Movie review

Something is missing in “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins.”

It’s presence. Call it star power. Call it charisma.

Zing! Can’t be faked. Can’t be denied.

Jackie Chan has it. Harrison Ford has it. Bruce Lee had so much of it, it practically had to be squeegeed off the walls whenever he was in a room.

Henry Golding doesn’t have it. At least not the particular brand needed to make the grade playing the title character in “Snake Eyes.”

That guy is supposed to be a super ninja. Lithe and limber. Tough and toned. An enigma. A loner. A total badass.

Golding is none of those. “Crazy Rich Asians” revealed his forte as being a sexy smoothie. Easy on the eyes. Effortlessly engaging. Not the skill set for Mr. Snake Eyes.

Derived from the Hasbro G.I. Joe action-figure line, which has spawned comics and TV shows and two big-screen features, the Snake Eyes in this picture shares little other than that name with previous incarnations (Ray Park played him in 2009’s “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” and 2013’s “G.I. Joe: Retaliation”). In the first place, he’s known for the fact that he doesn’t talk. An injury rendered him mute. Be that as it may, credited screenwriters Evan Spiliotopoulos, Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse and director Robert Schwentke give him lots to say.

As the title declares, this is the story of how Snake Eyes became Snake Eyes, that is to say before he lost the power of speech. Traumatized as a kid when his father is murdered before his eyes, he grows up to be a drifter dedicated to finding and killing the guy who murdered his dad. But he keeps that on the lowdown, which makes his motivations a mystery to those around him.


He’s taken under the wing of a fellow named Tommy (Andrew Koji), the leader of an ancient clan of ninjas. Having saved Tommy’s life from execution by a criminal cabal, Tommy decides he’s worthy of being inducted into the family business. To qualify, he must pass three tests. All are designed to measure the level of his honesty and inner soulfulness.

They’re indifferently staged and a bit odd. One entails the pursuit of a tiny, floating glowing orb through a night forest. Another finds him dropped into a literal snakepit swarming with giant computer-generated anacondas. As they slither and hiss, the Indy Jones line “Snakes! Why did it have to be snakes?” pops to mind. Which only serves to remind one that, “Hey! Ford! Now there’s a guy with presence in a picture.”

The filmmakers made the decision to cast most of the roles with actors of Asian backgrounds (Golding was born in Malaysia; Koji, born in Britain, has a Japanese father), which is a departure from the G.I. Joe Hasbro backstory, where he’s a white guy. The makers rightly realized an American-born ninja just wouldn’t cut it.

Be that as it may, most of the actors have been allowed to deliver their lines through angry sneers. The fight scenes, full of swordplay and gunfire, are choppily edited and somehow lackadaisical. It’s as though Schwentke was operating from a checklist of expected action-movie clichés and hurries through them all.

From time to time the movie brings in characters familiar to fans of the G.I. Joe franchise, Scarlett (Samara Weaving) and the Baroness (Úrsula Corberó), but they’re dropped in so haphazardly you’re left scratching your head: “Who are these women?” Answer: They’re along for the ride to set the stage for the inevitable sequels.

Spare us.

With Henry Golding, Andrew Koji, Úrsula Corberó, Samara Weaving, Haruka Abe, Iko Uwais. Directed by Robert Schwentke, from a screenplay by Evan Spiliotopoulos, Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse. 122 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence and brief strong language. Multiple theaters.