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Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins movie review – Henry Golding plays the warrior in tedious franchise reboot

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 22/7/2021
Henry Golding as the title character in a still from Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins. Henry Golding as the title character in a still from Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins.

2/5 stars

Serving as both a reboot of the existing film franchise and a reimagining of its title character, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins casts Malaysian-born star Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians) as the iconic masked warrior.

Set almost entirely in Japan, the film focuses on the character's ninja training with the Arashikage clan, his friendship and burgeoning rivalry with heir apparent Tommy (Andrew Koji), as well as his growing awareness of the underground war between terrorist group Cobra and the G.I. Joe task force.

Despite casting a number of competent martial artists to support Golding's first foray in the action genre, director Robert Schwentke delivers a sluggish and overlong ordeal that falls back hard on tired ethnic and cultural stereotypes at a time when the rest of Hollywood is fighting to advance Asian representation on screen.

Replay Video

The G.I. Joe media franchise was launched in the 1960s to promote Hasbro's line of military-themed action figures, and has since inspired comics, video games, cartoons, and a pair of star-studded live-action movies.

The silent but deadly commando Snake Eyes is one of the most enduringly popular characters, while his lack of discernible features and mysterious backstory are a gift to storytellers looking to create a new mythos for a character often touted as the most deadly ninja of all time. But this new iteration of the character has all the personality and charisma of a six-inch plastic doll.

In a woefully generic set-up that echoes Mortal Kombat and countless others, our young hero witnesses his father's murder before disappearing off-grid for 20 years. Re-emerging as Golding's MMA fighter-cum-drifter, "Snake Eyes" is soon recruited by the yakuza to infiltrate the Arashikage clan, in return for information about his father's killer. But this double life leaves him conflicted.

Lingering in generically Asian pagodas and backstreets, Snake Eyes is a tedious watch. Indonesian action star Iko Uwais, as Hardmaster, ruminates on loyalty and self-belief rather than dishing out bone-breaking action. Action sequences, when they do appear, are edited to the point of incoherence, while the woefully miscast Golding appears to actively avoid bringing personality to his character's blank slate.

Andrew Koji fares better, snarling down the lens like an unmuzzled Rottweiler as he transitions into arch-nemesis Storm Shadow, while the criminally underused Eri Ishida barely has time to flourish as the Arashikage's formidable matriarch.

Andrew Koji wearing a costume: Andrew Koji as Tommy/Storm Shadow in a still from Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins. © Provided by South China Morning Post Andrew Koji as Tommy/Storm Shadow in a still from Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins.

When Snake Eyes finally does introduce Cobra and the "Joes", it comes in the form of Ursula CorberO's Baroness and Samara Weaving's Scarlett, but their arrival proves too little, too late in a film that has already inflicted a deadly sleeper hold.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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