*. I’ll start off with a paradox. Snake Eyes is one of those movies that makes you wonder why they bothered to make it, even as it’s perfectly clear why they made it.
*. Why is the fact that this movie exists so obvious? Because it takes a well- and affectionately-known brand and sticks it into a popular genre formula. Basically it’s a superhero movie, with lots of action and . . . well, not much else. But that’s what audiences seemed to want.
*. So why is it so hard to figure out why they bothered making it? Because everything they were trying to do here was being done or had been done already, and done better. A night fight on a highway between the hero and a bunch of goons on motorbikes with guns and swords? That was John Wick 3: Parabellum. Snake Eyes came out a couple of years later, and though I don’t think it was ripping John Wick off, Parabellum did it so much better it makes the scene here kind of pointless, especially since they were going for the same audience.
*. Add in the fact that they couldn’t show any blood or real violence because they wanted a PG-13 rating (G. I. Joe is a wholesome all-American hero), and the fact that the almost entirely Asian cast is low wattage, and you get the feeling you’re being seriously shortchanged. This despite the fact that they didn’t skimp on the production, giving the film a $100 million budget.
*. The plot is the usual crap. Henry Golding plays Snake Eyes. Really, that’s all the name he has. Friends call him Snake. When he’s a kid he sees his dad being killed by gangsters and he swears revenge. All grown up, he infiltrates a yakuza family because he sees this as a way of tracking down his dad’s killer. Except he’s being used by a bad yakuza gang to steal a sacred magic power stone called the Jewel of the Sun from a good yakuza gang that Snake can only become a member of after passing three tests set by the family’s resident ninja masters . . .
*. I’m not even going to bother typing any more of this hooey. You’ve probably recognized all the usual plot points. As for action, basically there’s a lot of swordfighting because yakuza gangsters in Joeworld are all samurais. Bloodless swordfighting, by the way. In any event, I didn’t think the action was original, or interesting, or even very well done. In fact, it’s all very expensive looking and dull, like most late-Marvel efforts. Robert Schwentke directs, and it may have made more sense to just give the reins to a stunt coordinator. I get the sense that Schwentke might have thought he had a story to tell here, along the lines of Marvel meets Infernal Affairs, but if he did then he was badly mistaken.
*. There’s also a pit filled with giant anacondas. I kept wondering what they were feeding these guys. A herd of cattle a day? Or were they magic snakes that didn’t need to eat? This was the single question that I spent most of my time thinking about while I was watching this movie.
*. There’s just nothing good to report here. Golding is a capable, charismatic actor but he’s miscast here. He’s charming without being dangerous. Andrew Koji plays “Tommy,” who apparently is going to turn into someone called Storm Shadow if the series continues, which it likely won’t. Samara Weaving plays Joe Team warrior Black Widow. Just kidding! Her character’s name is Scarlett O’Hara. Not kidding! Because she has red hair! Úrsula Corberó has to totter about on six-inch stiletto heels as the villainous Baroness Ana DeCobray. She works for the generic terrorist organization Cobra, naturally. Did I say this was a movie based on action figures and comic books? You were expecting characters with real names?
*. I guess I’m not the target audience. I never had G. I. Joe action figures when I was a kid, never watched the Saturday morning cartoons in the 1980s, never read the comic books, and indeed never saw the two previous films in this franchise: The Rise of Cobra (2009) and Retaliation (2013). From what I understand this was to be a reboot, and as an origin story it didn’t require my doing any background work anyway, so I don’t think I missed much. Seeing as it bombed there is some doubt as to whether they are going to do any follow-ups. Or maybe they’ll just have another reboot. Why? Why not? I don’t know.