One has to ask themselves if they ever wanted an origin story for the most popular G.I. Joe character before seeing Snake Eyes. This is because the character is naturally a cipher with very little personality. His inciting incident gives him his name and a thirst for revenge but little else. Only occasionally do we get a G.I. Joe film that envisions him as a bigger player in a grander story. You might recall, this character doesn't speak in the other G.I. Joe films. So what can you expect from Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins?
Director Robert Schwentke aims to deliver a good old-fashioned kung-fu flick, complete with a series of tests for the protagonist to prove his skills. There are plenty of modern twists but structurally, the film will remind you of a Shaw Brothers affair. Convoluted plot details aside, the film largely plays out as a test for Snake Eyes to join the Joes. When it sticks to being a movie about ninjas fighting ninjas, the film works. It is everything else that fails.
This is partly due to Snake Eyes himself. Henry Golding is charming as a leading man but the character is naturally passive. He is willing to get mixed up in a conflict between the yakuza and a secret clan but not driven enough to look for his father's killer on his own. He instead waits for Kenta (Takehiro Hira) to promise to hand over the man who killed his father if he infiltrates the clan and steals a powerful stone that they protect. However, Snake Eyes is a good guy at heart and quickly bonds with Tommy (Andrew Koji), the heir to the clan. Akiko (Haruka Abe) is less trusting of him but agrees to let Snake Eyes try three tests in order to join the clan. It is eventually revealed that the yakuza and Kenta are connected to Cobra and Tommy, Akiko and the clan are connected to the Joes.
The plot is likely not why you would check out this film. The action is the real draw here. Director Schwentke stages some thrilling fight scenes, especially the finale. However, he makes a choice to shoot the action very close up. This results in blurry motions that don't honor the martial arts on display. Some gorgeous set design helps to make these scenes pop but I wished they would cut to a wide shot of the action every once and a while and show us the fight in all its glory. I am not sure if this is due to Golding's inexperience as an action star but the rest of the cast has plenty of experience.
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins also sets up several spin-offs. Samara Weaving pops in as Scarlett for about 8 minutes of screen time. She serves more as a brief introduction to sell action figures than as a real character in the film. Other side characters are similarly underdeveloped. And you can feel the film setting up future films from about the mid-way point on.
While the film has plenty of problems, it does move quickly. I wish the directing had highlighted the fight choreography more but it still delivers some thrilling moments of action. There is a slickness to the whole production. It looks beautiful, showcasing Tokyo in ways that aren't seen enough. This is popcorn fare through and through and honestly you could do worse.