‘Snake Eyes’ is a Shaky, Lifeless Action Flick

I want to preface this review of Snake Eyes by saying I know next to nothing about the G.I. Joe universe. Yes, I sporadically watched the cartoons as a kid and surely had an action figure or two – presumably with a kung-fu grip – but I’ve never seen the other films in the franchise and have no idea as to what’s canon and what isn’t. I point this out not because I think it matters, but just to clear the air so that some nerd can’t yell at me for not understanding G.I. Joe.

Onto the movie…

Snake Eyes opens in the middle of a forest in Washington with a man and his young child trying to escape from someone. Despite their best efforts, they’re quickly captured and the father is forced to roll some dice. He wins, he lives. But if he loses, he dies. He rolls the dice and to the surprise of everyone they come up snake eyes – that’s the name of the movie! The young child tries to save his father but fails and runs off into the woods all by his lonesome.

Fast forward a couple of decades and that young child is now a man (Henry Golding) fighting in underground street fights under the name Snake Eyes – that’s the name of the movie! Snake, as his close friends call him, has dedicated his life to find his father’s murderer. He’s also trying to discover his true identity because as it turns out, Snake’s old man lived entirely off the grid.

Snake’s fighting leads him to work for Kenta (Takehiro Hira) and the yakuza. On assignment from Kenta, Snake infiltrates the Clan Arashikage and wins the trust of the clan heir, Tommy Arashikage (Andrew Koji). From there we get two hours of twisty double-crossing and unlikely alliances involving G.I. Joe and Cobra, which eventually gives birth to a new rivalry while unveiling the origins of Snake Eyes.

On the surface, Snake Eyes is a perfectly fine movie. It’s not a good or a bad movie. It’s a movie that just sort of exists. The basic premise is fine enough and the cast is good but it all feels a bit dull with a few highlights and a lot of missed opportunities. There are moments of big, goofy action silliness – including an extended fight scene on the back of a movie semi-truck – and the briefest glimpses of some quality ninja action. Snake Eyes never fully commits one way or another, and thus the aforementioned dullness.

The film’s biggest failure is the action. If there is one thing Snake Eyes needed to get right it was the action. And it really missed the mark. The tight shots and shaky cam will take the brunt of the blame, but they may have been necessities to cover for the fact that nothing cool was happening. The best moments were swarms of yakuza running with swords and that’s not going to cut it. This is a movie that has Koji and Iko Uwais. At a minimum, we should get some breathtaking moments from them. That never happens. Iko is almost entirely underused while Koji’s best moments are shared with Golding, and, well, Golding is more of a lover than a fighter. Also, why isn’t Scott Adkins in this movie? Why isn’t Scott Adkins in every movie?

(By the way, Adkins isn’t one to hold back when poor action movies are poor)

Action failures aside, the movie is too long. They could’ve shaved thirty minutes off and told the same story. And with a picked up pace, it may have seemed a tad more exciting. Also, if you’re doing an origin story and casting an actor with an accent, why not just use his accent in the story? Golding does an admirable job at times, but his British accent seeps through a few times early before finally taking over. This isn’t a knock on Golding either. Covering up an accent is hard. Just make the character British. They stress G.I. Joe being an international organization, so it would’ve worked fine.

The film’s best moments are the visuals from the non-action sequences. Snake Eyes contains some gorgeous locations with vivid, neon colors and Bojan Bazelli captures them well. Also, Samara Weaving shows up and that’s fun.

In the end, Snake Eyes feels like a real missed opportunity. And that’s too bad.

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