Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins marks the rebooting of the G.I. Joe franchise and with a stacked cast of action all stars and heartthrobs including Henry Golding, Andrew Koji, Úrsula Corberó, Samara Weaving, Haruka Abe, Takehiro Hira, Peter Mensah, and Iko Uwais. I knew I was bought in. Telling the origins of Snake Eyes, director Robert Schwentke and screenwriters Evan Spiliotopoulos, Anna Waterhouse, and Joe Shrapnel create a world that offers nods to classic Hong Kong action and Yakuza films alike.
In Snake Eyes, Golding plays our titular character. A tenacious loner and drifter who moves from one fight to the next, Snake Eyes is welcomed into an ancient Japanese clan called the Arashikage after saving the life of their heir apparent, Storm Shadow (Koji). Upon arrival in Japan, the Arashikage teach Snake Eyes the ways of the ninja warrior while also offering him a home and a way beyond his vengeance. But, when secrets from his past are revealed, Snake Eyes’ honor and allegiance will be tested—even if that means losing the trust of those closest to him.
Snake Eyes is a tried and true American action film that tries hard to capture the magic and aesthetic of the high-octane Asian action films that run the gamut from Yakuza film to Hong Kong action, and of course ninja films. From the color palette to set design, Schwentke and crew make hard nods to films that many of the film’s actors have stared in previously. That said, this is the film’s largest weakness. With a stacked cast of action performers from Koji to Uwais and even Weaving, the action elements are shot in a way that most American action films are: quick jump cuts and shaky cam.
Truth be told, American action directing is the film’s biggest flaw. The beauty of the choreography that is crafted by Kenji Tanigaki (known for his work on Ruroni Kenshin live-action films) is cut off at the knees, most of the time literally by close-up shaky cam shots. I have to stress that the actors themselves are clearly capable, displaying a physicality in their roles in this film and in their past ones. Additionally, the action sequences on screen are a solid foundation. But all of that is marred by too many close-ups that don’t allow the actors the space to showcase the choreography. In fact, it’s clear that had the camera been pulled out they would have been amazing to see.
The lack of know-how when it comes to shooting martial arts on film, and even just standard hand-to-hand combat, is beyond apparent. And sadly, while the men have their moments undercut, the women of Snake Eyes face an even worse outcome. Despite showcasing the “end” of big battles, like Baroness and Scarlett leaving a room where they clearly fought many, many, enemies, we don’t actually get to see much of the fighting itself. While Abe as Akiko gets the most fight time, it feels negligible given how much her skill was praised between characters.
Now, don’t get me wrong there are a couple of stellar action sequences, but for a film extremely focused on action, this piece undercuts the film. That said, the actors themselves deliver performances that show how well prepared they are to be leading men in action films. While Golding has embodied rom-com leads, getting to see his range as an action star was refreshing and honestly had me excited to see even more of him in that capacity. But beyond just being physically astounding, Golding brings raw emotion to his character, showcasing every emotion he feels in a big way.
While Golding proves that he can carry an action role, Koji as Storm Shadow is the showstopper. Having already starred in one of the best series to come out in the last five years, Warrior, a martial arts Western based on the writings of Bruce Lee, I knew Koji would show up and show stop. That said, as Storm Shadow, he hits camp, anger, and a ruthless edge all in one swoon-worthy package.
Finally, while the bulk of the film could have been made detached from the G.I. Joe brand given the storytelling of the first two acts, the third act solidly sets the foundation for the future of the franchise, weaving in characters like Baroness and Scarlett. And each actress brings the most to their romp roles.
At the end of the day, Snake Eyes is a Solid American action film, for better and worse. While I wish it had trusted its actors more with the fight choreography instead of marring it with jump cuts and shaky hands, this is still a solid film with solid performances. While action fans, especially those who have come to love Koji or Uwais or even Weaving in other physical roles, will take issues with the film, there is still a lot to love.
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is playing nationwide on July 23, 2021.
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins
Snake Eyes is a solid American action film at the end of the day, for better and worse. While I wish it had trusted its actors more with the fight choreography instead of marring it with jump cuts and shaky hands, this is still a solid film with solid performances. While action fans, especially those who have come to love Koji or Uwais or even Weaving in other physical roles, will take issues with the film, there is still a lot to love.