G.I. Joe was instrumental in creating the action figure craze. From toys, to comics, to T.V. shows…the brand at one point was unstoppable. The jump to live action films was a no-brainer. The output of the the early millennia attempts could best be described as, silly. Now, the Snake Eyes origin story is here, and has a lot behind it that promises to make the experience a little more grounded and serious. And while all the pieces seem to fit, they all fail to make a good movie.
As a young child, Snake Eyes (yes, they stay true to the character and never reveal his name) watches as a group of terrorists break in and torture his father. His father is given an opportunity to live. He has to roll a pair of dice. He rolls a winner, he lives. The result of his opportunity? You guessed it, Snake Eyes (two ones for anyone unfamiliar with the terminology of dice games). Fatherless, Snake Eyes has one goal in life; find the man who killed his father and exact revenge. 20 years later, Snake is approached by a man who says he can lead him to his father’s murderer. To get the information, Snake needs to work for him. Now caught in the middle of a worldwide feudal gang war, Snake needs to decide what is more important: finding his father’s killer, or doing what is right to save others.
Though existing as propaganda fueling action figures and comics since the 60s, the real meat of the G.I. Joe property came to fruition in the 80s. The animated series was something I adored and followed like a hawk. But now, if you ask me to remember any of it, all I can do is tell you some character names. Oh, and of course the sheer terror seared into my brain from that episode where Shipwreck is drugged and when he looks at his friends, their faces melt off. The point is, the stories of a childhood cartoon never had a rigid structure that lent itself to proper storytelling. This was a big fault of the early film attempts. They tried to play into the camp aspect and it was silly. Snake Eyes takes the turn for a slightly more dramatic story, but gets caught up in another overly convoluted revenge story that really doesn’t make much sense.
When the film was announced and casting decisions started to come to light, this looked like a winner. Sure, at the time Henry Golding hadn’t be in a big action film. He’s a talented guy though and I don’t think anyone questioned if he could pull it off. Yes, there are a few points in the film I could hear his British accent seeping through, but it wasn’t too off-putting. In fact, have we put Henry’s name in the bag as an option for the next James Bond? Then of course, you have the modern legend, Iko Uwais (made famous worldwide as Rama in The Raid) on the team along side a list of talent that includes Haruka Abe, Takehiro Hira, Samara Weaving, Úrsula Corberó, and Eri Ishida. This can’t go wrong, right?The real big news was that Kenji Tanigaki, the famed fight choreographer was on board to bring some real classic fight scenes to a big Hollywood production. Even if the story didn’t work, the action was going to be incredible!
Unfortunately, it was all a big waste of time, because you can’t see any of the action. Director Robert Schwentke decided to go with the shamefully classic Hollywood style of all hand held, shaky cam coverage for all the big set pieces. Instead of brilliant, fluid movements and well composed clashes, you’re sitting watching some vague figures fall all over each other. It felt like I was watching the movie in a car as it tumbled down Mount Everest. This is the cinematic equivalent of having your mother cook your favorite meal, and then after placing it in front of you she puts a cigarette out on your tongue. When the pain subsides, you can still eat the meal and get the nutrition from it, but you’re not going to taste a single thing other than ash.
For as critical as I might be about the final outcome of this venture, let’s be real; this is leaps and bounds better than the first two G.I. Joe offerings. The schlocky overtones and ho-hum Michael Bay type explosive action is swapped out for a more traditional and balanced formatting. Even though the delivery might have been bungled somewhat, the essence of child-like aura that latched onto the first two films, has mostly been washed away.
There is a lot packed into the feature. They made sure this was still a G.I. Joe film and not just, a Snake Eyes solo story. Those aspects though are really for fans of the series and not so much for newcomers. At the end of the day, this is not a painful film to watch. The fight scenes might make you feel a little motion sick, and the story is bland and slightly non-sensical. But Snake Eyes isn’t a complete failure. It is just another G.I. Joe properly you’ll be unable to properly remember. Talent was hired, but they were let down by the man behind the curtain.
Final Grade- C