Reviewed by Alicia Glass
Director: Robert Schwentke
Studio: Paramount Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG 13
No ninjas can stop all the spoilers!
The origin story of the notoriously silent G.I. Joe ninja loner, Snake Eyes (Henry Golding).
Inevitably, we begin our journey with Snakey as a nameless son, hiding out with his Father (Steven Allerick) in a sort of self-imposed witness protection. After a few moments of father-son bonding in the woods, this idyllic life is shattered when the bad guys come and execute his Father in a rather Cobra style, complete with dice-rolling and the pronouncement of, “Snake eyes – you lose!”
A flurry of kicks and punches later, we catch up with young-man Snakey, engaging in cage-fights with Yakuza, being recruited by Yakuza boss Kenta (Takehiro Hira) to smuggle things into Los Angeles, and in general well on his merry way to getting himself killed for underworld interference, just like his Father. He’s even taken the name of his Father’s killer – Snake Eyes. And while it makes sense to have an animal predator name when trying to move through the Asian gangster worlds, it takes a special kind of psycho to take the name of your fathers murderer while you work on becoming strong enough to take them out.
After a botched execution command and a rather improbable save through a horde of Yakuza and cage fighters, Snakey makes the acquaintance of Tommy Arashikage (Andrew Koji), the heir apparent of the Arashikage ninja clan. And nothing would do but for Tommy to take Snakey back to the Arashikage clan compound and insist on having Snakey go through several trials to prove his worthiness of joining the Arashikage clan and becoming a ninja!
Or it would be, if Snakey didn’t have the inevitable ulterior motives. As it turns out, minor spoilers that frankly we knew damn well were coming but anyway here we go, Snake Eyes is actually working for Kenta to take out the gemstone power source of the Arashikage ninja clan from within, and if he can manage that Kenta has promised him the name of his fathers killer. … Because everything Snakey has learned about the underworld being honorable so far still holds true, right? Right?!
About here we will begin dropping amusing anecdotes, things we’ve learned from watching ‘Snake Eyes’ already:
#1 Ninja are more honorable than Yakuza. At least, they think so.
#2 Everyone in Japan carries a sword apparently, openly, on the street, it’s like the necessary umbrella only much more deadly.
Here is also where we pause for reflection, as Snakey begins his testing to prove his body and mind worthy of becoming a ninja of the Arashikage clan, aided and goaded on often at the same time by the likes of Blind Master (Peter Mensah) and Hard Master (Iko Uwais). Those of us who knew and loved the G.I. Joe cartoons when we were young, or even liked the slapstick-y live-action films that came out years back, know that Tommy Arashikage is destined to become Storm Shadow, one of Cobras’ elite warriors and Snake Eyes’ own personal nemesis. So this entire montage of anticipatory training and then testing in the Arashikage family compound is, while visually striking and even amusing to watch, an exercise in futility. And the three giant CGI anacondas guarding the Arashikage family treasure, the gemstone of power, that Snakey has to beat somehow or another, are a gleeful hop and a skip far past ridiculousness.
#3 Because if an ancient ninja clan is going to have a giant terrifying freaking anaconda snake as a test, might as well go whole-hog and have not one but three!
So Snakey has managed to throw everything into chaos, steal the gemstone of power of the Arashikage clan with the intention of giving it over to Kenta and, unbeknownst to him, the entire Cobra bad guy collective. Looks like it’s time for yet another improbable save and new-info-dump from everyone’s favorite lady Joe, Agent Scarlett (Samara Weaving)! And of course, the bad guys are consolidating their power with the dubious help of Cobra, which means introducing yet another beloved female character of the ‘G.I. Joe’ universe, that black bodysuit-wearing Cobra femme fatale known only as the Baroness (Ursula Corbero)!
#4 How could you guys do that to the Baroness’ hair? How?! It’s like her signature mane has been chopped short with a chainsaw and shellacked into not moving – ever!
Lots and lots of beautifully choreographed fighting ensues, aided by legendary ‘The Raid’ star Iko Uwais and Japan’s heavyweight stunt coordinator, Kenji Tanikagi, and that turns out to be one of the films saving graces. (It sure isn’t the convoluted and gaping-holed plot.) The interactions between Snakey and Tommy, as they both struggle for a place to hold their own, whether it’s the long ancient history of the Arashikage clans ascension or the fairly constant if nagging presence of the long-standing counter terrorism unit G.I. Joes and their enemies the Cobra collective, affecting Snakey’s entire family without realizing it, demonstrate the crushing weight of familial expectations and the common desire to break free. The trouble that neither Tommy nor Snakey want to acknowledge, is that some problems can’t actually be solved by gorgeously beating the snot out of it!
#5 BTW, Samara Weaving as Scarlett was a bomb choice, and she kicks serious ass for the few moments she’s sporadically on-screen, when she’s not being used as a plot-drive clue-x4 device.
For a supposed soft reboot of the entire ‘G.I. Joe’ film universe, ‘Snake Eyes’ told as an origin story, present-tense explanatory break and even future presence is fraught with storytelling misses, plot holes and “you’d automagically know this stuff if you were a real fan” moments, but, it is wonderfully shot and the fight scenes, of which there are a plethora of styles and gloriously cheeky moments, are great fun to watch!