feels dead on arrival.