Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins

DIGITAL REVIEW:

Paramount;
Action;
Box Office $28.14 million;
$19.99 VOD, $24.99 Digital Purchase;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of strong violence and brief strong language.
Stars Henry Golding, Andrew Koji, Ursula Corbero, Samara Weaving, Haruka Abe, Takehiro Hira, Iko Uwais, Peter Mensah.

Fans of “G.I. Joe” know four traits about Snake Eyes, the mysterious black-clad commando of the team, that tend to stay consistent throughout the various iterations of the lore: He doesn’t talk, he wears a mask because he’s disfigured, he was an American soldier before joining G.I. Joe, and he trained in martial arts with the Arashikage ninja clan alongside Storm Shadow, who would go on to join Cobra.

This prequel look at Snake Eyes’ origins doesn’t bother with three of them and instead focuses solely on the ninja stuff.

What we do get is enough of a departure from established lore that it’s hard to tell who exactly this movie is for. Fans won’t be interested in a Snake Eyes movie in which he talks and doesn’t wear a mask, and for mainstream audience the movie plays more like a generic fantasy about a ninja family feud. References to the counter-terrorist team G.I. Joe fighting the global terror group Cobra are at least shoehorned in to connect it to the franchise’s main storyline.

Another common trait in previous depictions of Snake Eyes in comic books, cartoons and the earlier “Joe” movies was that he was a white serviceman who took up with the Arashikage clan, making for something of a cultural dichotomy (not unlike The Karate Kid).

It’s a heck of a legacy for a character that started off as an action figure molded in pure black as a cost-saving measure to round out the first wave of a collection of soldiers in the early 1980s.

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But, fearful of any hints of cultural appropriation in these hyper-sensitive times, in this movie he’s played by Henry Golding, who is half Asian (Malaysian on his mother’s side, British on his father’s). Snake Eyes is presented as the son of a spy who is murdered, taking his name from a set of loaded dice rolled by his father’s killer to determine his fate.

Growing up seeking revenge, Snake Eyes is recruited into the Yakuza by Kenta (Takehiro Hira). In a scene reminiscent of Batman Begins, Kenta orders Snake Eyes to kill a man caught spying on the Yakuza, but Snake Eyes instead spares his life and helps him escape. That man, Tommy (Andrew Koji), is the heir to the leadership of the Arashikage clan, and also the cousin of Kenta, who was cast out by the clan and seeks revenge of his own.

Tommy welcomes Snake Eyes into the clan and trains him in the ways of the ninja. The clan’s mission is to guard an ancient magical stone that can burn people with the power of thought, a weapon that Kenta wants to get his hands on so much that he’s aligned with the Cobra agent the Baroness (Ursula Corbero). She’s being tracked by “G.I. Joe” trooper Scarlett (Samara Weaving), this providing Snake Eyes a connection to his future team.

The plot turns on a series of betrayals and double crosses, and there’s plenty of action to make this a decent run-of-the-mill martial arts movie. But with the “G.I. Joe” label slapped on, the character at the center of it doesn’t feel much like the Snake Eyes fans know.

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Among the extras included with the digital version of the film, and which also will be available with the future disc release, are five deleted scenes that run about 30 seconds each — too short to have much impact.

There are also four featurettes: the nine-and-a-half-minute “Enter Snake Eyes,” a look at the making of the film; “A Deadly Ensemble,” about the cast and the characters they play; a seven minute look at the Arashikage clan; and a three-minute short film about the history of Snake Eyes’ sword, Morning Light. Interwoven throughout is an interview with Larry Hama, the comic book writer who created the original storylines for most of the characters.

Snake Eyes arrives on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Oct. 19.

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