Movies / Movie Reviews

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins


By Hervé St-Louis
July 23, 2021 - 08:32

A runaway loner is recruited by a reclusive ninja clan to help them in their fight against the yakuza and Cobra, a terrorist organization. Snake Eyes, the runaway is trained in the way of the Arashikage ninja clan. Can Snake Eyes and his new clan the Arashikage take on Cobra and the yakuza?

This review is coming from a fan of the G.I. Joe franchise who grew up with the toys, the cartoon, and the comics. I know these characters inside out and as you can see on this site, I have a ton of G.I. Joe action figures. My old collection is still in my folks’ basement! This movie is a complete reboot of the G.I. Joe franchise, including Snake Eyes’s character. There are major changes with the character that are deeper than changing his race from a blond blue-eye guy with a scar to an Asian who is not mute. Paramount and Hasbro are attempting to create a cinematic universe for the G.I Joe franchise and thus Snake Eyes was changed to be marketable for a new audience and a new generation who is not familiar with him. It’s a gamble.

The studios cannot create a new cinematic universe with a mute guy who wears a mask permanently because his face is badly scarred. Snake Eyes is the most popular character of the G.I. Joe franchise, thus actor Henry Golding here is playing a role in this new cinematic universe that resembles Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man or Chris Evans’ Captain America. They need a pretty and convincing star to push through this new franchise and that meant making significant changes to the character so they could make more movies with him. A spoiler follows in the next paragraph. Skip it to continue the review.


I was expecting Snake Eyes to lose his voice and be scarred in this movie. I also did not expect the set up of a second Snake Eyes movie. This is what is happening here and the character arc with Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow is just beginning. Although I am rooting for this franchise, I am disappointed that some of the stock traits of Snake Eyes did not make it at the end of the film. Clearly, the movie Snake Eyes is charting its own path. However, to be fair, in the original 1980s comics, Snake Eyes lost his voice and suffered scarring during his first mission with the Joes, not while he was training with the Arashikage as was done in other versions of the story. If the producers of the film follow the original comic timeline, can we fault them? They get a few more outings with Golding before covering his face.

Spoiler ended

Because the studios are crafting a new universe, they were mindful to create a strong background for some of the characters. Two of them stole the show. Úrsula Corberó’s Baroness and Andrew Koji’s Storm Shadow. Let me start with Corberó. She was electric and humorous. I can see the snappy European anarchist in her already and how she can play men against one another. Her major flaw was not being able to walk normally on those ridiculously high high heels, but that’s forgiven. She’s that good.

I must mention that when explaining her background, Scarlett (Samara Weaving) mentioned that the Baroness had been responsible for derailing a passenger train with 200 people. For this old G.I. Joe fan, this was gravy. In the first issue of G.I. Joe, the Baroness is shown attacking a moving train to kidnap a scientist. That the crew added this means that they have explored the characters’ histories and their background. Many so-called fans will clamour that this is not the G.I. Joe that they knew. This one reference to the train heist is proof that this is not the case. Of course, Larry Hama, G.I. Joe’s backstory creator was involved as a consultant. He wrote the story of the train heist way back in 1982, almost 40 years ago!

Andrew Koji showed a lot of emotion and angst in this story. His eventual fall from disgrace (come on, you know this had to happen, this is not a spoiler) is a poignant moment in the film. There is sense of tragedy with the character as we know that much like Green Lantern’s Sinestro, he will fall from grace and become a villain. We know that this inevitably is related to Snake Eyes. That part of the movie was delivered.

As an aside, let me clarify many of the erroneous myths that concern Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow’s stormy relationship across media. Many fans, remembering the G.I. Joe Renegade cartoon series and the first movies, claim that if Snake Eyes became a member of the Arashikage as a youth and because he excelled, caused the fall of a jealous Storm Shadow. They see any other take as erroneous. However, in Larry Hama’s comics, which are the real word on this universe, Tommy Arashikage invited Snake Eyes to his clan after both served in Vietnam and that the latter had lost his family and was aimless. Thus, Snake Eyes joined the Arashikage as an adult and not as a child. There, one more erroneous myth busted. The film follows Hama’s script well, except it replaces Vietnam with the yakuza.

In this cinematic universe, Cobra has been active for decades. Ditto G.I. Joe. Scarlett is a major, which makes way more sense, and General Colton, the original G.I. Joe is the leader of the team, not General Hawk. There is potential for films set in other decades, exploring older characters. This is a great set up. Speaking of Scarlett, her presence in the movie is limited although there is a good fight scene with her. Weaving portrays her well and really looks like the Real American Hero Scarlett!

This movie is designed as a character arc for Snake Eyes. People expecting the heroic, break-dancing ninja will be disappointed. This Snake Eyes is flawed. He is more flawed than the average marvel character! This worries me a bit as when this was done to Superman in the Man of Steel film, it made the character irredeemable for many. Snake Eyes has the potential to be equally irredeemable here.

The action was good although Snake Eyes, Akiko, and Storm Shadow are too strong when dealing with thugs and other bad guys. They only struggled against villain Kenta. There are a few shot that attempt the single shot type of action as in the first season of Netflix’s Daredevil live action series. It was at time difficult to perceive what was happening because some of the action scenes were shot as close shots, almost like a shooter video game.

The design of the set and the neon lights during the film and the end credits were fabulous. Snake Eyes has his own visual signature thanks to them, and it reminds me of classic Asian urban martial arts films. Well, that’s what Snake Eyes is, with a dash of worldly threat and foreshadowing, in the form of Cobra and G.I. Joe. Oddly, the end credit scene was revealed in one of the trailers. I don’t know why that was done. It’s a bit stupid to reveal your end credit scene in a trailer. The trailers gave away too much of the film. If you want to watch it with a fresh eye, you may want to skip all of the trailers.

There are a few fantasy elements, and I won’t complain about them as this is G.I. Joe. G.I. Joe has always had fantasy and science fiction. Another thing that G.I. Joe has always had are cool vehicles and gadgets. So, there weren’t many gadgets in this film but there were cool motorcycles that Hasbro, of course turned into toys! One thing that I need to mention is the special attention that the studios gave to movie goers who took a chance and went to see the movie in theatres. This is a special nod and gesture that is appreciated.

I think that Snake Eyes is re-imagining G.I. Joe for a new generation and a new audience and that given the changes done to the main character, the studios have a solid base to draw upon. Yes, Snake Eyes is not a blond, blue-eye dude anymore, but he also is not a Vietnam veteran. Speaking of veterans, Iron Man’s origin was also moved away from Vietnam and brought into Afghanistan. I don’t recall anyone complaining about that. Henry Golding sells me on Snake Eyes. No, he is not the brooding silent warrior that we all know. How could he be? He is not even the best fighter in this film. Neither is Storm Shadow who kept losing to Kenta, the major villain.

The purpose of this film is to start a successful franchise, not absolutely pander to hardcore fans like me. Well, it has gained my attention and I really liked the movie even though there were several updates to the core material. That was done to make the franchise interesting to people who never were exposed to G.I. Joe, while being extremely positive for women, and racialized minorities. I cannot wait to see how Shang Shi which threads in much the same territory does and is perceived. If the usual crowd who loves everything Marvel does dislikes Snake Eyes, then this will prove that it’s more a branding issue than about the quality of the film. One thing for sure, while both action figures series are made by Hasbro, the G.I. Joe ones are the coolest and the best of the bunch. Snake Eyes Origins, according to this long-time fan who knows everything about these characters is sold. It’s a good franchise starter.

Rating: 7 /10

Last Updated: August 31, 2023 - 08:12

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