Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is now available 4K UHD Blu-ray, Standard Blu-ray, and VOD home video formats. Images in this review are for illustration only and do not represent the 4K video for this release.
My cohort Ed Travis reviewed Snake Eyes for its initial theatrical release and had some really interesting viewpoints about the film and where it fits with his childhood nostalgia and lifelong appreciation for the franchise and its most beloved character.
Me? I don’t have any baggage. As far as I’m concerned this is a toy franchise like Transformers or Masters of the Universe and I’m not invested in any particular interpretation of these characters, nor offended by reinterpretations of them. I’ve watched the previous live action movies and more or less enjoyed them (the first one’s kind of obnoxiously silly fun, while the second was a more enjoyable action foray with The Rock and Bruce Willis getting into the mix), and beyond taking in a few cartoons as a kid that’s about as far as my experience goes. What I’m looking for is a good film with a meaningful story, solid characters, competent action, and a launching point for a hero who is being molded into what will be for many a familiar character. And on those counts, Snake Eyes mostly delivers.
The version of Snake Eyes generally known to fans is a fully masked and silent character, which makes him difficult to develop and characterize in traditional movie terms. An origin story makes perfect sense, preceding and possibly explaining whatever events led to his mute state, while also giving him a (literal) voice.
As one would hope with an origin story, Snake Eyes doesn’t allow its title character to arrive fully formed. Henry Golding plays our protagonist, a young man fueled by vengeance for the murder of his father when he was a child. Taking on a name derived from that fateful encounter, the orphaned Snake Eyes has lived off the grid and molds himself into a formidable fighter, prone to bad decisions. He eventually takes up with a Yakuza organization led by the villainous Kenta. But when tasked to kill a spy named Tommy (Andrew Koji), he refuses and the pair escape together, offering him a second chance as Tommy reveals his ninja clan heritage and invites Snake to join their family organization, the Arashikage.
The balance of this film plays out with Snake Eyes’ conscientious side and desire for a sense of purpose and belonging, warring with his quest for vengeance at any cost — even betraying his new family. Golding is a capable actor who effectively embodies the character who makes some very bad choices, giving a lot more depth to what’s often been a very surface-level character. Koji is perhaps even better as blood brother Tommy, who (going by established G.I. Joe canon) is destined to become his nemesis, Storm Shadow.
On the action side, there are some cool setpieces including some gang brawls and street fights, a series of initiation challenges, a motorcycle chase, and a multi-faction finale with unlikely allies that mixes military, martial, and mystic arts.
Iko Uwais, the star of The Raid films, features as one of the Arashikage elders, “Hard Master”, but sadly doesn’t get a lot of screen action. He’s a minor character in the context of the film, but it feels like a bit of a shame to feature one of the world’s top martial artists and not make a showcase of his talents. Peter Mensah, who has never been bad in anything, also features as “Blind Master” — a reductive name for an immensely cool character who makes up for his lack of sight with tremendous insight. He feels like a bit of a nod to Zatoichi.
The film also introduces some elements of mysticism and magic which detract a bit from its grounded approach, but make sense within the larger context of what’s derived from a cartoon universe. The narrative plays on the fringes of the “G.I. Joe” world, with encounters with both G.I. Joe and COBRA which become more prominent as the details of the larger conflicts become clarified, with familiar characters Scarlett (Samara Weaving) and Baroness (Úrsula Corberó) popping in for the finale and reminding us there’s a bigger world about to open up — a launching point for this new iteration of the franchise.
Considering the cheesy source material, this is a pretty grounded take on this universe. As with prior live action G.I. Joe movies, it’s a PG-13 affair, which feels like a weird compromise. Personally I think this world would play best by embracing that it’s a kids’ franchise rather than trying to be cool and adult — G.I. Joe is neither. The action tries to go hard while also being weirdly bloodless, and there’s even a stray F-bomb which just feels unnecessary.
That said, despite such reservations I liked the movie. Quite a lot, in fact. I just think G.I. Joe is inherently a property that should be made for kids — not 80s kids.
Notably, this edition ties into a trend which is becoming more prominent. The 4K disc includes extras on-disc rather than pooped off to a separate 1080 Blu-ray; moreover the package does not include a Blu-ray copy. A digital copy (iTunes/Vudu) is also included. I’m in favor of on-disc extras and this seems an elegant solution for maximizing both cost savings and portability, and I’m in favor of it. My copy came with a slipcover.
Special Features and Extras
- Morning Light: A Weapon with Stories to Tell
— highlighting the storied history of Snake Eyes’ centuries-old sword
- Deleted Scenes
- Enter SNAKE EYES
- A Deadly Ensemble
— character profiles
— featurettr about the Arashikage, the ninja clan central to this film’s events