By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Trying to rejuvenate interest in a more than a half century old toy line can be tough. Not even Snake-Eyes–the most popular character–can save the franchise. He’s not even a G.I. Joe in the self-titled Origins film. It may be the first in a series which redefines key characters, and giving them a history to make them edgier than the typical cartoon portrayal.
Just where Snake-Eyes (Henry Golding) learned martial arts is still a mystery. This movie shows him as a diamond in the rough and this actor certainly knows how to play that up. There’s a lot of emotional baggage he has to shed before he can be that Ultimate Ninja. He first has to learn the way of bushido, and perhaps his heritage too. The latter is quickly revealed, but I hoped for more. I find the story really odd since it barely scratches the surface in what this individual knows as honour.
The origin of Snake-Eyes name is rather dumb and his desire for revenge–to murder the man who killed his father–keeps him going for much of the film, and that’s hardly heroic. His redemption isn’t even all that inspiring as his descent to the underworld to face his fears is muddled up with him fighting the villain in this film, Hard Master (Iko Uwais). This bad guy wants a magical crystal which the Arashikage clan guards. Whoever wields the red meteorite can control fire at will. It may also power the M.A.S.S. device (from the original toon) that I suspect the terrorist organization Cobra wants to use it for.
At some point of this ronin’s journey, this warrior will become a mute and/or disfigured to make him decide to keep his signature armour on, and that’s when G.I. Joe will recruit him. Scarlett (Samara Weaving) represents the good guys and gives a few lines about who they are. Her presence is very minimal. The Baroness (Úrsula Corberó) is far more interesting as she is the administrator. Giving the signature femme fatale punk rock look is fitting, and I can get behind this reinvention.
Unlike the previous films that showed the two teams squaring off, the campy aspect is played down and we’re given a realistic look at what the teams would be like in this day and age. Director Robert Schwentke gave us a movie that combines Wuxia and gangsters. The combination of fights, a mandatory car chase and prerequisite duel on a moving vehicle make up this paint-by-numbers narrative. I thought I was watching X-Men Origins: Wolverine all over again.
If more movies get made, I suspect it’ll be a trilogy. Cobra wants that crystal because it can power a world devastator. I’d enjoy a live-action take of The M.A.S.S. Device (This series arc can be viewed on YouTube) where the stakes are high. The question is if the studios and Hasbro can realize it when this film is currently not doing very well in the box office.
3 Stars out of 5