Paramount Pictures has had an arduous run with its licensed Hasbro films. Transformers started off well enough, but by the second film, the franchise lost critical success, with the box office in rapid decline in the last two films. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra gave the franchise a rough start, but it received a burst of adrenaline when Dwayne Johnson joined the second film. Now, Paramount has taken the route everyone but movie executives dread, by releasing a G.I. Joe prequel focused on Snake Eyes. The disappointment continues in our full review of Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins.
Back in the 90s, there was a bevy of action film releases. At the time they were enjoyable enough, but very few have aged well. Unfortunately, there are still a few lackluster creative teams that go back to the well of these 90s action movies, but the bar has been raised significantly, and these 90s retreads just feel generic and stale.
Snake Eyes has plenty of problems, but all of them begin with Paramount’s continued efforts to put a license and one big name above actually hiring a talented creative team. With the first G.I. Joe film, it was the license plus Channing Tatum (who was big at the time). The second film relied heavily on the charismatic Dwayne Johnson. This time around it’s Henry Golding. Both of the previous G.I. Joe films had a subpar critical reception, and middling box office returns. That trend almost certainly continues with Snake Eyes.
The movie follows Snake Eyes as he watches his father die and lives most of his life on the run and in hiding. When he’s discovered by Yakuza boss Kenta (Takehiro Hira), he is quickly introduced to the world of Storm Shadow (Andrew Koji) and G.I. Joe. The story has very little in common with the character’s origins in comics and cartoons, but that’s par for the course with Paramount Hasbro films at this point.
Paramount chose Robert Schwentke to direct Snake Eyes. He’s handled such films as the easily forgotten Divergent series, and the fun action flick, RED. While not a particularly inspired choice, Schwentke probably could have delivered a decent film if he was working off a solid script. Unfortunately, Paramount went the cheap route with a writing team best known for straight-to-DVD Disney sequels, Hercules (2014), and Charlie’s Angels (2019). Right from the beginning, the cards were stacked against Snake Eyes.
A less than stellar creative team aside, Paramount was clearly relying on Henry Golding to propel the film as the title character. Rising to stardom in Crazy Rich Asians, Golding has had a rough run since. He had a fun role in The Gentleman and showed some range in A Simple Favor, but he phoned it in for Snake Eyes (or simply isn’t meant to be an action star). His performance is wooden at best, as he lacks the emotional range to elevate the poorly written script.
Golding is joined by a handful of other cast members with a mostly underwhelming filmography. The Blind Master (Peter Mensah) and Scarlett (Samara Weaving) are the best of the bunch (with an honorable mention going to Andrew Koji as Storm Shadow), but neither receives much screen time. Scarlett has an exciting introduction, but the character quickly loses that spark as the movie progresses and the writing gets worse and worse.
Take a below-average script, hand it off to a mid-tier director, and hope a rising star can carry the film. That seems to be the M.O. for Paramount. It didn’t work with most of the Transformers films, it was hit or miss with the last few Star Trek movies, and it continues to miss the mark with G.I. Joe.
One might think that the action sequences in G.I. Joe would at least be able to keep the movie afloat. Unfortunately, rapid cuts in editing and a shaky-cam filming approach make most of the fights and action sequences difficult to follow. G.I. Joe cartoons and comics are well-known for advanced weaponry and cool vehicles, almost none of which can be found in this film.
Even fans of the Snake Eyes character have little to look forward to. While most can overlook the ethic change (Snake Eyes was originally Caucasian), the origin of the character is a broad departure from what fans have seen in other mediums. And while Marvel has proved time and again that you can stray from the source material if you stay true to the character, unfortunately, Snake Eyes can’t even do that right.
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins feels like a generic 90s action movie. Remove the handful of G.I. Joe references and it would be extremely difficult to tell this was a Snake Eyes origin story. Paramount has at least one more G.I. Joe film in development with the same writing team. Perhaps the studio will bring in better creative talent if Snake Eyes bombs at the box office, but we won’t hold our breath.
About Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins
Synopsis: A G.I. Joe spin-off centered around the character of Snake Eyes.
Director: Robert Schwentke
Writers: Evan Spiliotopoulos, Joe Shrapnel, Anna Waterhouse
Starring: Henry Golding, Andrew Koji, Haruka Abe, Samara Weaving
Runtime: 2 Hours, 1 Minute
Bryan Dawson has been writing professionally since the age of 13. He started his career as a video game writer and has since worked for Random House, Prima Games, DirecTV, IGN, AOL, the British Government, and various other organizations. For GNN, Bryan taps into his passion for movies.