Review – Roll Them Ninja Dice (“Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins”)

Admit it, you wanted to see an origin film about one of G.I. Joe’s super fighters, right? Right?! No? Well, you’re getting one whether you like it or not! Part of the G.I. Joe movie franchise (which most people have forgotten about) this film centers on a certain lethal samurai-carrying ninja. 

The last time we saw silent Snake Eyes, he was kicking major butt in 2013’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation and was played by Ray Park, this time around we have Henry Golding starring as the enigmatic Snake Eyes, a man with no other name who, as we see in a short flashback, lives with an obsession: finding the man who killed his father! Growing up as an underground cage fighter, he takes a dangerous job with the Yakuza in L.A. as a gun-runner. Why? Their leader, Kenta (Takehiro Hira), promises Snake he’ll find his dad’s killer. But Kenta’s true motives are revealed when he wants Snake to murder Tommy Arashikage (Andrew Koji) for being an informant. But Snake saves Tommy who happens to be one helluva samurai warrior!

Come to find out Tommy is part of the Clan Arashikage, a mysterious ninja organization that Kenta wants to destroy, and Snake is all part of the plan. Looks like Kenta wants their all-powerful “Jewel of the Sun” crystal that can blow up anything or anybody, and he has Snake dangling by a hook to get it with that same promise of handing over his father’s murderer. The problem is Snake, while in beautiful Japan and in the company of Tommy and his family, must endure ‘the three trials’ to gain their trust. He is also under the scrutiny of matriarch Sen (Eri Ishida), head of security, Akiko (Haruka Abe), and the Blind Master (Peter Mensah). After lotsa training and confrontations, Snake makes a startling discovery. Kenta is part of Cobra, a worldwide terrorist organization that has a counter-part: good-guys called the G.I. Joes!

He also learns about a nasty Cobra villainess called the Baroness (Ursula Corbero) who’s working with Kenta. Luckily, G.I. Joe agent Scarlett (Samara Weaving) is on her way to help out Tommy and his Clan. Even though Snake knows the right thing to do, he still does the wrong thing and steals the jewel anyway, but learns to regret it. The finale is the BIG action set-piece and it’s a humdinger, unfortunately it’s marred by the sloppy and jarring shaky-cam direction that is present for all the fight scenes. Ugh! Director Robert Schwentke (R.I.P.D, Red) has a good foothold on the normal stuff, but for all the many fighting scenes with swords? It’s a visual mess. I want to SEE what’s happening!   

The script by Evan Spiliotopoulos (Beauty & the Beast) and Joe Shrapnel & Anna Waterhouse (Rebecca) does deliver a decent story here of revenge, betrayal, and double-crosses, but the overall dialogue is pretty hokey and trite, peppered with silly witticisms and dumb little aside jokes. It almost reminded me of 2013’s The Wolverine. Thank goodness the acting talent makes up for it. Golding has the charm and skills to be Snake Eyes, but I gotta admit, he’s overshadowed by Koji whose dramatic intensity & fighting ability eclipses Golding. Hira makes a formidable foe & villain, while Mensah is just plain cool.

If you’ve watched the previous G.I. Joe films, you’ll have some questions, like why doesn’t Snake Eyes ever speak in the other films? Okay, we see the origins of Storm Shadow, but this movie should have more to connect it to the other movies. Still, it has a nice popcorny-cartoon feel to it and all the action/fighting scenes are well played out, except for all that idiotic shaky-cam nonsense. For fans of the G.I. Joe franchise, it’s worth a looksie.     

**Now showing in theaters 

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

OMG! If ever a superhero film was ever more reviled, blasted, picked-apart, and torn to little bitty pieces by fanboys, it’s been this one (except for Superman IV: Quest for Peace). As for me, well, I think I’m in the lower 2% that actually liked it. (cue the booing). Sorry.

Without a doubt, one of the most beloved characters of the X-Men is Wolverine, played to perfection by Hugh Jackman in all the franchise films. In a stunning move, an origin film was made, in the hopes that others would follow based on its popularity. Well, that didn’t exactly happen. With a screenplay written by David Benioff (Troy, The Gemini Man) & Skip Woods (Hitman, Swordfish), we start off in 1845 where a 10-year-old James Howlett (Troye Sivan) undergoes a frightening transformation after seeing his father killed. He sprouts bone-claws from his hands (his particular mutation) and kills who he thinks is the killer, but it’s really his father instead. Oopsie! James flees, along with his older brother, Victor (Michael James Olsen) who can mutate into a killer ‘beast’.

After a very cool montage of these two throughout the decades (Civil War, WWI, WW2, etc), they’re recruited by the sinister Major William Stryker (Danny Huston), who has put together a suicide squad of mutants: besides Logan (Jackman) and his brother Victor (Liev Schreiber), there’s mouth-mouthed wise-guy Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), super-strong Fred Dukes (Kevin Durand), tactile hypnotist Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins), teleporter John Wraith (Will.I.Am), electric manipulator Chris Bradley (Dominic Monaghan), and super-sniper Agent Zero (Daniel Henney. But after a mercenary job in Africa goes south, Logan becomes disillusioned and leaves the group, but Stryker has other ideas. He has Kayla pose a deep-cover plant as Logan’s girlfriend for six years while his diabolical plans are put into motion.

While Logan is happy working as a lumberjack in Canada, Stryker has Victor “kill” his girlfriend, causing the man to seek revenge. Stryker offers Logan a crazy way to do this: inject the rare metal adamantium into his bones and become a lethal weapon! One operation and some really painful metal claws popping up later, Logan (aka Wolverine) escapes Stryker’s clutches and goes on the warpath, looking for vengeance after Stryker tries to kill him. Logan gets some info from his old war buddies, Wraith and overweight Dukes (who now goes by Blob), and seeks out the gambler Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) to find out where Stryker is.

The ending is where the movie completely comes off the rails. As Logan discovers his girlfriend wasn’t really dead, his brother is a traitor working for Stryker, and a bunch of children-mutants are being held prisoner, the ultimate climax comes with Logan and Victor fighting Weapon X, a new mutant who is actually a reconstructed Wade Wilson with his lips sewn shut! And just to tie things up, the kids are all rescued by Professor X (a badly de-aged Patrick Stewart) and Stryker shoots Logan in the head with an adamantium bullet, giving him amnesia.

Despite the fact that this movie was a bonafide blockbuster and made serious bank, the critics (and comic book fans) were less than kind. If you go on YouTube you can find a plethora of videos tearing this movie apart, but if you look at the BIG picture you’ll see a motion picture that made a ton of money for the studio, even giving the green light for 2013’s The Wolverine movie with Jackman. Not too shabby for a movie that could have ended the career for Jackman and given character assassination for Wolverine. Silver linings?

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