Who in the World Wanted Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins?

A dumb movie with a dumb name based on a dumb idea.


Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is a dumb movie with a dumb name based on a dumb idea. G.I. Joe Origins? Really? Every child fan of G.I. Joe, the crappy old cartoon series about an elite force of blah blah blahs fighting a villainous group of whoever the hell now, has bills to pay and endless speedruns of old Nintendo games to watch. Who in the world was crying out to learn the deep backstory of a 1980s Hasbro cartoon for sugar-addled six-year-old boys just home from school and desperate to watch quasi-militarized comic-booky good guys fight goofy international terrorist baddies hellbent on non-specific world domination? This was a dingbat plot—okay, a successful dingbat plot—to sell tiny plastic Barbie dolls with guns to American elementary school boys, fercryinoutloud, not a richly imagined, morally complex fantasy epic for adults meant to sell something culturally important, like streaming service subscriptions. Anyway.

So it's dumb. But I have to admit: It's affably dumb, pleasantly stupid, the kind of movie that may not know much but knows just enough not to ask too much of you, except that you enjoy some cool sword fights and cooler motorcycles. Also, there are hard bros with pent-up feelings, and giant snakes and a mystical fire talisman and, lest you think you've had enough, still more motorcycles and swords, some of which are pretty cool.

The dialogue ranges from clever quips to exposition dumps to content-free koans, the sort of poetic pseudo-philosophy that sounds like it means everything, because it means nothing. In the space of about five minutes, I scribbled the following quotes in my notebook: "If your heart is pure, our secrets will reveal themselves to you." "You have that look you get sometimes—a shadow before a storm." "A win without honor is no win at all." Sadly, very little in this movie revealed itself to me. Maybe my heart isn't pure?

This is the sort of film where you can tell a lot just by the font sizes in the logo. "Snake Eyes" is rendered in large, menacingly cool red while "G.I. Joe Origins" is tacked on in tiny letters at the bottom. And for the first hour, you'd hardly know this was a G.I. Joe film at all: Instead, it's a half-competent martial arts picture, the sort of movie where most conflicts are resolved with swords and jump kicks. The action sequences aren't quite great, but the best ones have a playful energy to them; one early sequence ends with our hero, Snake Eyes (Henry Golding), and his battle buddy/feelings bro, Tommy Arashikage (Andrew Koji), in the cab of a cargo truck, surrounded by a dozen-plus swords, all of which have just barely missed them. It's a fun beat, and the movie could have used more of them.

Sadly, as the G.I. Joe elements creep in during the second half, the movie becomes more of a conventional blockbuster, a ninja-gizmo melodrama with ho-hum stakes and characters you could only care about if—and I'm just hypothesizing here—you spent hours upon hours as a child during the Reagan era imagining the psychologically sophisticated inner lives of cheap plastic gun-Barbies. (I'm not saying the 1980s iterations of G.I. Joe and Transformers taught a generation of boys theory of mind. But I'm not not saying it either.)

And even people who have fond memories for the mail-in Cobra Commander doll and his Cobra Missile Command Headquarters—a Sears exclusive!—probably won't find much to love in the movie's depiction of the Joes, who are hurriedly described as "an elite global counter-terrorism network" and "the good guys" and then rather haphazardly integrated into the swords-and-bro-feelings movie.

The problem isn't that Snake Eyes departs from classic G.I. Joe lore, which was mostly just a mishmash of militarized comic-book tropes designed to get 8-year-olds to nag their parents to trudge to the mall to buy Sears exclusives. It's that it doesn't have much to replace it with, except a bunch of dudes growling platitudes about loyalty, clan, and honor. Fine, fine, I get it, it's all about famil— I mean clan. Let's get to the parts with the motorcycles, swords, and giant snakes.

Did I mention the snakes are psychic? Because they're psychic.

Those parts range from pretty good to tolerable, and they are certainly better than the similar sequences earlier this year in Mortal Kombat, another movie based on a decades-old pop-culture property—in that case, an early 1990s video game—that has survived despite somehow having both too much plot and not nearly enough.

There have, of course, already been two live-action G.I. Joe films, both of which were constructed more like generic summer action blockbusters. If nothing else, Snake Eyes deserves some credit for taking a crappy old pop-culture franchise and trying to do something new with it. But the story it tells is too muddled, the characters too indistinct to matter. I think I'm going to need some backstory here.

NEXT: When Government Spending Hurts the Most Vulnerable

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  1. Real men no longer have any influence on the movie industry.

    1. The movie industry no longer has the movie industry either. Virtually everything out there is a remake or retelling of the same story. Only the names have been changed to protect the profits, and eerily embellished with vague, loud and obnoxious characters that appeal to whatever societal fetish is in vogue…. and of course digital pyrotechnics and “make my day” “I’ll be back” taglines trying to claim their historical significance.

      Seriously, have all the stories already been told and society is hellbent on repeating the same ol same ol, ad nauseum, generation after generation for eternity? Witness LeBron James in the new Space Jam. With a half billion net worth, pumpkin still couldn’t buy himself more than a Michael Jordan previously used script [or apparently an acting lesson if the adults who have seen it are correct].

      Of course in defense of the movie industry, we exist in a world that has placed such limits on what can be said that 95% of what has been done can no longer be done, and it’s a fools’ game to take a chance on something that some asshole will invent some reason why it’s something phobic, insensitive to the sensitivities of the elite, or just hateful.

  2. Yeah…definitely evoked a WTF?!?! when I saw this preview in the theater. Maybe G.I. Joe still a thing in China (which would be ironic or weird or just plain fucked up).

