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Snake Eyes: GI Joe Origins (preface)

Posted July 22, 2021 By Curiosity Inc.

By the 1980s, the Baby Boomers were in their thirties and having babies of their own. The debut of MTV in 1981 heralded a new flashy and colorful pop culture paradigm. And then of course there were all the corporate blessings from President Reagan, allowing for the formation of vast international conglomerates with unprecedented power.

Put it all together, and you’ve got a Golden Age for children’s entertainment. A veritable deluge of franchises spread across cartoons, comic books, toys, movies, and more, all of which were dependent on domestic money and foreign animation studios. This kind of coordination across so many countries and media simply wouldn’t have been possible before the ’80s, certainly not to this scale. And alas, quite a few properties have dated terribly.

Transformers has done relatively well — they’re alien robots who transform into cars, that concept is inherently fun in any era. But then we have the likes of He-Man, Thundercats, M.A.S.K., Jem and the Holograms, and of course, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. All of those are silly to a fault, and they’ve had varying degrees of luck in reaching a new audience, but at least they’re all heightened and gimmicky enough to show why they’ve got a nostalgic appeal.

And then there’s G.I. Joe.

Though the G.I. Joe brand has been around since the ’60s, the brand was relaunched in 1982 into the franchise as we know it today. The iconic conflict between G.I. Joe and Cobra — along with the various character backstories — were principally masterminded by Larry Hama, a Vietnam veteran working as a writer for Marvel at the time. G.I. Joe was the military organization that fought for freedom and the American way, while Cobra was a four-color terrorist group that wanted to take over the world because they were cartoonishly evil, and they lost every battle because they were terribly stupid.

Basically put, it’s like Team America: World Police without the self-aware intellect or the satire.

The very concept of G.I. Joe has aged like a fine Scratch-and-Sniff card. We’re now living in a world shaped by 9/11, al Qaeda, and two solid decades of war in Afghanistan. To say nothing of the atrocities witnessed in Abu Ghraib, Benghazi, and Guantanamo Bay. The jingoistic culture of American militaristic patriotism has been warped into something spiteful and oppressive, even fascistic. That’s not even getting started on the thoroughly inept VA system or the veterans who come home broken and traumatized by years of war, often to the point of suicide.

It’s hard going back to the pure and colorful G.I. Joe when we’ve seen its true face. Who cares about Cobra anymore, knowing it’s only a pale and buffoonish representation of the very real, very harmful, genuinely horrifying terrorist groups we’ve seen in the news for the past several years? Shit, we’ve seen military surplus gear sold to local law enforcement, deployed with impunity against domestic civilians and non-combatants — who the fuck wants to make or watch a military-themed toy commercial after that?!

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) only got $150 million domestic and $302 million worldwide. G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013) got $122 million domestic and $375 million worldwide. Those are unacceptable returns for big-budget tentpole franchise pictures, and of course both movies were excoriated by the critics. There simply wasn’t an appetite for this loud, colorful, brain-dead, four-quadrant, hyper-jingoistic, nakedly commercial portrayal of American militarism, and one imagines that there’s even less appetite for it after the Trump era. This wouldn’t even play in America, never mind overseas.

And yet Hasbro is still somehow in business with Paramount, the notoriously incompetent studio that’s already wrecked Battleship, Jem and the Holograms, at least two or three different takes on cinematic franchises for Transformers and G.I. Joe, and those are just the films that didn’t crash in development!

(Side note: I’ve already gone into great detail about how hopelessly fucked Paramount is, over here.)

Paramount is so desperate for a hit, so far underwater, that they had to enlist the help of another major studio (namely MGM, itself a studio that failed so hard, it just got purchased by Amazon) to try and get a third goddamn attempt at a G.I. Joe franchise off the ground. Oh, but there’s a twist this time: It’s an origin story about a ninja, the better to appeal to a worldwide audience and that sweet Chinese box office cash.

The character in question is Snake Eyes, one of the founding G.I. Joe characters, an iconic and wildly popular fan favorite who’s been a consistent pillar of the franchise since its inception. Trouble is, his whole deal is that nobody knows anything about him. Pretty much everything about the character and his history is a heavily classified mystery, and he’s barely ever spoken in any medium. Moreover, though Snake Eyes is consistently dressed entirely from head to toe in black, he’s canonically (however infrequently) shown to be a white guy, complete with blonde hair and blue eyes.

