Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins (2021)
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins (2021)

Genre: Action Running Time: 2 hrs. 1 min.

Release Date: July 23rd, 2021 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Robert Schwentke Actors: Henry Golding, Andrew Koji, Haruka Abe, Takehiro Hira, Iko Uwais, Peter Mensah, Ursula Corbero, Samara Weaving




n Washington state 20 years ago, a young boy and his father hide away in a safe house in the woods. But their temporary haven is soon found out by a mercenary who rolls a pair of dice, using double ones (or “snake eyes”) as a cue to murder his target. The child manages to flee into the night, but not before witnessing the death of his father and their cabin burned to the ground. “Do not move. No matter what happens.”

And so, as if following a formula for children orphaned by mysterious evildoers, the boy grows up to be an underground cage fighter, using the moniker Snake Eyes (Henry Golding), as he battles a monstrous, muscled man who only utters growls and grumbles like some sort of wild animal. After witnessing an unlikely success in the ring, a stranger named Kenta (Takehiro Hira) offers up work to Snake Eyes – in exchange for information that could lead to the assassin who offed his dad. Four weeks later, the loner hellbent on revenge is gutting fish to smuggle weapons in their carcasses for the Yakuza. When a fellow gangster named Tommy (Andrew Koji) betrays Kenta, Snake Eyes is tasked with the admonitory execution – a test of loyalty – but opts instead to spare the man’s life, resulting in the duo escaping to Tokyo, where Snake Eyes can find a new purpose: to become a ninja of the Arashikage clan.

When Snake Eyes and Tommy initially team up, a sword fight ensues, but it’s the first of many terribly unconvincing action sequences. Martial arts are involved, but more predominant are flinchingly out-of-place pose-striking and fancy editing, both of which obscure actual stunts and maneuvers. It’s quite likely that the main actors underwent exhaustive combat training, yet the editing techniques do their best to dampen any notion of that; here, it seems a priority to focus on facial expressions, locked swords, and traded verbal barbs rather than the impressiveness of lighting-fast hand-to-hand brawls. “True power calls for discipline.”

This becomes even more unsatisfactory when Iko Uwais turns up as an Arashikage instructor. Here’s an actor who, in real life, is celebrated as a master of Indonesian silat (his performances in “The Raid: Redemption” and “The Raid 2” are surely proof), yet he doesn’t get to immediately demonstrate his genuine skills in the field. In fact, even during the climax of the film, when his character is surrounded by a dozen armed men, 90% of the showdown takes place offscreen, robbing him of even a single moment to highlight his exceptional abilities. And in the last act, wire work is evident for several roles, stripping away even more of the potency of large-scale battles – always a disappointing practice in any serious kung-fu flick. Expectedly, CG vehicles and stunts are similarly employed, contributing to bland motorcycle chases that interrupt the types of ninja duels that viewers will surely hope for.

If that weren’t bad enough, supernatural elements pop up as well, transforming a tale of old-fashioned revenge into something resembling the latest “Mortal Kombat” entry, full of destructive magic and uninspired hocus-pocus. Pure fantasy just doesn’t mix well with modern-day ninjas, terrorist cells, and international black ops. Strangely, more than half the movie passes before there’s any hint of the G.I. Joes, as if tying in that pre-sold concept was a mere afterthought. Cobra soldiers, the Baroness (Ursula Corbero), and Scarlett (Samara Weaving) are familiar entities, yet their introductions bring an inattentiveness and silliness akin to Bond’s SPECTRE nemeses.

But perhaps most problematic of all is that Snake Eyes feels like the villain during the majority of the running time; he’s duplicitous, cocky, untrustworthy, sneaky, and in league with shady people for reasons the audience barely cares about. He goes to great lengths to make all the wrong decisions, requiring a last-minute change-of-heart and a desperate bid for redemption. He’s beyond merely flawed or an antihero; he’s stubborn and gullible and stupid. Plus, not surprisingly, this origins tale ignores much of the considerable lore already established by the action figures, comic books, cartoon series, and previous films – a decision that will perplex longtime fans, especially considering that the numerous alterations and deviations aren’t better fitting or more creative.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10