Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins

2021, PG-13, 121 min. Directed by Robert Schwentke. Starring Henry Golding, Iko Uwais, Haruka Abe, Úrsula Corberó, Samara Weaving, Peter Mensah, Andrew Koji.

REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., July 30, 2021

If you want to convince the world that we really, truly need a third crack at an extended G.I. Joe universe, Andrew Koji and Henry Golding are a good place to start. The two actors have proven their worth as leading men on screens big and small, and Koji’s work on Warrior, an HBO Max series depicting gang violence and nationalism in 1870s San Francisco, represents arguably the best action cinematography to ever appear on television. So even those uninterested in Hasbro’s franchise might be excused for wanting to check this one out.

Since the murder of his father, Snake Eyes (Golding) has channeled his anger into fighting. His willingness to take a beating eventually puts him on the radar of a local arms dealer; there he crosses paths with Tommy (Koji), the heir to a secret clan of ninja. Tommy promises him a place in the family if he can successfully survive the family rituals, but another player – one who wants to see Tommy and his empire burned to the ground – has a compelling counteroffer. Soon, Snake realizes he needs to play both sides to the middle if he is to have any chance at revenge or honor.

In the extended period between press screenings and theatrical distribution, many critics complained that the cinematography of Snake Eyes represented the worst of blockbuster action filmmaking. Director Robert Schwentke is certainly an easy target (his work on films like Red and R.I.P.D. certainly falls short of the venerated Asian filmmakers whose work inspired Snake Eyes) but the fight sequences here are better than the buzz would have you believe. Sure, too many of the fights are filmed (and edited) to the point of distraction, but the fight choreography itself cannot be denied. Every time the camera pulls out to a midrange shot of Snake and Tommy fighting, we see the care that went into the staging.

More damning are the franchise tie-ins. When the film focuses on the relationship between the two men, and the premise of an ancient and honorable organization struggling to adapt to modern evils, Snake Eyes builds an original world worth exploring. But this is intended to be the Iron Man of the G.I. Joe franchise, and too often, the pieces of the film that work are paused so that other characters can appear and wax poetic about the dangers of Cobra. These touches are especially egregious in the film’s final minutes, when the characterizations of both Snake and Tommy are undercut by the need to position them for the inevitable sequel.

Ultimately, Snake Eyes represents both the best and the worst of franchise filmmaking. It is great to see talented performers receive their moment in the spotlight, and several fight sequences tap into the full potential of talented stunt coordinators and unlimited budgets. But a bloated cast of characters and overt attempts at franchise-building keep the film from ever reaching its potential. Compared to other Hollywood blockbusters, Snake Eyes is better than fine – but there are hundreds of Asian and Southeast Asian action movies that run circles around the final product here. At least Golding and Koji got theirs.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Robert Schwentke Films
The Captain
A bleak warning from Nazi Germany carries modern resonance

Richard Whittaker, Aug. 10, 2018

The Divergent Series: Allegiant
The penultimate installment in this YA series arrives with a thud

Kimberley Jones, March 25, 2016

More by Matthew Monagle
The Last Duel
Ridley Scott reinvents the historical drama through the lens of stardom

Oct. 15, 2021

The Guilty
One cop, one room, one phone call in this thriller remake

Oct. 1, 2021

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, Robert Schwentke, Henry Golding, Iko Uwais, Haruka Abe, Úrsula Corberó, Samara Weaving, Peter Mensah, Andrew Koji

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle