Review: Choppy GI Joe origin tale 'Snake Eyes' lacks imagination
Courtesy of Paramount
Another case of a franchise deprived studio mining the IP vaults for any chance to lure eyeballs, Paramount’s stylish but unimaginative “Snake Eyes” seeks to expand a cinematic universe literally nobody was asking for. On the heels of two forgettable live action titles: “Rise of Cobra” and “Retaliation,” Robert Schwentke’s “Snake Eyes” is chopped full of CGI and bloodless PG13 carnage, blending homages of Japanese cinema with the grandiose of western culture stereotypes. Henry Goulding (of “Crazy Rich Asians” notoriety) gets mileage playing the titular character from a screenplay more interested in setting up the next installment than it is about his motivations. What little fanbase remains from the GI Joe hive remains to be seen and even then, “Snake Eyes” was clearly made with the intent of lucrative Chinese box office dollars and not narrative integrity.
A slight improvement over the previous “GI Joe” entries if only by default, Schwentke, along with screenwriters Evan Spiliotopoulos, Joe Shrapnel, and Anna Waterhouse, stage a basic origin tale that’s both a prequel and a spinoff which answers every fan’s most burning question: How did Snake Eyes receive his name? Such trivial knowledge is answered within the first ten minutes and you almost wish the actors would wink at the camera. Driven by a vengeful spirit (aren’t they all?) after the murder of his father, “Snake Eyes” charts the Joe’s residential ninja as he become hellbent on taking down the man responsible. We don’t understand or necessarily get inside the troubled mindset of Snake Eyes (Goulding) prior to his recruitment for a covert, undercover assignment. His backstory is hilariously explained in Morpheus levels of third person: “We could use a man like you” or “We’ve been watching for quite some time.”
He’s willing to set aside morals and become a double agent for the Cobra syndicate who claim to have Dad's killer as a reward. He’ll infiltrate the highly secluded Arashikage clan at the behest of Kenta (Takehiro Hira), a once highly regarded warrior now determined to end the group’s reign. The primary plot hangs on a giant MacGuffin, one prized magical jewel equipped with God-like capabilities: like blowing stuff up for the sake of, well, blowing stuff up. That “Snake Eyes” relies too heavily on this silly, nameless artifact undercuts Snake Eyes eventual ascension to the kick-ass ninja he will become (sorry fans, but we don’t actually see the signature outfit until just before the closing credits despite what the trailers show). But Snake Eyes isn’t the only casualty, all the characters are written with razor thin margins (Samara Weaving briefly shows up playing a Joe operative for the sole purpose of letting audiences know she’s one of the good guys) and the hokey dialogue, not to mention a sequence involving giant, digitized anaconda’s, doesn’t give this stacked international cast the tools to rise above nonsense.
A neon-coated, rain drenched back alley brawl is the highlight, and Goulding brings the smolder, eliciting rare movie star charm who, in the nineties, could probably sustain a franchise of this caliber. But when he’s standing next to renowned Martial Arts veterans like Andrew Koji, Peter Mensah and Iko Uwais, his presence dwindles. Though we can hear every crack, break, and slug for miles, “Snake Eyes” fails to land several punches when you need it the most. Beyond the kicks and jiu jitsu leaves a character in desperate need of nurturing. Someone who is going to roll the dice and divvy out the punches, but not get lost in their own story.
SNAKE EYES opens in theaters Friday, July 23rd