(Side note: Reportedly, Snake Eyes’ unmasked appearance was based on Sgt. Bob Light, a door gunner in the 1st Air Cavalry and an acquaintance of Larry Hama’s.)

But because this is an attempt at an international audience — and because it makes a lot more sense for a ninja to be an Asian guy — we now have an iteration of Snake Eyes portrayed by Henry Golding. Rather fitting that the character should be played by a man with all the emotive range of an action figure.

I’ve made it clear in the past that I’m not a fan of Golding — he may be attractive, but I’ve yet to see any sign of talent or charisma from him. Then again, I appreciate that Golding is trying something new with action cinema, and I sincerely hope it works out for him. We’d all be so much better off if he could keep working as a decent action star and stop working as a crappy romcom male lead.

Luckily, Golding is backed by a supporting cast with surprising depth. I’ve been a fan of Samara Weaving since Ready or Not, she’s already demonstrated solid action chops (see: Guns Akimbo), and I’m genuinely excited to see what she does in the role of Scarlett, another franchise mainstay. We’ve also got Peter Mensah on hand, a seasoned character actor and a reliable font of charisma.

I was shocked to see that the filmmakers had landed Iko Uwais. When the grandmaster of The Raid shows up, you know they mean business. We’ve also got Takehiro Hira, Andrew Koji, and Haruka Abe on hand, all unknown here in the States and all with respectable CV’s elsewhere.

Come to think of it, who wrote the script for this one? Let’s see… we’ve got three writers on board. First up is Evan Spiliotopoulos, who apparently came up writing… direct-to-video Disney sequels. Before he moved on to writing The Huntsman: Winter’s War, the live-action Beauty and the Beast remake, and the 2019 Charlie’s Angels reboot. Yikes.

The other two writers are Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse, both of whom previously wrote the script for the 2020 Rebecca remake. Double yikes.

Okay, well, who’s directing this? Maybe it’s someone like… Robert Schwentke. Never heard of him. He apparently directed RED (very good), before moving on to… R.I.P.D. And the “Divergent” film adaptations that famously imploded after the second film in the trilogy. Gulp.

Moving on, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention G.I. Joe: Ever Vigilant, the movie that’s reportedly in development under the direction of D.J. Caruso. Trouble is, longtime Hasbro cinematic producer Lorenzo DiBonaventura (two-faced schmuck that he is) keeps giving conflicting reports about which script is in development and which continuity the movie will be following. And of course the onset of COVID-19 didn’t help matters.

Basically, Hasbro and Paramount have some half-formed notion of a sequel ready to move forward if this movie does well. In the coming weeks, we can expect both companies to talk a huge game about the sequel to try and drum up interest in the movie they’ve got in theaters, with umpteen clickbait “journalists” hyping up every word. And if the film tanks, look for Ever Vigilant to be quietly and continuously delayed until it comes out in the year of our lord Twenty-Never.

The way the world is right now, there’s a very real argument to be made that we’ve outgrown G.I. Joe. And the way Paramount’s going right now, they might not even be trustworthy enough to look after an AM radio station, never mind the vast stable of IPs under Hasbro. This could be another nail in the coffin of the studio, and it could very easily be another nail in the coffin of G.I. Joe.

If any character in the G.I. Joe stable could be made relevant to a modern internationally-minded audience, it’s probably Snake Eyes. Yet it’s an open question as to whether the character can sustain this one movie, or whether the PTB can sustain the franchise beyond this one success.

Then again, Hasbro/Paramount already tried this exact same strategy with Bumblebee. After that movie knocked it out of the park (Three freaking years later…), a sequel is now in production, with the Beast Wars lineup now in the mix. A Sonic the Hedgehog sequel wrapped filming last month. A Top Gun sequel is set for release this November. The seventh (!!!) goddamn Mission: Impossible movie finished production for release next year. Along with Snake Eyes, these five pillars are all that are currently holding up the studio.

How hard would how many of them have to fail before Paramount has to be put up for sale?

(Side note: Yes, I’m aware of the Star Trek film reportedly in development with Noah Hawley. Don’t even get me started on Paramount’s catastrophic mismanagement of that franchise. They’ve been teasing us with another Star Trek film for so long, I refuse to even consider it until they put something into production.)

It’s hard to overstate how high the stakes are for this movie. If it fails hard enough, the studio could be another step closer to collapse. Even if it succeeds, there’s no guarantee that the PTB will know what to do with it. All we can do is watch and wait.

Snake Eyes: GI Joe Origins comes out July 23rd.