Even though G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero was one of the biggest properties in 1980s pop culture, it's never quite had the same cinematic success as contemporary franchises like Transformers or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But now, Paramount Pictures' G.I. Joe prequel/spinoff, Snake Eyes, may have found its silent ninja, as Crazy Rich Asians star Henry Golding is in talks to portray the mysterious swordsman in a film exploring his origin in Japan.
Casting an in-demand actor like Golding shows that Paramount is eager to make G.I. Joe work on the big screen, and it could just the masterstroke needed to revitalize the fan-favorite franchise for a new, wider audience.
The Rise of Snake Eyes
Outside of its basic premise, not much is known about the Snake Eyes movie. The film will supposedly follow a young Snake Eyes as he travels to Japan, trains with the Arashikage clan, and fights for the heart of a woman named Akita with his rival Thomas, the future Storm Shadow. The film will also introduce a rival ninja clan, which may have ties with the terrorist Cobra organization that is known to vex G.I. Joe.
For the most part, this matches up with the character's origins in both the comic books and cartoons of the '80s. One potentially controversial element, however, will be that the character will more than likely speak. As a fully-formed member of G.I. Joe, Snakes Eyes is known to never verbally communicate, nor reveal his face. In some continuities, this is all due to a severe battle injury that left him disfigured and his vocal cords slashed. The film may change how this accident comes to pass, but it does make sense for him to speak for the majority of the movie, given that it's an origin.
Joes and Cons
The benefit of using a Snake Eyes movie to reignite the G.I. Joe film series is obvious for fans for the franchise. Snake Eyes is easily one of, if not the most popular character on the G.I. Joe team, and one of the most famous characters in '80s cartoons period. His silent, mysterious nature, combined with the era's growing ninja made him an obvious standout amongst a team of relatively ordinary soldiers. His stoicism, connections to Japan and ninja gear also bring to mind Wolverine, who also hit his stride in the '80s. The chance to see this character's back story fleshed out on screen, and all of the awesome martial arts that will accompany it, will be an easy sell for fans and general audiences alike.
One issue with essentially rebooting the series with this entry is the greater than usual expectations.With Snake Eyes, fans expect a voiceless, faceless character. Old-school G.I. Joe fans might not want to see the character's mystique taken away and replaced with a love story.
If the film is successful, it could also be a setup that's too divorced from what the rest of G.I. Joe is, making it a lead in to something else that a wide audience doesn't necessarily care about.
The previous two attempts at live action G.I. Joe movies were at best, mixed successes. In 2009, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra tried to downplay the American military aspects of the franchise. To this affect, the film recast the team as an international group, and replaced any sense of military grit with outlandish sci-fi set pieces. This can be seen in characters' nationalities and personalities being different from any previous incarnation of the team, as well as the much derided "accelerator suits", which were compared to the Halo video game series. It didn't help that the story, acting, and special effects were largely considered sub-par. The film, while by no means a flop, was unable to achieve astounding box office success, and earned the derision of critics.
The sequel, 2013's G.I. Joe: Retaliation, was considered by many to be a step up from the first, but not by much. The film actually tried to distance itself from the first film as much as possible, killing off much of the team in its first act. The fact that this was advertised from even the first trailer shows how disappointed the studio was with the first movie, both financially and its horrendous reputation. Despite the presence of then-ascendant superstar Dwayne Johnson, Retaliation wouldn't go on to do much better than its predecessor, leaving the franchise in its current limbo state.
How Can Snake Eyes Succeed?
The interaction between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, namely the fight scenes, were some of the only universally well received elements of the previous films. Snake Eyes would do well to lean heavily on this aspect, and craft a martial arts movie that highlights hand-to-hand combat. It also needs a strong dramatic human element, especially to make a potentially trite love triangle work. Casting the superb Henry Golding is a step in the right direction, but even he needs good material to work off of.
Paramount already successfully revitalized one Hasbro property, Transformers, on the big screen with last year's Bumblebee. Following that successful template and emphasizing how different Snake Eyes is from previous entries could be a way to get audiences to give the idea of G.I. Joe movies another chance.
Directed by Robert Schwentke, Snake Eyes is set to be released on Oct. 16, 2020.