Paramount’s Snake Eyes is looking to kick off a rebooted G.I. Joe universe when it hits theaters in a few days, and for longtime fans of the G.I. Joe franchise, it’s a welcome arrival. While the movie is straightforward enough so that audiences don’t have to be familiar with the deep G.I. Joe lore to understand and enjoy Snake Eyes, it can add to one’s enjoyment to know at least a little bit of the background about Snake Eyes, one of the Joes’ most iconic and fan-favorite characters, heading into the movie.
Interestingly, of all the Joes, the least is known about Snake Eyes, who has remained something of a mysterious figure throughout his iterations in G.I. Joe media, fitting for the ninja who is always hidden behind a balaclava and visor. As the G.I. Joe team’s original commando, Snake Eyes is a former member of the Special Forces and Delta Force. He has extensive military and hand-to-hand combat training, as well as being a weapons expert. He’s also a skilled ninja, having trained with Storm Shadow’s Arashikage ninja clan after the two served together in the military, and has mastered a dozen different schools of fighting. The other significant thing about Snake Eyes is that he keeps his balaclava and visor on at all times, nor does he ever speak. This is due to his face being badly disfigured and vocal cords damaged in an explosion during an early mission as a Joe. Outside of that, not much is known about Snake Eyes, including his real name, place of birth, and details of his early years, either not being known or kept highly classified.
The new Snake Eyes movie changes that up considerably, giving him a tragic childhood backstory; his father is inexplicably murdered in front of him as a child by the crime boss Mr. Augustine (Samuel Finzi). Snake Eyes (Henry Golding) becomes an orphan and spends his life growing up on the streets, learning how to fight in order to survive. As he grows up, the only thing that drives him is a dream of vengeance and of finding Augustine to kill him. He and Tommy Arashikage meet in a way very different from the source material, but nonetheless, Snake Eyes finds himself training with the Arashikage clan, all the while keeping his dark motivations hidden.
So does Snake Eyes live up to the promising trailers? Is it a solid foundation upon which to build a new G.I. Joe movie universe? Here are three reasons to see it when it hits theaters.
1. Andrew Koji Steals The Show As Tommy/Storm Shadow
All due respect to Henry Golding as the titular character, but it’s Andrew Koji who steals the movie as Tommy Arashikage, a.k.a. Storm Shadow. As the heir apparent to the Arashikage clan, Tommy has the weight of centuries of mystical history and familial duty to lead his clan into the new century. Koji is more than up to the task, bringing an intensity and gravitas to the film that anchors it and offsets Henry Golding’s insouciant charm and occasional simmering anger as Snake Eyes. It’s a sign of an actor’s skill that they can take clunky lines of dialogue and deliver them convincingly, and the unlucky Koji gets the lion’s share of clunkers; that he manages to sell most of them is a testament to how good he is.
Koji is best known for his work on Warrior, the 1870s set martial arts crime drama that was first conceived of by Bruce Lee. In that series, Koji infuses his considerable martial arts sequences with a cheeky swagger reminiscent of Lee, mugging and winking at his opponents and getting under their skin. In Snake Eyes, however, Koji gets down to business as an honorable and serious fighter who would be right at home as a samurai in Japan’s Edo period. It’s completely different than the style he offers in Warrior, and his talent makes the switch seamless, Koji having that rare kind of magnetism that draws the eye whenever he’s on screen. It’s Golding’s movie, but it’s Koji’s show, and he is the name audiences will be talking about when they leave the theater.
2. Ambitious Action Sequences
Fans of action and martial arts will likely find much to appreciate in Snake Eyes. There’s plenty of ninja-meets-samurai-meets-motorcycle action, with just enough of a mystical element infused into the storyline to give the movie room to pull off stunts and action sequences that normally wouldn’t be possible by even the most skilled, but human, ninja. There’s a nice spread between one-on-one fight scenes, big brawls between the disciplined ninjas of the Arashikage clan and Kenta’s thuggish henchmen, and one extended action sequence between cars and motorcycles speeding down a highway. Credit to the inventive fight sequences goes to fight coordinator Kenji Tanigaki, whose deep experience coordinating adaptations of anime series Rurouni Kenshin is clearly evident in the action of Snake Eyes. It’s unfortunate that the overreliance on shaky cam and muddled editing undermines the fine work of Tanigaki, Koji and Golding, resulting in some fight sequences being confused instead of crisp. Still, some slick and stylish visuals elevate it and make Snake Eyes‘ fights worth the price of admission.
3. It Sets Up The Future Of The G.I. Joe Universe Nicely
The lore of G.I. Joe is deep but, wisely, Snake Eyes mostly steers clear of it, which seems counterproductive for a movie that is clearly meant to kickstart a potential new G.I. Joe movie universe. But diving too deep into the universe would lose audiences that have no connection to the old cartoons and comic books, including the all-important younger generation. Instead, Snake Eyes is a movie that is about one man’s struggle between who he feels he should be and who he really wants to be. More than that, it’s a story of the close bond formed between two men and how it eventually devolves into them becoming rivals. It mirrors the arc that Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow take in the original media, which finds the two of them fighting together in the military and training as ninjas, becoming close as brothers only to turn into bitter enemies.
That’s really the core storyline that holds the movie together, though there’s enough of the wider G.I. Joe universe interwoven into the story to create a solid base for what comes next. Current G.I. Joe member Scarlett (Samara Weaving) is introduced, as is Cobra villain Baroness (Úrsula Corberó), and by the end of the film, certain storylines are set into motion that clearly look to the future without taking the focus away from the story unfolding in Snake Eyes. It’s a deft balance that, despite the movie’s flaws, should be commended.
Snake Eyes is in theaters Friday, July 23.