Welcome to Shot by Shot, our ongoing series of movie trailer breakdowns. We’re constantly scouring for perfect shots, and in this column, we share our favorites and discuss them. In this entry, we go behind the mask and uncover the secrets hiding within the Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins trailer.
If there was ever a mark for a G.I. Joe movie, it was me. I was reared on the cartoons and the toys. I collected the action figure line well beyond the point of acceptable societal norms. My first comics were Joe comics, and writer Larry Hama remains an undeniable literary champion on my shelves.
And yet, the cinematic interpretations we’ve so far received failed to excite. Despite their casts, the movies are mostly bungled interpretations of the characters featuring brief moments of inventive action. Not even The Rock could rescue this franchise from its malaise.
With a few strikes already against them, Paramount Pictures and Hasbro attempt resuscitation. Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins pares down the team concept, allowing only a few stand-out toys to make an appearance. Zeroing the focus on the coolest of the cool, the baddest of the bad, is a natural decision. This is probably the direction they should have gone with from the start.
Director Robert Schwentke is a fascinating choice to helm this flick. He’s got two comic book movies under his belt (RED, R.I.P.D.) as well as a few Divergent sequels. In 2017, he delivered The Captain, a grimdark World War II morality tale about a low-level German soldier masquerading as a Nazi commander. That film drilled its audience into its protagonist’s perspective, refusing to blink when most crowds craved escape.
Partnering with Schwentke on Snake Eyes is DP Bojan Bazelli. As recently as 2020, the cinematographer excelled in mashing practical sets with grand visual effects in Underwater. He’s a go-to shooter for Gore Verbinski, capturing flicks like A Cure For Wellness, The Lone Ranger, and The Ring. He also shot the sumptuous Pete‘s Dragon remake and Michael Bay’s ultra-violent Netflix free-for-all, 6 Underground. And, um, yeah, Bazelli is partially responsible for A Gnome Named Gnorm.
Schwentke and Bazelli are bringing a lot of style and energy to Snake Eyes. It’s easy to get hyped by the trailer. G.I. Joe‘s movie history keeps me tempered, but the shots below offer plenty of titillation. Digging into the franchise’s most mysterious avenger creates some pitfalls (don’t explain the cool away, friends), but if the production can jump them with grace and stick the landing, then they’ll be hailed as champions by the fans.
Now let’s splice this trailer up and see what goodies we can find. The ten shots below suggest some deviations from canon and confirm Snake Eyes‘ loyalty to comic book scribe Larry Hama. We’re here for the mayhem and mythology.
We open on the man behind the mask. He’s beaten. He’s bloody. He’s boiling. Henry Golding as Snake Eyes is inspired casting, and lingering on this shot as a means of kickstarting your trailer is equally so. The cool ninja badass who speaks through his actions is right there in front of us. Sure, he needs a little refinement, but sharpening this rage from his mug is the movie’s mission. Schwentke will break Snake down into nothing so the character can arise supreme during the film’s climax. The trailer’s first few moments are all about smashing our hero into a relatable pulp.
After witnessing Snake Eyes go blow-for-blow during some underground criminal cage-match, we meet him at the docks gutting fish. This shot of Snake covered in blood invokes deadly possibility. Whether you’ve got gills or not, if you cross this killer, your insides will soon be your outsides.
He’s collected by Storm Shadow (Andrew Koji) to meet the boss. Someone’s in trouble, and that someone is Storm Shadow. The boss orders Snake to kill his friend, but the butcher-brawler can’t do it. After turning the gun on the goons around him, Snake and Storm Shadow flee to a private jet. Storm Shadow honors his savior with an invitation to join a secret sect.
In the Marvel Comics, very little is known about Snake Eyes. His origins are classified; even his name is a mystery. All we’re really ever given is that Snake Eyes was Army Special Forces once upon a time. He served alongside Stalker and Storm Shadow and eventually fell in with the latter’s ninja clan. Snake Eyes arose quickly amongst the Arashikage shinobi, but when their Hard Master (Iko Uwais) invited him to lead the clan over Storm Shadow, the two friends came to blows.
Their rivalry’s origin goes hand-to-hand with Snake Eyes’ origin. Storm Shadow wants to return purpose into his friend’s life, but he’s soon going to regret that decision. Jealousy will fuel the conflict, tearing the clan apart, leaving Snake no place else to run. As Storm Shadow became Snake’s first exit strategy, Scarlett (Samara Weaving) will become his second. But more on that in a moment.
Storm Shadow states that the Arashikage clan has maintained global peace for 600 years. They’re clandestine agents who act as surgeons when leaders or corporations step out of line. If the world’s got a tumor, it must be cut from the soil.
To become such ruthless soldiers, they undergo strict training, primarily orchestrated by Hard Master and Blind Master (Peter Mensah). We see Snake give his best effort against Hard Master, but the fishmonger has a long way to go before he can best the best. Storm Shadow may believe in his pal, but Snake struggles with each presented task. But he never turns away. He wants in—he’s game.
Blind Master presents Snake with “The Three Challenges of the Warrior.” Step one, jump down this hole and face whatever monstrosity is on the other side of this gate. As a willing student, Snake complies. There’s a serious Indiana Jones vibe in this shot, and I hope Snake has boned up on Papa Jones’ holy grail journal. Remember, only the penitent man will pass.
Scarlett shows up on the scene (behaving very Black Widow, mind you) and exposes Cobra agents operating against the Arashikage. Akiko (Haruka Abe) explains the terrorists as a shadow organization bent on global revolution. They’re basically the anti-Arashikage, erupting change through death and dominance.
What we can also gather from this shot is that the ninjas are far more industrious than their ancient ways might imply. They’ve got tech that could rival Wakanda. And they’re going to dress Snake to the nines, supplying his iconic suit.
We see The Baroness (Úrsula Corberó) lead a Cobra squad behind the Arashikage walls. They destroy the temple and obliterate hundreds of ninjas. The clan’s 600 years of history means little to their artillery. She’s the first to name Snake Eyes in the trailer, seemingly looking to adopt his might for her terror cell. Snake seems unimpressed with her smarm.
In the comics, the Arashikage clan eventually dissolves when Cobra assassinates Hard Master, using an arrow stolen from Storm Shadow’s pack. Snake mistakingly believes his friend to be the culprit and their initial clash decimates the shinobi ranks. Storm Shadow falls in with Cobra for a spell but eventually tempers cool; Snake learns the truth and the two work alongside Scarlett as G.I. Joe operatives. We’re a long way off from seeing that plot come to fruition. That might take a movie trilogy to resolve, but it’s obvious that the film is navigating a similar path.
Storm Shadow hoped to bring purpose to Snake Eyes, but it’s with Scarlett where he’ll find his ultimate destiny. The shinobi pull Snake from the gutter. They cut and slice the pity from his person, and when Cobra strikes against their nobility, Snake experiences an awakening. He is an instrument of righteousness. And Scarlett’s G.I. Joe can aim him where he’s needed.
Snake climaxes the trailer in his complete combat get-up. Akiko and Hard Master have tricked him out into the action figure we know and love. He straddles his bike and races off to meet his enemies on their ground. This is why we come to a Snake Eyes movie. We’re here to see an armored ninja dressed head-to-toe in various weaponry, jetting off to parts unknown with an army of ninjas at his back. Whether he’s charging into a knife fight or a gunfight, he’s got the appropriate tool for the job. And we definitely want to see all those tools get used.
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins arrives in theaters on July 23rd.