Published on July 23rd, 2021 | by Craig Silliphant


Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins

The third G.I. Joe movie is a reboot, an attempt at restarting a franchise based on Hasbro’s children’s toys that kept us entertained as kids.

When I was a young boy, we had two major brands of toys that captured our consciousness. Star Wars and G.I. Joe. Eventually, other things filled the action figure market; Transformers, He-Man, Super Powers, and knock offs like Go Bots. While I had some of those things, I stuck pretty close to those first two main franchises.

I don’t know if it was because of that childhood affinity for G.I. Joe or because I’ve been a Covid shut in itching to hit a theatre (or some combination of both), but I made a point of seeing Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins.

This is a franchise reboot; there were two G.I. Joe movies previously, one that was terrible and one that was okay. Now they’re obviously trying, like everyone else, to build a cinematic universe. They’re in a unique position to do this. Unlike Star Wars or Marvel/DC, G.I. Joe doesn’t have a lot of well-known history or depth of mythology. Sure, they had stories from comic books and cartoons (glorified toy commercials that I clamoured to watch every Saturday morning) but not a lot of things for fanboys to get up in arms about. It’s not a blank slate, but they have a lot of leeway to invent.

In the film, Henry Goulding does a great job playing Snake Eyes, as he tries to find the man who killed his father, meets some new friends in a tech-savvy ninja clan, and mixes it up with a terrorist organization or two.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t kick off a franchise with the same oomph that Iron Man did. It’s not terrible. It’s often a fun little action movie. However, it misses the mark a lot too.

There are high-energy martial arts sequences, set against beautiful backgrounds like Japanese forests or stylish rain-slicked rooftops with giant neon signs.

However, while characters betray each other in the movie, the biggest betrayal of all is the shaky camera work and choppy editing. Don’t get me wrong; some shaky cam would be fine. It can disorientate you and make the heart race in all the right ways like in the Bourne films. But in Snake Eyes it becomes almost impossible to appreciate the hard work and talent of the martial artists. You catch a few instances of spellbinding choreography here and there, but mostly you just see a melee of arms and legs and swords and you want to barf from motion sickness.

The writing is like being smacked in the mouth in The Way of the Ham Fist. While the story moves along quickly enough, it plays fast and loose with making sense. There’s bad dialogue, weird exposition dumps, and strange character motivations that change on a dime. Heck, without giving too much away, I walked away feeling like Snake Eyes was kind of the bad guy in the movie. And don’t get me started on those big snakes — more like C.G.I. Joe, amirite?

And now, watch as I contradict my point about the filmmakers having leeway to invent. I have to touch on the very idea of a Snake Eyes origin.

I am aware that they’ve given Snake Eyes origin stories before in several mediums. But I think the very idea of a Snake Eyes origin is iffy.

In this age of franchises, we tend to explore certain popular characters too deeply. Those characters that capture our attention because they carry a cloud of mystery around them that makes them so freakin’ cool. Then we learn too much. Wolverine was a berserker with no memory of where he came from or how he got an adamantium skeleton. We knew that Darth Vader had been a student of Obi-wans (and that he turned out to be Luke and Leia’s father, turned to the dark side), but he was just a scary, murderous dude in a suit. Even Hannibal Lector, who I now know pretty much everything about, was a serial killer who’s horrifying crimes were only hinted at. Heck, he’s only in Silence of the Lambs for about 16 minutes and Hopkins won an Oscar because the character was so cool and mysterious.

Snake Eyes had that same mystique when I was a kid. He was a ninja that we’d heard had trained with Storm Shadow. He had a cool timber wolf. You never heard his voice or even saw his face, almost Medusa-like, because he’d been disfigured in some kind of accident. He had an air of secrecy, moving like a faceless shadow through the adventures of your imagination. He was one of the coolest characters of 80s pop culture.

Now he’s handsome Henry Goulding, the ninja with the boyish charm. And I know his life story. Of course, they could take away his face and voice in a future movie (in some origin stories it happens on an early Joe mission). But they’ve taken away his mystique and once you’ve ripped open the action figure pack, you can’t glue it back together.

Okay, enough of that. It’s not lost on me that I’m diving pretty deep into a movie that’s based on a goofy army of children’s toys with vehicles that spat in the face of logic and characters like, ‘Ice Cream Soldier,’ and real-life Bears defensive lineman, William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry. (And is it just me or does Zap look like Michael Ironside?).

So, let me end on a positive note; I know it’s not saying much but it was probably the strongest G.I. Joe movie yet. Snake Eyes was a reasonably entertaining popcorn movie. With ninjas (another 80s obsession). It got me into a theatre with friends and it made me nostalgic for childhood adventures. G.I. Joe gave me countless hours of entertainment as a kid and I was happy to slip back into that world for a couple of hours.

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About the Author

is a D-level celebrity with delusions of grandeur. A writer, critic, creative director, editor, broadcaster, and occasional filmmaker, his thoughts have appeared on radio, television, in print, and on the web. He is a juror on the Polaris Music Prize and the Juno Awards. He loves Saskatoon. He has horrible night terrors and apocalyptic dreams.

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