Release Date(s)2021 (October 19, 2021)
Studio(s)MGM/Skydance/Entertainment One (Paramount Pictures)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: D+
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is a prequel that was produced despite the fact that no one was particularly clamoring for it. The entire G.I. Joe franchise has had a weird trajectory in that respect—despite each installment being met with general ambivalence, it continues to spawn new titles periodically. The Rise of Cobra was moderately successful in 2009, but not enough to trigger an immediate sequel, and so there was a four-year gap before the series was semi-rebooted in 2013 with Retaliation. That film made a bit less money at the box office, but it was also made on a lower budget, meaning that it was still a moderate success. Once again, it wasn’t enough to get another sequel off the ground promptly; there were plans for another installment called Ever Vigilant, and even talks of crossovers with other Hasbro toy lines, but nothing came of any of it until Snake Eyes finally landed in 2021.
The interesting thing is that the franchise continues to persevere not so much because of box office receipts, but rather because of filmmakers who seem to genuinely care about the material. That may seem strange for a series based on a rather odd line of toys, comics, and cartoons, but it’s true. Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura happily embraces it, finding directors to match in Stephen Sommers, John M. Chu, and now Robert Schwentke. It would be a stretch to refer to any of these films as personal projects, and yet the filmmakers still have had some personal investment in what they’ve created.
In the case of Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, the title says it all—it’s an origin story for the fan favorite character of Snake Eyes. Henry Golding took over for Ray Park in the title role, with Andrew Koji as Storm Shadow, Ursula Corbero as Baroness, and the delightful Samara Weaving as Scarlett. The rest of the cast is filled out with interesting faces like Haruka Abe, Takehiro Hira, Iko Uwais, and Peter Mensah. The script by Evan Spiliotopoulos, Joe Shrapnel (really?), and Anna Waterhouse borrows freely from the cliches of Yakuza and martial arts cinema, as well as films like The Challenge and The Hunted. The action is a bit more coherent than it was in Retaliation, but Schwentke and his crew rely too heavily on shaky handheld camerawork and quick cutting. It’s a shame because with astonishing marital artists like Iko Uwais in the cast, his skillset needs to be seen clearly to be appreciated. Still, Snake Eyes is diverting enough, if not particularly memorable.
Cinematographer Bojan Bazelli captured Snake Eyes digitally at 3.4K resolution using Arri Alexa Mini cameras with Cooke Anamorphic/i SF and Leica Summilux-C lenses, framed at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. There’s no information available regarding the post-production work done for the film, but it was likely finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate, then upscaled and graded for high dynamic range for Paramount’s Ultra HD release. (Both HDR10 and Dolby Vision are included on the disc.) Everything is sharp and clear, but there’s not as much fine detail compared to films with native 4K imagery. The textures look fairly refined at normal viewing distances, but they’re a bit smoother when viewed up close, and even a little blurry in a few cases. (Again, that’s only noticeable when walking up to the screen, so it doesn’t really impact the overall experience.) On the other hand, the HDR grade has an enormous impact, and that’s where this transfer really sings. The contrast is bold, with deep blacks and brilliant highlights, and incredibly vivid colors. It really stands out once the characters fly to Tokyo at roughly the 22:00 mark, where the costumes, cityscapes, and scenery are much more dramatic. (Just don’t pay attention to the fact that—thanks to creative Hollywood geography—they get off the plane in Tokyo and casually drive over 300 miles to Kishiwada Castle in Osaka.) The nighttime chase through the rain and rooftop fight between Koji and Hira are also visual highlights, with neon lights glinting off of raindrops. This is easily the best-looking G.I. Joe film on home video.
It’s the best sounding, too. Primary audio is offered in English Dolby Atmos, and the mix is a leap above even the excellent 7.1 track on Retaliation, let alone the 5.1 track for The Rise of Cobra. The overheads make their presence known during the opening scenes, and there’s a great sense of immersion throughout the film—environmental effects like rain, thunder, or other bits of atmosphere surround the viewer at all times. The dynamics are powerful, with plenty of impact, and the bass is deep. The dialogue is the least important element, but it’s still perfectly clear. It may not quite be a reference-quality track, but it comes close to that mark. Additional audio options include English Descriptive Audio, Czech, Spanish (Spain), Spanish (Latin America), French, French (Canada), Italian, Hungarian, and Polish 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitle options include English, English SDH, Czech, Danish, Greek, Spanish (Spain), Spanish (Latin America), French, French (Canada), Italian, Hungarian, Dutch, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Portugal), Romanian, Slovak, Finnish, and Swedish.
Paramount’s Ultra HD release for Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is a single-disc version that includes a slipcover and a Digital Copy code on a paper insert, but no standard Blu-ray. The following extras are included, all in HD:
- Morning Light: A Weapon with Stories to Tell (3:11)
- Deleted Scenes: Akiko Trains (:29)
- Deleted Scenes: Snake Eyes’ Sword Play (:25)
- Deleted Scenes: Blind Master’s Kunai Throw (:27)
- Deleted Scenes: House Attack (:12)
- Deleted Scenes: Tommy Unleashed (:33)
- Enter Snake Eyes (9:32)
- A Deadly Ensemble (6:22)
- Arashikage (6:59)
Morning Light is an animated short subject that provides background information about the sword that’s given to Snake Eyes. The deleted scenes are little more than trims, and can safely be skipped. The rest of the featurettes include interviews with various members of the cast and crew, as well as behind-the-scenes footage. They’re all pretty lightweight EPK material. Enter Snake Eyes starts with Golding and Koji talking about their characters, and then spends time on the stunt work in the film, with a focus on the highway chase. A Deadly Ensemble expands the focus a bit to the rest of the cast members. Arashikage looks at the clan with which Snake Eyes becomes involved.
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins had the misfortune of being released in the uncertain theatrical climate during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it sank pretty quickly at the box office. Normally, that wouldn’t bode well for future installments, but just as the Joes never give up, this is one franchise that seems to keep going despite the odds. There’s a good chance that this is not the last fans will see of Snake Eyes and the rest of their favorite characters.
- Stephen Bjork
(You can follow Stephen on Facebook at this link)