Call me pleasantly surprised. As I had zero intentions of seeing M. Knight Shyamalan’s Old, I resigned myself to what I assumed would be an eye-roll fest with Snake Eyes: G. I. Joe Origins. I loved the G. I. Joe cartoon growing up, and the enigmatic Snake Eyes was always a favorite. Okay, I just used a few words that are probably not warranted by the old Hasbro animated series, or, in particular, any of the live action films. I mean, the dude never talks! My mom was never too keen on me watching the cartoon, but all the cool kids liked it. Because it was such a part of the ether of my childhood, I dutifully saw G. I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) in the theater when it premiered. Boy, was that a mistake, though my friend from Loyola who I saw it with scoffed at me for thinking it would be anything other than awful. Hence, my expectations for Snake Eyes: G. I. Joe Origins were quite low, to say the least. Perhaps that is why I was shocked with being mostly fine with it while seeing it?
Snake Eyes: G. I. Joe Origins does not get off to the most innovative of starts. Young Snake Eyes (Max Archibald) and his dad (Steven Allerick) are headed to a remote location, a place the boy wonders why it is called a “safe house.” So, big surprise, the people after dad catch up with them and murder the old man, though young Snake Eyes (his real name is never revealed) manages to escape. He adopts his moniker because of his father’s dice that he was forced to roll before his death, and which always came up with double ones. Right, stock main character motivation, check. Jumping ahead a few years, after winning a brutal, underground cage fight, grown up Snake Eyes (Henry Golding) is approached by a stranger going by Kenta (Takehiro Hira), who claims to know how to find Snake Eyes’ fathers killers. The catch is that Snake Eyes must work for him. It goes against his better judgement, but before you know it he is in a dockyard in Los Angeles helping to smuggle guns for the Yakuza. One of his fellow Yakuza members is Tommy Arashikage (Andrew Kodi), who refers to Snake Eyes as “Fish Boy” because of the job he is assigned. Tommy, though, is not all he says, and soon Kenta suspects him of being a spy. Kenta hands Snake Eyes a gun and orders the underling to execute Tommy. Instead, Snake Eyes breaks Tommy free and they fight their way to freedom. Later, when Tommy asks why Snake Eyes spared him, the latter replies that he could see honor in the former. Tommy feels he owes Snake Eyes his life, and as a “reward,” he brings the man with no name to the Arashikage clan in Japan with the chance of joining it. This is no simple adoption process. As heir to a family dedicated to maintaining peace and stability, Tommy wants Snake Eyes to become his own personal ninja protector. The training is brutal, and many die in the process. Snake Eyes agrees because he has never truly had a purpose in life outside of finding those who murdered his father, and Tommy is offering to make him part of something bigger, a family. The twist here is that Snake Eyes is still working for Kenta because his former boss claims that he now has the name and location of the man responsible for dad’s death. Kenta’s aim is to retrieve the Jewel of the Sun, a magical gem protected by the Arashikage. This is also about the time when we learn that Kenta is in league with Cobra, a secretive terrorist organization causing mayhem throughout the world. Snake Eyes feels a loyalty to Tommy and his newfound family, but his drive to avenge his dad proves too much. He manages to abscond with the jewel, a move that is caught by the Arashikage’s chief of security, Akiko (Haruka Abe). Snake Eyes manages to get away, but they know the thief’s identity and Tommy is understandably upset. He and Akiko go after Snake Eyes, but do not make it before Kenta is able to obtain the stone. For his part, Snake Eyes is able to come face-to-face with the man who killed his father. But when Snake Eyes discovers that this person is also working for Cobra, he does not go through with his vengeance. Instead, he rushes back to the Arashikage Castle to help defend it from Kenta. With some assistance from Scarlett (Samara Weaving), a member of the peace keeping force known as G. I. Joe, and Cobra agent Baroness (Úrsula Corberó), who had been snubbed by Kenta for the gem, they manage to fight off Kenta and his Yakuza cronies. At the climactic moment, Tommy handles the jewel and is about to use it to kill Kenta, something his clan is forbidden to do. At the moment, his hand is staid by his grandmother and clan leader, Sen (Eri Ishida), but not without consequences. For being tempted by the allure of the power of the stone, Tommy is told he will not inherit leadership of the clan. He leaves in shame, and in a mid-credits scene is approached by the Baroness in order to join Cobra as Storm Shadow. For his part, Snake Eyes is asked by Scarlett to become a part of G. I. Joe, the organization for which his father worked.
One of the things I did not expect from Snake Eyes: G. I. Joe Origins was the number of moments that jived philosophically with my Faith. Much of this pertains to the ideals of the Arashikage clan. They have a selfless dedication to preserving harmony in the world that, if written differently, can certainly apply to the mission of the Catholic Church. There is only one person capable of bringing real harmony, and that is God. We can do our part in this by following that to which God calls us. Doing so takes an abandonment of our egos, which is another aspect of the Arashikage character. Another moment I appreciated is the lesson in what true power means. As guardians of the Jewel of the Sun, with its ability to basically disintegrate anyone with a thought among other properties, such awesome potential for destruction comes the temptation to use it. It is a weakness of the human condition that God asks us to transcend by following Him. Could God evaporate with a snap of His fingers anyone if He grew angry with that person? Sure. Does He do so? No, because true power only comes from discipline and restraint. These are all driven home by my favorite moment in the movie. Early on in Snake Eyes’ training, he must face one of the other members, the so-called Hard Master (Iko Uwais). There is an array of weapons around the training ground, but the Hard Master fills two bowls of water and hands one to Snake Eyes. Snake Eyes is then told that in order to pass this first test, he will have three tries to get the bowl from Hard Master’s hands without losing a drop from either receptacle. Snake Eyes first instinct is to get the bowl through force. He is a skilled martial artist, but after some punching and kicking while awkwardly trying not to spill any water, he is down to his last attempt. It is then that he realizes he is going about the task in the wrong manner. Water refilled, he calmly approaches Hard Master and politely asks that they exchange bowls. In doing so, Snake Eyes passes his first test. If you find this outcome disappointing, do not worry, there is plenty of action in the rest of the film. Still, think of how many tense situations could be solved by acting with such prudence? At first, to Snake Eyes it seems that he is being called upon to display his abilities as a fighter. But not all battles are won with our fists. Many Jews of Jesus time expected the Messiah to be a kind of warrior king who would lead them to victory over their enemies. Instead, Jesus conquered through humble acts and attained a lasting victory for all of us.
Of course, Snake Eyes: G. I. Joe Origins is an action film. I find these parts to be the least interesting aspects of the movie. Ninjas, Yakuza, motorcycles, explosions, etc., have we not seen all these things before, ad nauseam? There is a little more going on with the story, and that is what surprised me. Again, not terribly original, but at least I understood Snake Eyes’ motivation the entire time. A lot of this is predictable, particularly if you are familiar with the source material. Nonetheless, I came away from it with a richer experience than I expected. I do not recommend it to younger audiences, but you could certainly do worse.