Director: Robert Schwentke
Starring: Henry Golding, Andrew Koji, Samara Weaving, Haruka Abe, Takehiro Hira, Iko Uwais
Written by: Joe Shrapnel, Anna Waterhouse and (also story) Evan Spiliotopoulos
Running Time: 121 mins
Release date: 18th August 2021
Do you remember the 2009 movie G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra? Or it’s sequel, the 2013 G.I. Joe: Retaliation? Well, Paramount Pictures hope you do, or if you don’t, then maybe Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins may help. The film studio is desperate to capture the franchise audience that Disney and Warner Bros seem to have a stronghold. Sadly, the G.I. Joe films have been less than impressive, and it has to be said that their latest production doesn’t do anything to improve matters.
A young boy watches his father being murdered. Twenty years later, the boy has grown to be known as Snake Eyes, a loner who has learnt to fight to survive yet has vengeance in his heart. He is offered the chance to find his father’s killer by a wealthy Yakuza boss, Kenta. When asked to kill Kento’s cousin, Tommy, for being a traitor, Snake Eyes refuses and escapes, to be hailed a hero by the traitor, who is the next in line to lead the Arashikage clan, an ancient ninja society devoted to preserving order and fighting evil. Snake Eyes is taken in to train as a ninja and fight against the terrorist group, Cobra.
As with all action films, the set pieces, which are spectacularly created, are also a mess. Director Robert Schwentke, who was responsible for the last two Divergence movies, thinks that making an action sequence work is to make the camera as shaky as possible. Not so. These carefully choreographed moments are lost when you cannot work out who is fighting who. It’s a pity when the fights seem incredibly complex—something unusual in these modern days of gunfights and chases.
The script doesn’t help the matter either. A plot that involves double-crosses and complex twists need to be handled with care for the audience to follow what is happening. However, Schwentke gets his actors to deliver each line with total earnestness, as if each one will be edited as a soundbite for the trailer. They also are filled with Eastern wisdom that would have most Asian ancestors turning in their graves. At one point, we are told that in 600 years, the ninjas have kept the peace in Japan. Pretty sure that’s not entirely true.
What does this matter? We are in the comic-book territory, so things like script and delivery of lines shouldn’t matter. It does. The film lacks any humour or pathos, so we care less about the characters and the situations. As each set-piece plays out, we know there will be very little peril for the lead character as this is the tale of his origin. When he is dropped into a pit infested with giant snakes (see the imagery there?), we know he will survive as he has to get to the end of the movie. Unless there’s another twist and the character of Snake Eyes is taken over by one of the other countless characters that pop up.
The cast also seems to be wasted. None more so than Iko Uwais. This actor was the star of The Raid movies and is an incredible martial arts performer. The skill he injected into the brutal films was almost breathtaking. However, he is reduced to a supporting character who isn’t allowed a moment of glory to show his fighting abilities. It’s like hiring a first-rate artist to come and produce a doodle.
In the lead, Henry Golding may have Hollywood good looks but does seem a little out of his depth. The former Travel Show presenter who made his name in films like Crazy Rich Asians and Last Christmas, could be a star in the making with his boyish good looks, yet here he gets plenty of scenes where he turns to the camera and stares down the lens, more a deer in headlights than a macho action hero.
In the hands of a solid action director, Snake Eyes could have possibly have been saved, but it is a two-hour slog through incomprehensible plotting and confusing fight scenes. The whole film seems to be set up for a sequel, as the post-credits sequence plays out. If this were to happen, hand this to someone who knows how to control the camera and allow the audience to see what’s happening.
2 out of 5