snake eyes: g.i. joe origins – marketing recap

How Paramount has sold an action prequel/reboot of the G.I. Joe franchise

snake eyes theatrical poster

The first two live-action G.I. Joe feature films, released in 2009 and 2013, were not great movies. But they performed well enough – and the innate studio desire for franchises with built-in fanbases great enough – for Paramount Pictures to keep things going with this week’s Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins.

With a title that unfortunately evokes memories of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the movie stars Henry Golding as a loner going by the moniker Snake Eyes who already has substantial fighting skills but lacks direction. When he saves the life of Thomas “Tommy” Arashikage (Andrew Koji) he’s invited to join Clan Arashikage, a secretive group of ninjas with their own agenda. Though they become as close as brothers, the two have falling out. At the same time they’re drawn into the nascent battle between G.I. Joe and Cobra, personified by Scarlett (Samara Weaving) and Baroness (Úrsula Corberó) respectively.

Originally scheduled for March 2020 but pushed multiple times due to the coronavirus pandemic, the movie arrives following a campaign that has leaned into the land-standing popularity of the title character and the affection fans still have for the man who defined much of that character’s backstory and persona.

The Posters

The first poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications), also released online as a motion poster, came out in mid-May and shows Snake Eyes, sans mask, in front of a bright neon version of the Clan Arashikage symbol.

Two posters (by marketing agency Works Adv) came out in early June, both still using the Clan Arashikage symbol. One shows a sword in front of that symbol, the other a pair of dice that have come up snake eyes

Character motion posters (by BLT) for Snake Eyes, Baroness, Scarlett, Hard Master, Blind Master, Storm Shadow, Akiko and Kenta. were released exclusively to IGN in June

Another poster was released in June, this one finally showing a masked Snake Eyes looking very serious against a bright Japanese downtown.

The whole cast of characters – including both masked and unmasked Snake Eyes – is seen on the theatrical poster released in early July in a design that’s similar to most other ensemble franchises, with everyone arrayed around the main character who looms over them in the background.

An IMAX exclusive poster has Snake Eyes staring at the camera with the company logo reflected in his mask’s visor. Dolby’s poster again puts Snake against the backdrop of a city street, that view coming through a window shaped like the company’s logo.

One final poster, released just last week, illustrates the dual nature of the man who is Snake Eyes, his masked and unmasked face bifurcated by his sword.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer (17 million views on YouTube), which debuted during the “MTV Movie & TV Awards” in May, very much positions the movie as an origin story. It focuses on how The Man Who Would Be Snake Eyes is seeking purpose in his life and so joins a ninja clan devoted to maintaining peace and justice in the world. There are glimpses of his training as well as supporting characters like Storm Shadow, Scarlett and The Baroness, but the short running time means this is a teaser first and foremost, not offering many details.

Another trailer (3.7 million views on YouTube) came out in mid-June, starting off by establishing how Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow were once friends. Their falling out isn’t shown, but we do see how Snake becomes involved with the Joes and their fight against Cobra.

One last trailer (2.5 million views on YouTube) came out just days ago. It hits many of the same notes but focuses a bit more on Snake Eyes attempting to outrun his past. Also, it ends with Tommy fully embracing his new persona as Storm Shadow, which is a nice touch.

Online and Social

Not much on the official website, which is mainly about selling tickets to local theater showings, just a basic synopsis and a few videos.

Advertising, Publicity and Promotions

A brief video in January 2020 marked the beginning of production in Japan, showing the cast and key members of the crew assembled to start getting things going.

Back in February of last year Golding offered a first look at the title character via his personal Instagram.

Unsurprisingly, in August of last year Paramount delayed the film’s release a full year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Around that time Golding made an appearance during the virtual Hasbro Pulse Con event, talking about the movie.

Golding talked briefly about the movie at the end of 2020 while promoting other projects, including showing off some footage of him training on “The Tonight Show” in November.

