How many times will Hollywood make the same “nobody wants to see this” prequel/reboot that sets up a sequel that will never be?
To the surprise of absolutely no one, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins bombed this weekend with a $13.3 million debut. Even on a mere $88 million budget (compared to $175 million for Rise of Cobra and $135 million for Retaliation) and on a Covid curve, this entirely unasked-for reboot featuring a well-liked but not butts-in-seats star (Henry Golding) suffered the same fate bestowed to countless Batman Begins wannabes. If G.I Joe could barely crack $300 million worldwide in 2009 and $375 million in 2013, back when the notion of a big-budget adaptation of a kids-targeted property was still somewhat unique and audiences still went to the movies just to go to the movies, why in the hell did anyone think that a Snake Eyes prequel would break out in 2020 or 2021?
Audience awareness does not equal audience interest. IP exploitations which come from a studio wanting to revive a dead franchise as opposed to audience interest are almost always destined to fail. IP for the sake of IP is not enough and has frankly never been enough. In an era where legacy sequels are a far more commercially viable path forward (The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, Creed, Halloween, etc.), I’m bemused that Hasbro, Skydance and MGM went full-reboot route like it’s 2013 and we didn’t yet know that The Amazing Spider-Man was going to crash and burn on the second go-around. Heck, full-on reboots almost never birthed long-running franchises anyway. Star Trek crashed on part 3, Amazing Spider-Man crashed on part two and Chris Nolan’s trilogy was three-and-done.
The relative success of Batman Begins ($371 million on a $150 million budget) did not signal that audiences wanted every vaguely well-known character (Jem, Superman, King Arthur, Peter Pan, Han Solo, Robin Hood twice, Fantastic Four thrice) to get origin story prequels where they didn’t become “the special” until the very end of the movie. Star Trek, Casino Royale and Batman Begins worked (relatively speaking) is because A) people enjoyed seeing those marquee characters and B) they spent at least the second half of the movie fully formed and doing “the thing.” While Snake Eyes features an unmasked and chatty Henry Golding doing plenty of ninja action (much of it too choppily edited to fully appreciated), he doesn’t “become” the Snake Eyes you love until the very end.
Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne became Batman at around 65 minutes into the 140-minute Batman Begins. Daniel Craig’s James Bond got his 00-status by the end of the pre-credits sequence. Kirk, Spock and McCoy were on the U.S.S. Enterprise and saving the world by the end of act one. Even the likes of Amazing Spider-Man and Man of Steel got their marquee heroes into the superhero game well before the climax. Once again, like (among many others) Independence Day: Resurgence, Pacific Rim: Uprising, The Old Guard and Artemis Fowl, Snake Eyes is a feature-length prequel to the movie we really wanted to see. How many times will Hollywood keep making this mistake? Audiences clearly don’t want this template and yet we keep getting these movies.
Absent good reviews and a marquee director, Snake Eyes was essentially living or dying on the mere notion of whether folks wanted another G.I. Joe movie, one that erased the two previous films that at least some folks actually saw and liked in theaters, and one featuring one of the more popular Joes before he became the silent, masked superhero everyone likes in the first place. Imagine a Deadpool movie where Ryan Reynolds’ Wade Wilson spends the entire film dealing with his cancer diagnosis and going through the ghoulish experiments that turn him into Deadpool only to emerge as the costumed “merc with the mouth” just before the credits rolled. That would have been absurd, right? And yet, Snake Eyes did just that, with predictable results.
The marketing campaign tried to convince you that the pre-Snake Eyes story of Snake Eyes was worth telling, with a nod to the notion of an Asian actor playing the previously white (but, as Larry Hama will happily admit, probably should have been Asian in the first place) hero. Diversity only matters with movies that audiences already want to see. A deeply charismatic actor like Golding (see – Crazy Rich Asians, The Gentleman and A Simple Favor) being de-charmed and playing a generic action franchise lead is the same trap that has befallen an entire generation of “not-Tom Cruise” would-be movie stars. I guess, in a ghoulish way, that’s progress. Let’s hope he gets the same 4,000 second chances as the likes of Channing Tatum, Charlie Hunnam or Armie Hammer.