Warning: The following contains spoilers for “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins.”
You don’t need sentimental attachment to Snake Eyes to recognize the potential in telling his origin story. The iconic G.I. Joe character is noble and incredibly mysterious, making his backstory all the more exciting, and what we do know about his turbulent relationship with blood brother-turned-sworn enemy Storm Shadow is a dynamic that already provides the foundation for an incredibly interesting, nostalgic film that could please old fans and newcomers alike. Unfortunately, the outcome is not that simple. Instead of offering a virtuous continuation of the Snake Eyes legacy — or at the very least, an enjoyable action film — “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins” coughs up a weak, half-hearted story around a watered-down, unlikable version of the beloved character.
Snake Eyes (Henry Golding) lost his father as a child when a group of men barged into their cabin and killed him for unknown reasons. We jump immediately from that traumatic event to the present day, where Snake Eyes, 20 years later, is an underground fighter bent on avenging his father. In exchange for help finding his father’s killer, Snake Eyes makes a deal with yakuza boss Kenta (Takehiro Hira) to gain the trust of Tommy Arashikage, aka Storm Shadow (Andrew Koji), infiltrate the Arashikage clan and steal the Jewel of the Sun, a destructive weapon with supernatural fire powers.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with making changes to Snake Eyes’ formerly established origins, but the revised story makes Snake Eyes’ character take a dramatic turn for the worse.
The new Snake Eyes is incredibly selfish, and consistently makes morally wrong decisions and allegiances in his pursuit of vengeance. He agrees to work for the yakuza and continues to help the organization steal the Jewel even after discovering their affiliation with Cobra, an international terrorist organization. Only after realizing that his father’s killer was a member of Cobra, the very criminal organization he is aiding, does Snake Eyes shift allegiances again and fight on the side of the Arashikage, putting a Band-Aid on the war he is responsible for starting. Snake Eyes demonstrates no moral compass and zero foresight. It’s truly a miracle that anyone in the film trusts or likes him at all.
Storm Shadow’s character and his relationship with Snake Eyes experiences an equally devastating downgrade. The two no longer have a nuanced history and brotherhood formed through their time together through war and ninja training. In “Snake Eyes,” the pair’s relationship is one built on deception and inevitable betrayal, where Snake Eyes is selfish and vengeful and Storm Shadow is naive and careless. There are no longer stakes formed by Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow’s complicated friendship — we’re left with an empty, half-baked outline of a feud, which makes it impossible to care about who wins, who loses or anything that happens through their barely developed rivalry at all.
Even when overlooking the egregious flaws in the plot and main characters, “Snake Eyes” is not an enjoyable watch. The film, despite being set in a realistic world, exists in its own bubble. Hardly a single person from the general public appears in the film despite high quantities of violent public fighting, which removes another layer of consequences for Snake Eyes and eliminates any opportunity for him to convincingly stand for something bigger than himself. The film overloads itself with characters, organizations and relationships between each, making the story difficult to follow and their influences on Snake Eyes exhausting to understand.
Besides the terrible writing and confusing worldbuilding, the acting and cinematography are only mediocre — not surprising given the shortcomings in the other aspects of production. The only redeeming facet of the film might be its action sequences, which are adequately choreographed and decently entertaining, but won’t ease any confusion or frustration.
“Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins” leaves you with more questions than answers, including whether you’re supposed to be rooting for the hero. One can only hope that this is not the last we see of Snake Eyes, and that this disappointing interpretation can one day be overruled.