In the eighties, toy companies still produced their own cartoon series in order to bring their action figures to the child – and anyone who could land a hit like “Transformers”, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” or “GI Joe” in the Saturday morning program had the following at the latest Christmas season the license to print money. But the business is no longer that simple – and so Hasbro has been pushing into the blockbuster business for 15 years now in order to remain relevant on the shelves of the toy departments. So far, this has only worked out properly with the “Transformers” series, even if it has also stuttered in the meantime.
With “GI Joe”, however, the first part “Secret Mission Cobra” (2009) fell short of expectations. For the sequel “GI Joe 2: The Reckoning”, which appeared four years later, Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis were hired for additional star power, but despite a slight increase, the grossing results again did not justify the proud budget. Actually, that would have been the logical time to put the project aside. But Hasbro just has to somehow keep its most important brands alive – and so, after some delays, the spin-off “Snake Eyes: “GI Joe Origins“In theaters. The German director Robert Schwentke even presents the best part of the series so far. However, the successful elements have little to do with “GI Joe”. On the contrary!
Ever since Snake Eyes (Henry Golding) had to watch his father (Steven Allerick) being shot by the mysterious coat wearer Mr. Augustine (Samuel Finzi) as a boy, he has only one goal: revenge! When the yakuza boss Kenta (Takehiro Hira) offers to track down the killer for him as long as he joins his clan in Los Angeles, Snake Eyes agrees – but only until he is forced to kill the traitor Tommy ( Andrew Koji).
Snake Eyes saves Tommy’s life – only to find out that he is actually the designated leader of the most powerful ninja clan in Japan. As a reward, Snake receives an offer to join the clan himself, as long as he has previously passed three potentially fatal challenges. But above all he still wants revenge – and Kenta has now also arrived in the land of the rising sun …
It’s never been before: 100 million for a ninja blockbuster
“V For Vendetta” director James McTeigue In 2009, 40 million euros were available for his actioner “Ninja Assassin” – but traditionally there is only a real blockbuster budget for a ninja film if the protagonists are either LEGO figures or turtles with a pizza table. With a rumored budget of 88 to 110 million dollars, “Snake Eyes” is only about half as expensive as its two predecessors, but it is still the first “real” western ninja blockbuster! That pays off at least in the more successful first half, before more “GI Joe” figures appear without any narrative need (the marketing department may see it differently).
Before that, the focus is entirely on snake eyes. In the “GI Joe” cosmos, this is actually known as a mute and completely masked hero. But luckily he doesn’t put on his iconic outfit until the very end of his solo adventure – because Henry Golding is one of the biggest pounds in the film in the title role: The “Crazy Rich” shooting star definitely has the charisma necessary to make an action film wear – and the ambivalence of his character, who for a long time was not exactly heroic, comes across appropriately. At his side he also knows colleagues, above all martial arts legend Iko Uwais (“The Raid”), who can actually fight – and head cameraman Bojan Bazelli (“6 Underground”) supports a mass brawl in a warehouse with one extremely dynamic camera work.
The martial arts scenes are certainly not groundbreaking – especially not if you know what else is going on in the Asian martial arts genre. But that’s really fine for a western blockbuster – thanks in part to nice ideas like the driver’s cab of a truck being pierced by dozens of ninja swords as if it were the legendary saber-box magic trick. The story of trust, betrayal and vengeance is not new, but it is also functional enough. Snake Eyes’ Origin story is incorporated without becoming an end in itself – for example, it got its name from the fact that Mr. Augustine used two dice to determine the fate of his father. Two ones fell, which is in casino talk Snake eyes is called.
Even the fantasy CGI inserts don’t bother us for a long time – a pit with three dragon-sized anacondas is even astonishing creepy devices. The associated Jump scare Anyway, got me full pot. But then – after almost exactly half the running time – the audience is suddenly reminded that they are in a “GI Joe” film: Scarlett (Samara Weaving) and Baroness (Úrsula Corberó) are thrown into the plot at random and carelessly That it is hard to avoid the feeling that Hasbro’s marketing department has pushed the two authors into the script – and then their appearances are so decidedly cool that the opposite effect occurs, of course: At any rate, it’s difficult to imagine that after “Snake Eyes” someone wants to get these two action figures …
Conclusion: As a solid martial arts blockbuster with a strong leading actor, the spin-off is at least better than the two main parts of the series – but it is still not enough for more than solid mediocrity, also because the less convincing “GI Joe” connections make the film rather make it worse and not better.