THE STORY – An ancient Japanese clan called the Arashikage welcomes tenacious loner Snake Eyes after he saves the life of their heir apparent. Upon arrival in Japan, the Arashikage teach him the ways of the ninja warrior while also providing him something he’s been longing for: a home. However, when secrets from Snake Eyes’ past are revealed, his honor and allegiance get tested — even if that means losing the trust of those closest to him.
THE CAST – Henry Golding, Andrew Koji, Úrsula Corberó, Samara Weaving & Iko Uwais
THE TEAM – Robert Schwentke (Director), Evan Spiliotopoulos, Joe Shrapnel & Anna Waterhouse (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 121 Minutes
By Matt Neglia
There was an attempt to kickstart the “G.I. Joe” franchise in 2009 with “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” which didn’t perform nearly as well as many hoped. A sequel followed four years later in 2013 titled “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” which performed on about the same level as the previous film. The franchise did not catch on with the mainstream and was put on the shelf until now. Here we are, in 2021, with a third attempt to revitalize the franchise by taking one of the fan-favorite characters and telling his origin story with “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins.” With “Crazy Rich Asians” star Henry Golding re-cast as the titular role and the production serving as a whole new reboot for the franchise, it’s time to roll the dice once again. Will this one succeed where the others failed? Well, I’m sorry to say, but it looks like this franchise has rolled snake eyes once again!
Snake Eyes is a loner fighter who has been living a life with one purpose and one purpose only, to one day find the man who murdered his father when he was a child. The only information he has on the mysterious man who shot his father twenty years ago is that he rolled a pair of dice and gambled his father’s life on the outcome of the roll. It turned out to be snake eyes, which is how our protagonist received his name. One day, he’s approached by Kenta (Takehiro Hira), a member of the terrorist organization Cobra who is seeking revenge after being cast out of Clan Arashikage in Tokyo. Kenta wants Snake Eyes to get close to the clan’s leader, Thomas “Tommy” Arashikage (Andrew Koji) so that Snake Eyes can earn his trust and help Kenta exact his revenge. In return, Kenta promises to give Snake Eyes the man who killed his father all of those years ago. Snake Eyes earns the loyalty of Tommy and finds himself in Japan, where he must pass three challenges to be welcomed into the Arashikage clan officially. As his training continues, his friendship with Tommy grows, causing him to face a moral dilemma between choosing the family he once lost and the new family he’s gained.
“Snake Eyes” features non-stop, hard-hitting action throughout the entire runtime. The film rarely slows down to examine its characters any deeper or further explain its plot. It comes roaring out of the gate just as its lead character does in his impressive opening fight scene. It’s all chaos and mayhem, with shaky handheld camerawork and just enough cuts within the final edit to butcher whatever good work the choreography and stunt team were trying to put together with each sequence. The action is continuously shot up close, usually with a plethora of stunt performers, and never opens up enough to allow the audience to soak in what is happening. It’s a shame, too, for the movie is clearly relying on these many swordfights, motorcycle chases, and other large set pieces (one which involves giant snakes) to keep the audience invested when the real story centered around themes of revenge, selflessness, loyalty, and betrayal was all the filmmakers needed to tell a successful story. Unfortunately, any and all of the work being done in the story department is let down by the film’s insistent focus on the action at the characters’ expense.
Henry Golding is a very likable presence on the screen, and who doesn’t want to see a Malaysian actor be a leading man in a Hollywood blockbuster? However, the character of Snake Eyes is undercut at every turn by the filmmakers’ attempts to make the character as unlikeable as humanly possible. Yes, he’s a rough and formidable warrior, hell-bent on revenge and self-preservation. Still, the film sticks with this presentation of the character for too long, never fully allowing his character arc to translate over to the audience acceptably. As Haruka Abe’s Akiko, the head of security for the Arashikage clan, starts to fall for him, we’re left wondering why? What’s so special about him? What has he done to earn such affection and loyalty from those around him? Tommy’s explanation is because he looked into his eyes and saw something in him, but the film never correctly explains any of these qualities. Even as Snake Eyes undergoes three (seemingly physical) mental and spiritual challenges to prove himself to the Arashikage clan, his journey is shrouded in vagueness and confusion, especially because allegiances constantly shift in this movie.
Somewhere along the line, the filmmakers remembered that this is a “G.I. Joe” movie, so the inclusions of Cobra and other characters such as Úrsula Corberó’s Baroness (A high ranking member of the Cobra terrorist organization, who is working with Kenta…at first) and Scarlett (played by “Ready Or Not’s” Samara Weaving), an agent for both G.I. Joe and the Arashikage clan, only serve to make the plot harder to follow and divert audience’s attention from the crux of what makes the film work: Andrew Koji. The British actor, known for his television role as Ah Sahm on “Warrior,” steals the movie from Henry Golding by delivering a layered and captivating performance as the next in line for the Arashikage clan, who carries the burden of responsibility for everyone around him, including Snake Eyes, on his shoulders. He’s the one with the more believable character arc and is given the right amount of pathos to make his performance stand out. If it weren’t for him, the movie would be nearly unwatchable.
“Snake Eyes” tries to inject new flavor into the “G.I. Joe” franchise by re-casting its characters, re-focusing its story, and hoping that we’ll forget the previous two films? Either way, it’s ultimately let down by overly edited and poorly shot action sequences, a confusing story, and an even more confounding characterization of its primary protagonist. Perhaps with a better director, which could result in better action sequences, this franchise can be improved upon, once again, with yet another sequel (as the post-credits so obviously tell us there’s going to be one). How many times can you roll the dice and lose? I guess we’ll find out.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Andrew Koji delivers a captivating performance that steals the movie. If you’re not bothered by the mammoth amount of edits, the action scenes may entertain you.
THE BAD – Hasty storytelling, an unlikable protagonist, and poorly shot action sequences. This franchise has rolled snake eyes once again.
THE FINAL SCORE – 3/10