At CCXP in December Golding, Corbero, Weaving and others all made virtual appearances to get fans excited for the movie. Also joining them was G.I. Joe legend Larry Hama, who gave his endorsement to the movie and its cast for their portrayal of characters he was integral in laying the foundation of nearly 40 years ago.

Because of the delay in release Golding made his second appearance at Hasbro Pulse Con this past February, talking more about what fans could expect and showing off more of the toys and other products coming to store shelves.

Official first look stills came via EW in May, showing off maskless pics of Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, Akiko and others along with comments on the characters and how the story developed and evolved over time from Golding and others, including producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura.

The trailer’s debut during the “MTV Movie & TV Awards” in May was teased by Golding in advance and introduced by him during the show.

A featurette released at the same time as the first trailer has Golding and others praising Hama’s work in creating the characters, teasing what the story will cover and showing a bit of behind-the-scenes footage in addition to clips from the movie.

Golding presented at the Billboard Music Awards in May.

Short videos like this were released occasionally, not adding much but calling out different aspects of the movie. Other promotional spots and commercials came out regularly in the last month or so, each hitting on various story or character points.

An interview with di Bonaventura had him talking about various parts of the film, from the questions that came about casting Golding to turning one of the great “mystery” characters of pop culture into an action hero and more.

Fandango MovieClips had an exclusive featurette that focused on the stunts and choreography that went into the movie and its ninja-tastic action.

There was a big promotional presence for the movie at ComplexLand in June, including a recreation of Snake Eyes home neighborhood. Visitors there could also get a free poster designed by Japanese-American artist Adam Fujita and register to win other exclusive merchandise.

Another featurette had Golding, Hama and Koji talking about the backstory of the friendship between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow.

The “Robot Chicken” team created a video that has Golding voicing Snake Eyes in a twisted version of the PSAs that were included in the classic cartoon series, though this includes the rest of the G.I. Joe team feeling pretty hurt that they were left out of the movie.

Snake Eyes had been added to Fortnite a while ago and recently made an appearance in the Batman: Fortnite comic series from DC. A video of Golding playing the game as Snake Eyes was released in July.

Online ads like this started running in the last few weeks, driving traffic to the official site where people could get ticket-buying information.

snake eyes online ad

An exclusive apparel line of movie-inspired products was released by Steve Akoi’s Dim Mak Collection earlier in July.

Just days before release there was a virtual cast panel as part of Comic-Con @ Home. This is one of the *very* few movies to make an appearance at SDCC, with studios apparently feeling the value wasn’t there this year.

Golding also appeared on “Kimmel” to talk about shooting the movie and more.

Overall

There are some good elements to the campaign, particularly the slick visuals seen on the posters. And Golding deserves a lot of credit for taking on a lot of heavy-lifting, using his personal social media in combination with a number of awards show and other appearances to sell the movie to his fans.

The marketing deserves special credit, though, for bringing the legendary Larry Hama so deeply into the effort. Having him as part of so many featurettes and interviews goes a long way toward making the movie attractive to those who may be wary, either because they’re concerned a Snake Eyes movie won’t be as good as they want it to be or because they still feel slightly burnt by the previous G.I. Joe franchise entries.

Gi Joe Mask GIF by Snake Eyes - Find & Share on GIPHY

quick takes on: the first snake eyes trailer

Move with the wind…

After a handful of first look stills came out late last week the first trailer for Snake Eyes debuted during the recent MTV Movie & TV Awards and I have some thoughts.

the only origin story we really need

OK, so it’s an origin story, but not only did we get an abbreviated version of that origin in the earlier G.I. Joe movies but Larry Hama wrote what every Gen X comic book reader knows is the *definitive* version in issues #26 and #27 of the Marvel Comics series in 1984.

Along those same lines, why does everything have to be an origin story? Even if Paramount wasn’t on board for a full-on adaptation of “Silent Interlude” it would have been cool to see a movie where Snake Eyes is already at the height of his skills. Give me a movie where Snake is dropped behind enemy lines and has to ninja his way to completing the mission without support.

