Snake Eyes Synopsis: After saving the life of their heir apparent, tenacious loner Snake Eyes (Henry Goldin) is welcomed into an ancient Japanese clan called the Arashikage where he is taught the ways of the ninja warrior. When secrets from his past are revealed, Snake Eyes’ honor and allegiance will be tested – even if that means losing the trust of his closest ally Storm Shadow (Andrew Koji).
All brands, even relatively obscure ones, hold significant currency in Hollywood. Studios would rather roll the dice reviving a decayed staple rather than taking a chance on original material, which often leaves audiences with a massive wave of nostalgia-pandering reboots. Did you miss The Addams Family? What about The Craft? It doesn’t matter, because Hollywood is coming fast and furious either way with a plethora of perplexing reboots.
Many would put the G.I. Joe spin-off Snake Eyes in that cynical category, but this is one of the few random reboots that imbues me with some genuine nostalgia. I was always amused by Joe as a kid, particularly the silent feud between dueling ninja crusaders Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow. Giving these scene-stealing side players their own starring vehicle presents a fresh new perspective for the notoriously rah-rah brand (Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow always took a backseat to the goofy propaganda).
While it may boast a different aesthetic, Snake Eyes never strives away from conventional blockbuster formula. In fact, director Robert Schwentke’s mildly diverting origin story loses itself amidst its strikingly formulaic design. It’s a passable feature, one that reeks with a half-baked, TV-pilot aroma instead of igniting a promising first chapter.
Snake Eyes isn’t without promise. Schwentke and assistant director/stunt master Kenji Tanigaki enhance the standard-issue action numbers with a lively creative pulse. Tanigaki makes his presence felt through precise choreography, crafting a satisfying dance filled with impactful punches and swift movements. A third-act nighttime car chase soundly highlights their adept work, with a mixture of slashing swords and chaotic gunplay fully utilizing the character’s immense skills. Certain aesthetic choices are remnants of the overused Western sensibility (frenetic editing occasionally mucks up smooth setpieces), but Schwentke and Tanigaki deserve credit for embracing Eastern influences with genuine craft and understanding.
The passionate rivalry at the heart of Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow’s existence also shows moments of vitality. Star Henry Golding lends his swaggering charisma to make Snake Eyes pop as an action hero. His Americanized accent displays some inconsistencies, yet the actor still strongly conveys the character’s conflict as he deals with his painful past. If anything, I hope this film serves as a breakout for co-star Andrew Koji. As the somber and rage-filled Storm Shadow, Koji steals the show while injecting genuine gravity into the character’s stark pursuit for honor and justice.
Even with two promising performances at its center, Snake Eyes never finds cohesion on a fundamental level. Screenwriters Anna Waterhouse, Joe Shrapnel, and Evan Spiliotpoulos are stuck mindlessly operating in the confines of studio blockbuster territory. Their final product is as aimless and devoid of personality as it gets, fitting the cookie-cutter mold without ever presenting an understanding of what makes these characters work. G.I. Joe has never been a brand known for its nuance, but Snake Eyes‘ lack of focus can’t even match the series’ straightforward narrative objectives.
As an origin story, the film’s breakneck pace gives no time for the character dynamics to marinate. Making Snake Eyes a more complex and morally ambiguous character has promise on paper, with the screenwriters thankfully drifting away from the blanketed hero-worship of most origin stories. However, Snake Eye’s lust for revenge is never imbued with much emotion or agency. The audience rarely gets time to toil with his pains, making his simplistic quest more of a plot device than defining character motivation. The same can be said about his relationship with Storm Shadow. Both characters are conveyed through strong performances, yet the screenplay underserves them at every turn with over-simplistic plotting. If this film is supposed to establish their lifelong rivalry, then the slapdash screenplay should pay more attention to their passionate feud (the final ten minutes forces several revelations without earning them).
Instead of establishing a succinct origin story, Snake Eyes bloats itself within the vast G.I. Joe universe. Before Snake Eyes can even establish his own presence, G.I. Joe favorites Scarlett and the Baroness show up to muck up the proceedings. Both characters are spiritedly performed (Samara Weaving and Úrsula Corberó nail the material’s corny playfulness), but their appearance only serves to tease a potential cinematic universe. Why can’t a film act as one cohesive experience? The trend of forcing sequel teases without even having any potential follow-ups greenlit only works to hurt a franchise’s essential foundation (we’ll see how the box office turns out).
Snake Eyes will serve as passable entertainment for some. As one of the few fans of the brand, its half-baked and aggressively mediocre delivery only left me with mere ambivalence.
Snake Eyes is now playing in theaters nationwide.
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