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  3. I’ll watch it at home when it comes onto a streaming service. And when I say “home” I am referring to my room in mom’s basement.

  4. “And now you know”
    “And knowing is half the battle”

    1. Remaining contents of the battle: 24% red lasers, 24% blue lasers, and 2% everybody safely ejecting from their vehicle when it’s hit.

      1. All we are asking for is some common sense laser regulations, particularly of the blue and red variety. If you don’t agree, you’re a hateful white supremacist.

        1. Hey, the only way to stop a bad guy with a blue laser is a good guy with a red laser.

  5. Used to be direct to video, studios must be desperate for cash.

  6. “nobody asked for x to be made” is a stupid argument. Just because nobody asked for it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be made. “nobody asked for die hard to be made”

    1. Yep. Or Schindler’s List. Or any movie ever.

    2. Excuse me…. I asked for Die Hard to be made, so there. However, rumored to the contrary, I did not ask for Die Hard 2, 3, 4, or 5 to be made, and I have specifically asked for Die Hard 6 to NOT be made. It should NOT be made. I’m tired of this shit and anyone who thinks that 70ish Bruce Willis will make even a laughable action hero needs to be put in a headlock and throat-punched.

      Not even the folks who think Biden still has a brain left are gonna believe Bruce Willis landing in a pile of glass or shrapnel and not immediately bleeding out from the blood thinners are going to be able to suspend reality that far.

  7. It’s gonna be the next Marvel Universe.

    The Dune trailer came out today.

    It’s a two part film, but that still won’t be long enough to do it justice.

    Can’t be done in five hours.

    1. Is Dune in film kind of like socialism? “This time we will get it right. We just need a bigger budget.”

      1. I expect Apple’s Foundation series to be like that.

        1. Makes me wonder if Prime Video could do a credible job of Dune.

      2. In this case too much of the interesting stuff is offscreen, requires data dumps or requires effects that break immersion if done poorly. I wouldn’t expect to generate new fans, but not disappoint existing ones is a possibility.

  8. Who in the World Wanted Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins?
    A dumb movie with a dumb name based on a dumb idea.

    Dumb people. And if you haven’t noticed, that’s one hell of an audience.

  9. The 1970s GI Joe were male Barbies. Plastic doll you could dress up, etc.

    The 1980s were action figures, like for Star Wars, the clothes part of the body, only things like guns were interchangeable.

    But as someone who sometimes works in the toy department of Walmart, very few children actually seem to be into action figures (or toy cars, for that matter). The main audience are middle aged dudes.

    1. Yeah-my sons haven’t played with toy cars or action figures since they were maybe 5-the are all about Xbox now and occasionally nerf guns.

      I am old enough to remember the 1970s GI Joe doll with the beard. I’m guessing that action figures sounded a lot cooler and less gay than dolls

    2. Think what you will about the cartoons and movies, ’70s G.I. Joes were awesome! The guns, gear, and accessories were very creative and they came in sets like G.I. Joe Sandstorm Survival, with an Egyptian sarcophagus, the G.I. Joe Submersible and Raisable Mini-Sub with SCUBA gear and a squid, a G.I Joe Jeep with an inflatable raft and a crocodile, a G.I. Joe Tank with a retractable barrel and light machine gun, etc.

      And there were unforms for Army, Navy, Airforce, Marines, Intelligence, Pilot with a working parachute, Leaf Camo, Tiger Print Camo, Polar Exploring, Space Suits, etc.

      Suderman just doesn’t know what’s good.

  10. Jesus, we get it–you hate GI Joe. I am sure this is a bad movie, but it sounds like they pay some homage to the comic book stories you apparently never knew about. So that’s something. Maybe next time assign the review to someone who doesn’t outright hate the property it’s based on.

  11. “Sadly, very little in this movie revealed itself to me. Maybe my heart isn’t pure?”

    It’s like the Dragon Scroll (which turned out to just be a reflective surface) from Kung Fu Panda, or Po’s adoptive father’s Secret Ingredient Soup. The secret is: There is no secret.

  12. What do you call a male to female back to male robot that can contort into a vehicle? A former trans transformer.

  13. Does anyone give a fuck one way or the other? The movie industry made itself irrelevant at least a decade ago.

  14. Suderman watches a lot of dumb shit and plays stupid games when he could be banging his hot wife.

    1. It’s cool, I cover that part of things.

      *buys Suderman another movie ticket*

  15. I was going to link a great Vin Suprynowicz column on the real GI Joe, but it’s behind a paywall now.

    Just look up Mitchell Paige (USMC Medal of Honor winner), who agreed to serve as the model for GI Joe as long as Joe would always serve under the American flag (and not the UN banner, and certainly not for some international organization based in Brussels.)

  16. Great, another stupid comic book movie (and that’s what it basically is) that’s as stupid as the original source material. Just like 2/3 of all movies made today.

  17. I’ve never understood these world domination types. So you’re dictator of the world, now what? It’s sounds like a real pain in the ass job to me.

  18. Perhaps the dumbest thing about this is that they’ve already told the origin story of Snake Eyes (and his nemesis Storm Shadow as well). They even put in a “twist” where it was really Zartan who killed Hard Master.
    It doesn’t really need retelling.

  19. When GI:Joe was a thing, the toys (action figures) were a stand-in for the fact that the cartoon was only on on Saturdays (or maybe also during weekdays). In the interim, you had to use your imagination. With the action figures you could replay your favorite scenes or make up completely new ones.
    Now with movies and serial productions being available any time, you can repeat-watch them as often as you want.
    This leads to collectors being the only people who are still highly interested in action figures. (Somebody could do a movie about that… oh wait… Pixar did.)

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