A drifter (Henry Golding) joins a secretive Japanese clan and becomes a ninja warrior, but he is hiding a dark ulterior motive. Also stars Andrew Koji, Ursula Corbero, Samara Weaving, and Iko Uwais. Directed by Robert Schwentke.
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is an entertaining but over-the-top actioner in the vein of the Fast and Furious films. It rarely makes logical sense, there are unintentional laughs, and there’s a lot of style but little substance. If you’re in the mood for mindless action, ninjas fighting over a glowing rock, and a pit fight with giant snakes, all in glorious 4K, you’re in luck.
However, if you’re looking for an 80s-style G.I. Joe movie, you’ll have to keep looking. Outside of some character names and a plot point or two, this film bears little resemblance to the classic toys, comics, and cartoons from the Reagan era. Lower your expectations and you just might enjoy the two-hour ride that is Snake Eyes.
I should admit that I was an 80s kid who was REALLY into G.I. Joe. I had the action figures, watched the cartoons, and collected the comic books, including the infamous issue #21, featuring a classic battle between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow. Like many kids who were Joe fans, those two were my favorite characters, and their personal feud added an almost Shakespearean level of drama to the comic book.
The movie never takes itself that seriously, but to its credit, Snake Eyes does build to a satisfying third act, thanks to the charisma of Henry Golding and Andrew Koji, who fill the roles of Snake Eyes and Tommy/Storm Shadow well. It will be interesting to see these two work with a larger ensemble in a future G.I. Joe movie. If there is one.
I am aware that many G.I. Joe fans were upset that this film would change Snake Eyes’ backstory, including changing his race. Although I am usually a stickler about being faithful to the source material, I wasn’t overly concerned about changing Snake Eyes’ race from white to Asian, especially when you have Henry Golding in the role. Golding is an excellent actor, and if you’re going to give Snake Eyes a voice and face, he was a solid choice.
The film does retain the “brotherhood” relationship between Snake Eyes and Tommy, and their eventual falling-out. Although forced at times, this plot point drives the second half of the film, even as the action dominates the storyline.
Part of the problem with Snake Eyes is that it tries too hard to look and feel like other current action films like The Fast and the Furious, rather than carve out its own identity. It’s too stylized for its own good – the shaky camera work during fight scenes is a distracting mess. It borrows liberally from lots of other films, yet it never tries very hard to be an actual martial arts film, a really bad thing when your movie is all about ninjas.
The first two G.I. Joe films, The Rise of Cobra and Retaliation, were action films with a sci-fi twist. As a reboot for the franchise, Snake Eyes is an action film with a fantasy twist; the martial arts in this ninja movie is secondary. Inexplicably, the film’s signature action scene is a car chase involving motorcycles and a car carrier, and not any particular ninja action. The film missed a great opportunity to make a martial arts movie that captured the look and feel of Asian cinema, something you rarely see in American films.
The film is well-cast, but the actors seem under-utilized. Samara Weaving, who plays the iconic G.I. Joe character Scarlett, doesn’t have much of a storyline here. Scarlett is basically an extended cameo, shoe-horned into a haphazard plot. Also criminally underused are Peter Mensah as the “Blind Master” and Iko Uwais (who was so good in The Raid) as the “Hard Master.”
As far as Hollywood big-budget action franchises go, Snake Eyes is more entertaining than most. It’s ludicrous and illogical to be sure, but Golding and Koji make a great cinematic duo. G.I. Joe fans will be sorely disappointed, as will lovers of martial arts films and fans of coherent writing. Just enjoy our popcorn and soda in mass quantities and don’t think about it too much.
Film Rating: 2.5 out of 5
VIDEO AND AUDIO
The 4k disc video transfer features bold colors, but an often soft image. The HDR is the highlight here, with colors that stand out during the film’s many night scenes. The MPEG-H HEVC video comes in at a 46-47 Mbps bitrate, which is strong, but I was surprised the film sometimes lacked sharpness, particularly in daylight scenes. Night scenes looked better, where the HDR really stood out and detail could be seen among the inky shadows. Overall, not a bad transfer, but I expected better from a 4K disc.
The Dolby ATMOS soundtrack, on the other hand, is quite good. The film’s car chases and action scenes feature a nice mix of low-end and the shrieking clashes of swords. Dialogue is crisp and nicely balanced. There are also eight additional languages (besides English) offered in Dolby Digital.
Video Rating: 3 out of 5
Audio Rating: 4 out of 5
The bonus features include some solid (albeit short) featurettes that delve into the film’s backstory and provide a look behind-the-scenes. All featurettes are presented in 4K HDR.
The special features are as follows:
“Morning Light: A Weapon with Stories to Tell” Short Film. This short film, told in a motion-comic style, explores the history of Morning Light, Snake Eyes’ sword. Running Time: 3:11.
Deleted Scenes. Five deleted scenes are included: “Akiko Trains,” “Snake Eyes’ Sword Play,” “Blind Master’s Kunai Throw,” “House Attack,” and “Tommy Unleashed.” These aren’t actually deleted scenes; they are better described as discarded shots. Most are about 30 seconds long and are snippets from longer action scenes. Total running time: 2:07.
“Enter Snake Eyes” featurette. Henry Golding discusses the evolution of his character, and what it was like to don the Snake Eyes outfit for the first time. Andrew Koji is interviewed about the brotherhood his character of Tommy/Storm Shadow shares with Snake Eyes. There’s also a behind-the-scenes look at the film’s stunts. Running Time: 9:32.
“A Deadly Ensemble” featurette. Members of the cast and crew discuss their characters. Running time: 6:22.
“Arashikage” featurette. The backstory of the Arashikage ninja clan is explored. In a nice bonus, G.I. Joe comic creator Larry Hama discusses the origin of the Arashikage clan symbol, which dates back to the 1980s comics, where Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow wore it as a tattoo. Running time: 6:59.
Digital Copy. A code for a digital copy of the film, compatible with services including VUDU and iTunes, is included. Paramount codes are currently not redeemable through Disney’s Movies Anywhere service.
Special Features Rating: 3 out of 5
4K UHD SPECS
Release Date: October 19, 2021
Running Time: 121 minutes
Rating: PG-13 (Strong Violence, Brief Strong Language)
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Audio: English Dolby ATMOS, 8 additional languages in Dolby Digital
Video: 4K Dolby Vision HDR
Subtitles: English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, 17 additional language subtitle options