Of all the big budget Hollywood franchises, GI Joe is up there as having the most peculiar history. 2009’s GI Joe – The Rise of Cobra was conceived as a competitor for the growing superhero movie craze. The film scarred the memories of those who made it – star Channing Tatum said “I fucking hate that movie”, villain Christopher Eccleston recalled that “I just wanted to cut my throat every day”, while Sienna Miller simply remarked “sorry” to a journalist who mentioned they had seen it.
As beginnings go, it’s not exactly Iron Man. Nevertheless, the film was a reasonable success at the box office and on DVD to secure a second film, 2013’s Retaliation, faring a little bit better thanks to a new cast that included Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis. Still, fans haven’t exactly been screaming for a third, which makes this week’s Snake Eyes a curious prospect. The character is a fan favourite, but is that enough to justify a big budget origin story?
Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians, The Gentlemen) takes the lead as Snake Eyes, a loner taking part in bare knuckle fights for cash. A skilled martial artist, he is driven by the desire to avenge the death of his father, killed in front of him when he was young. He is taken in by an ancient ninja clan after saving one of their leaders, and asked to prove himself through their training. However, secrets connected to his past threaten to jeopardise this new beginning.
A charismatic star, a familiar franchise, what could go wrong? As it turns out, almost everything. Director Robert Schwentke (RED, R.I.P.D.) puts together a film that feels like a copy of a copy. The action scenes, the initiations, the double crosses are all structurally identical to what has come before (if I see one more action hero introduced via the medium of cage match, I’m going to scream). If you’ve watched any film with even a vague martial arts influence, you’ll know what’s coming.
Action wise, it’s solid enough. Golding handles the numerous fight scenes well, while the larger set pieces are as slick as you would expect from something with this price tag. The issue is the lifelessness of it all. Lots of action films are unoriginal or over-reliant on action, but the better ones tend to have a bit of joy to them. Everyone involved looks as though they are at a funeral, and this dour tone chokes the life out of its star. Golding has shown he can be an appealing and vibrant presence on-screen, even in more serious fare such as last year’s Monsoon. However, there’s only so much you can do with a role that requires scowling and talking about revenge.
The most interesting cast inclusions are those that seem destined for another film – Samara Weaving as G.I. Joe member Scarlett and Úrsula Corberó as Cobra operative The Baroness both pop up as things get heated, but aren’t given much to do other than tease further films. It’s more needless exposition in a film that’s dense with lore that most viewers won’t care about.
A financial bomb in the US, GI Joe adventure Snake Eyes’ misfortunes may be partly blamed on the current climate. However, when faced with a poorly executed reboot so few people asked for in the first place, who can blame people for staying away?
Snake Eyes is in cinemas now.