When it was revealed in 2018 that the GI Joe movie franchise would be rebooted with an origin story for Snake Eyes--a character that never shows his face and never speaks, with a mysterious past--it certainly didn't seem like a good idea. After all, traditionally movies that give backstories to characters that don't need them have a spotty track record (Hey, Rob Zombie's Halloween remake). With Crazy Rich Asians and A Simple Favor star Henry Golding cast in the title role and a slew of seeds planted for a new GI Joe film universe, though, Snake Eyes is better than you'd expect.
The movie dips into the character's history, starting with childhood. After watching his father be executed, we find him again as an adult, known only as Snake Eyes, with a thirst for revenge to find the one who killed his dad. That journey leads to him training to join the Arashikage ninja clan and befriending Tommy Arashikage (Andrew Koji), who GI Joe fans will recognize as the man that eventually becomes Snake's arch-nemesis Storm Shadow.
There will be some GI Joe purists who prefer to know nothing about Snake Eyes' past, but it's refreshing to see the building blocks behind the iconic masked warrior and what motivates him to not only become a master assassin but drives him toward the GI Joe unit.
It was clear who was good and who was evil on the original GI Joe animated series. The characters always lacked depth. If Snake Eyes is any indication, this new direction for GI Joe is looking to change that--at least for some of its characters.
While the movie does a lot to tell the story of both Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, they aren't the only GI Joe characters that appear. Both GI Joe's Scarlett (Samara Weaving) and Cobra second-in-command Baroness (Úrsula Corberó) get thrown into the mix. Unlike Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, the movie doesn't explore these two characters much. The film also explains the core of both GI Joe and Cobra, clueing Snake Eyes in to a bigger world of assassins and warriors than he could have ever expected. While the information dumps about GI Joe and Cobra aren't as fleshed out as they could have been, it is exciting to hear that this secret war is being carried out while the world is none the wiser.
Should this franchise actually come to fruition, though, it would be more enjoyable for future films to delve deeper into characters like this movie does with Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow. Every individual Joe and member of Cobra doesn't need their own movie, but it's nice to have a reason to root for or against them beyond a surface-level explanation of, "Cobra are the bad guys." The original GI Joe might have been able to get away with keeping things that simple. After a decade of MCU movies digging deep into the lore of comic book superheroes, though, you should be able to actually do the work in showing who your characters are and why the audience should care.
Thankfully, Golding and Koji are well-suited to bring Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow to life and there's an easy chemistry between them on-screen. The brotherhood between them is very believable. Weaving and Corberó, too, work well together in the scenes they share, though theirs is more of a humorous pairing. Still, the movie hints that they have a long history at odds with each other, which is something that would be fun to explore in future movies. Truthfully, there's not a weak link in the cast, with supporting characters like Arashikage head of security Akiko (Haruka Abe) and the villainous Kenta (Takehiro Hira), among others, rounding out the story.
It's also hard to argue how beautiful the movie is. With large chunks of it filmed on location in Japan, Snake Eyes is filled with stunning settings, whether they are ancient temples or on the streets of Tokyo. Those locations do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to bringing the audience into the world of the film.
Of course, what most will be attracted to is the action sequences. Snake Eyes is filled with huge fight scenes, a couple of epic motorcycle chases, and a number of explosions--all the sort of thing you might expect from a GI Joe movie. And thankfully, they are very entertaining, for the most part. While the movie is practically bloodless thanks to its PG-13 rating, dozens of people are swinging swords at each other throughout the film. The choreography of these fight scenes is well done, and they look fantastic.
Still, there is something that sticks out like a sore thumb: The is used extensively throughout the film. You've seen it a million times before, when a single hero (sometimes a small team of them in Snake Eyes) is suddenly confronted by a horde of nameless goons who seemingly exist only to give the hero(es) a bunch of foes to mow downIt happens so many times in Snake Eyes that it becomes comical. At one point in the film, one character looks at another as they hear a new army of baddies nearby and simply states that it sounds like 20 of them are coming. They then spring into action, taking them all out with relative ease. While Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow are, historically, some of the best-trained fighters on the planet, watching them slice and dice their way through so many low-level goons so easily seems a little strange. That said, it doesn't make this movie any less fun, just a bit sillier
While Snake Eyes isn't going to be the best movie you see in 2021, you'll have a fun time sitting down to watch it in a theater. It's filled with action, has just the right amount of nostalgia without overdoing it, and sets the stage for what could end up being an exciting series of films, should it be a success. Most importantly, though, it's the best GI Joe movie yet, easily surpassing 2009's underwhelming GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra and 2013's very bad GI Joe: Retaliation. Now that Snake Eyes has set the bar, it's up to whatever comes next to raise it.
Snake Eyes is in theaters on July 23.