I don’t care about the GI Joe brand. I wasn’t an ‘80s kid and therefore I have no nostalgia for it as an entertainment franchise. I’d previously tried watching the first of the two big blockbuster GI Joe films and I didn’t get halfway through it without getting immensely bored. My only interest in this film came from the mild novelty that this origin movie for a random member of the classic cartoon was being used to rush a mid-budget ninja movie into theaters. Honestly, that sounded kinda fun!
Then the reviews dropped for Snake Eyes and they absolutely shredded the film apart. I barely managed to drag myself to the theater to see it in the first place. What was the point if I was just gonna subject my body to two hours of tedium?
But I had six hours to kill this Saturday and I convinced myself to go see a movie… and lord forbid I actually see the new Shayamlan film…
It was to my surprise then that I actually mildly enjoyed Snake Eyes as a film. I couldn’t tell you why. The story is rushed and cliched. The production is clearly just a cynical corporate cash grab to rush a vaguely Asian-themed action film into theaters that could compete against Disney’s Shang-Chi* AND serve as a back door pilot to relaunching the GI Joe franchise with elements rip-off from Avengers: Infinity War.
*(That’s not to conflate Japanese and Chinese films together and all Asian cinema as the same thing but I wouldn’t put it past some producer at Paramount to take one look at a Kung fu movie coming out and think “What do we have that’s vaguely similar?”)
Even as an action movie, Snake Eyes is pretty awful. It’s drowning in the miasma of early 2010s style shakey-cam action, quick cuts and CGI that ruined mainstream Hollywood action films for the better part of half a decade (IE Alex Cross, Taken 3). It also doesn’t help that the PG-13 action negates a lot of the cool ninja combat so we don’t even get much blood or cool uses of weapons.
And yet, I’m not mad at it. The serviceable TNT-movie-of-the-week Ninja movie I watched was mildly engaging. Maybe it’s just the moderate focus on character writing and it’s moderately clever exploration of ninja ethics but it was at least elevated from the total schlock it could’ve been.
As I said, the film is the nominal origin for the character of Snake Eyes. When we meet him, he’s a nameless child whose father is assassinated, leaving him a homeless drifter. After developing a reputation as a skilled street fighter, he’s drawn into a war between a secretive ninja clan and a yakuza mob boss after he discovers he may be able to track down his father’s killer.
What follows is your normal brand of melodrama, anti-hero angst, secret agendas, backstabs, long soliloquies about honor and duty and basically anything else you’d expect from a ninja movie. It was all done better in James Mangold’s The Wolverine but the characterization is weirdly on point 2/3rds of the time.
Naturally, things get a bit samey towards the end with the big chaotic Bayhem ending with supernatural creatures, magic rocks and huge character reveals. Cobra also shows up relatively late in the film to remind the audience they’re watching a GI Joe movie and setup how these characters will converge in the BIG TEAMUP MOVIE.
By then though, there’s a moderate amount of character investment. The movie doesn’t a good job of giving Snake Eyes a sense of being conflicted between his adoptive clan and his inner desire to track his fathers killer which makes his morally grey decision making feel somewhat earned. By the end, you get the emotional hatred between all the characters that’s festered.
Again, Snake Eyes is nothing special. It’s probably overall a detriment insofar as it proliferates some of the dumbest and most nakedly consumeristic tendencies in mainstream Hollywood. I can’t say I hated it though and considering I mostly feel antipathy towards 90% of blockbusters, maybe that’s a sign that it almost works.