Hasbro hit cinema screens with its G.I. Joe franchise in 2009, when Dennis Quaid and Channing Tatum starred in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, with Tatum returning as Duke opposite Dwayne Johnson in the 2013 sequel G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Now, eight years later, the series is back in a new way, spinning off the popular supporting character and badass ninja warrior Snake Eyes and giving him his own starring stand-alone origin story — not as a white guy as in the books but more properly an Asian character.
It is called Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, which sounds like a new path to rebooting the action figures for this generation. Snake Eyes was around in the previous films, played by Ray Park in both, but now the filmmakers have decided to take him in an entirely new direction, making Snake Eyes a bit of a loner in the form of Henry Golding, who broke out in Crazy Rich Asians and now has his first bona fide action hero to play. He acquits himself nicely here, and the change of locale along with the pumped-up martial arts fighting quotient breathes new life into the venerable world of G.I. Joe.
The problem looming over this change was that Snake Eyes didn’t speak, supposedly due to some sort of accident where he lost his voice. The answer simply was to take him back to his beginnings, way back, to his childhood and a traumatic moment as he watched his father being murdered. It obviously affected him deeply, and as we cut to the adult Snake Eyes, we see he hasn’t forgotten and makes it a goal to find the person responsible. But beyond that, Golding and his friend Tommy aka Storm Shadow (Andrew Koji) get in a whole heap of trouble in Los Angeles, the first of many kickass action sequences heavy on martial arts moves that turn this G.I. Joe into something Jackie Chan might be comfortable in.
He’s not, but Golding and Koji make a great team, resulting in Snake Eyes actually saving Tommy’s life and then traveling to Japan — where, because of what he has done for the heir apparent of his clan known as the Akashikage, he is given an invitation to join. But first he must take on all the challenges required for entrance into the universe of the Ninja warrior, most notably a showdown with monstrous CGI snakes, a roll of the dice he survives nicely. Loved that sequence, and it is repeated in a different way in the film’s final acts to nicely break up some of the more traditional stuff.
Of course every movie like this is going to have its villains, and here it is those seeking to possess a blazing-red diamond-like rock that gives one the ability to wreak havoc and death just by holding it. Although at times at odds with each other, Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow need to retrieve it to save the day, but before we get there, we have an inordinate amount of violent confrontation they must endure.
The supporting cast offers up plenty of opportunity for that, including a number of female characters such as the shady villain Baroness (Spanish star Ursula Corbero), the experienced Scarlett (Samara Weaving) and Akiko (Haruka Abe). Peter Mensah is amusing as the Blind Master, while Iko Uwais shows his stuff as the Hard Master. Eri Ishida does nicely as Sen, matriarch of the Akashikage family, and oh-so-wise one. Takehiro Hira has his moments as yakuza Kenta, who has a past with Snake Eyes. It is all cartoonish in its own way but exciting for fans looking for a fresh direction from Hasbro, and it certainly ought to push a new line of toys, so isn’t that the point?
The screenplay is by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Joe Shrapnel & Anna Waterhouse. Director Robert Schwentke knows never to let up. Producers are Brian Goldner, Eric Howsam and Lorenzo di Bonaventura. Apparently it took the combined heft of Paramount, MGM and Skydance to get this off the ground, with Paramount releasing it Friday in theaters. Check out my video review with scenes from the film at the link above.
Do you plan to see Snake Eyes: G.I. Origins? Let us know what you think.