Snake Eyes: GI Joe Origins it’s a silly movie with a silly name based on a silly idea. Origins of GI Joe? Really? Every child fan of G.I. Joe, the seedy old cartoon series about a blah blah blah elite force battling a group of villains of anyone, has bills to pay and endless fast races of old Nintendo games to watch. Who in the world was clamoring to learn the deep backstory of a 1980s Hasbro cartoon for sugar-confused six-year-olds who had just come back from school and desperate to see the quasi-militarized good guys from Comics fight the evil international terrorist fools bent on unspecific world domination? This was a dingbat plot, okay, a successful dingbat’s plan: sell tiny plastic Barbie dolls with guns to American elementary school kids, fercryinoutloud, not a morally complex and imaginatively rich adult fantasy epic meant to sell something culturally important, like subscriptions to the streaming service. Anyway.
So it’s silly. But I have to admit: it’s affably silly, pleasantly stupid, the kind of movie that may not know much but knows enough not to ask too much of you, except you enjoy some great sword fights and cooler motorcycles. Plus there are tough siblings with pent-up feelings, giant snakes, and a mystical fire talisman and, lest you think you’ve had enough, even more motorcycles and swords, some of which are great.
The dialogue ranges from witty jokes to exhibition dumps to contentless koans, the kind of poetic pseudo-philosophy that seems to mean everything, because it means nothing. In the space of about five minutes, I wrote the following quotes in my notebook: “If your heart is pure, our secrets will be revealed to you.” “You have that look that you sometimes have, a shadow before a storm.” “A victory without honor is not a victory at all.” Sadly, very little was revealed to me in this film. Maybe my heart is not pure?
This is the kind of movie where you can tell a lot just by the font sizes in the logo. “Snake Eyes” is depicted in a big, menacing, cold red, while “GI Joe Origins” is written in lowercase letters at the bottom. And for the first hour, you’d hardly know it was a GI Joe movie – instead, it’s a half-competent martial arts movie, the kind of movie where most conflicts are resolved with swords and jump kicks. . The action sequences are not very good, but the best ones have a playful energy; one of the first sequences ends with our hero, Snake Eyes (Henry Golding), and his battle partner / feeling brother, Tommy Arashikage (Andrew Koji), in the cab of a cargo truck, surrounded by more than a dozen swords, all of which have hardly been overlooked. It’s a fun beat and the movie could have used more of them.
Sadly, as elements of GI Joe creep in during the second half, the movie becomes more of a mainstream blockbuster, a gizmo ninja melodrama with boring stakes and characters you might only be interested in if (and I’m just hypothesizing here) You spent hours and hours as a child during the Reagan era imagining the psychologically sophisticated inner lives of cheap plastic gun-Barbies. (I’m not saying that the iterations of the 1980s G.I. Joe Y Transformers taught a generation of children the theory of mind. But not me not saying it either.)
And even people who have fond memories of the Cobra Commander doll by mail and its Cobra Missile Command Headquarters—to Exclusive to Sears!—You probably won’t find much to love in the film’s description of the Joes, who are hastily described as “a global elite network against terrorism” and “the good guys” and then randomly integrated into the swords-and- brothers feelings movie.
That’s not the problem Snake Eyes departs from the classic G.I. Joe story, which was mostly a hodgepodge of militarized comic book tropes designed for 8-year-olds to scold their parents into trudging to the mall to buy Sears exclusives. It’s just that he doesn’t have much to replace him with, except a bunch of guys grunting platitudes about loyalty, clan, and honor. Alright alright i get it it’s about the family I mean the clan. Let’s go to the parts with the motorcycles, swords and giant snakes.
Did I mention that snakes are psychic? Because they are psychic.
Those parts range from pretty good to tolerable, and they’re certainly better than similar sequences from earlier this year in Mortal Kombat, another movie based on a decades-old pop culture property – in that case, a video game from the early 1990s – that has survived despite somehow having too much plot and not enough.
Of course, there have already been two live-action GI Joe movies, both of which were built more like generic summer action blockbusters. If nothing else, Snake Eyes deserves some credit for taking an old pop culture franchise and trying to do something new with it. But the story it tells is too confusing, the characters too confused to matter. I think I’m going to need a backstory here.