It’s a relatively short trailer so I’ll forgive that we only get a brief glimpse of Samara Weaving as Scarlett, but let’s not repeat this blatant oversight and give people what they want next time.

Incredulous Killer Queen GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

If I’m reading between the lines correctly this movie *is* connected to the previous G.I. Joe movies, acting as a prequel to them, but does it need to be? Are those so beloved that this couldn’t have served as a chance to restart things along different lines?

Ray Park *was* great as Snake Eyes in those movies, though, and if he doesn’t at least get a background cameo in this one I will be calling my congressman.

My presumption is, though this is an origin story, Henry Golding was not cast in the title role only for him to have his face burnt away. So Snake’s wearing of a balaclava will likely once more be explained as a choice instead of a necessity.

You can’t ignore the fact that Paramount and Hasbro timed the release of the trailer to coincide with Batman/Fortnite: Zero Point #3, which features Snake Eyes, hitting comic shop shelves this week. Snake has been in Fortnite for a few months now, so this is a nice extension on a number of fronts.

Any additional thoughts?

Let Snake Eyes Be Snake Eyes

I joked, in the wake of the news last week that Paramount is prepping a stand-alone Snake Eyes movie, that if it’s not an adaptation of G.I. Joe #21 I’m going to react poorly. That issue, if you don’t already know, contains no dialogue as it’s a solo story featuring Snake Eyes infiltrating a Cobra stronghold and doing armed battle against his rival Storm Shadow and a bunch of other ninjas to rescue Scarlett.

So…not a chatty bunch there.

Whether or not that happens, I’m surely not the only one who hopes the studio embraces a bit more of what made Snake Eyes one of the first and biggest “cool” characters in the pop culture pantheon of Gen Xers like myself.

It’s true. This is even before (or around the same time) Wolverine became the poster child for gritty, cool comic book characters. Batman was just about to be reinvented by Frank Miller into The Dark Knight that would dominate that character for the next 30 years and Alan Moore was busy deconstructing the whole super hero idea in Watchmen.

Snake-Eyes_af2Meanwhile, Larry Hama was telling a ridiculously complex and intriguing story about Snake Eyes in the G.I. Joe books. The backstory as to why he didn’t – couldn’t – speak, where that tattoo on his forearm came from and what it signified, what the grudge Storm Shadow held against him…all of that played out over the course of years. A few dedicated arcs of a couple issues each popped up here and there, but it all trickled out slowly via flashbacks to Vietnam, Japan and other locations.

For someone like myself who was relatively new to serialized storytelling like this, it was ridiculously addictive, especially since it was pre-internet and the only other person to talk to about it was that one other friend who also collected the Joe books.

While I try not to get too hung up on my own definition of the “real” version of a character that has had countless people telling different stories, each effective and substantial in their own way, I do feel like there’s something about that 80s comic book Snake Eyes that is much more interesting and provocative than what was seen in the live-action movies to date. Ray Park did a great job conveying Snake’s physical abilities, but even with some flashbacks filling in parts of his backstory it just wasn’t the same.

There was nothing that captured that lethal effectiveness of that landmark issue. More than that, there was nothing that conveyed the same sense of mystery about the character as a whole as what was shared in the Hama-penned comics. Even in the flashbacks, we never saw Snake Eyes’ face, which was always obscured in some way, though we saw the moment where he received the injuries that lead him to wear a mask at all times. There were only a few times where, in the present, he removed that mask for some reason, with the camera always behind him so the audience saw nothing revealed.

It’s that character I most want to see, the tragic warrior doomed to live a solitary existence, haunted by what he sees as a failure to protect the teacher who took him in and raised him as his own.

The movie version hinted at that, but it didn’t capture it in a meaningful way. Here’s hoping Paramount takes a page from the success of something like Logan and goes all-in on a lonely, conflicted character who wants to stop fighting but knows it’s not the time for that just yet.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.