Action Adventure

Review: ‘Snake Eyes’ Chronicles the Rise of a Real American Ninja Warrior

July 22, 2021Ben MK

Originally conceived as a line of generic military action figures, the nearly six-decade-old G.I. Joe toy brand has grown into an entire universe unto itself, spawning cartoons, comics, movies and more, all centering on the unending conflict between its titular heroes and their arch enemy, the evil criminal organization known as Cobra. Now, after two live-action big screen adventures starring the likes of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Channing Tatum, the series is getting a do-over — but does Henry Golding have what it takes to fill the boots of what is arguably the franchise's most badass and iconic character?

In director Robert Schwentke's Japan-set origin tale, Golding portrays the film's titular protagonist, a man known only as Snake Eyes, a moniker he assumed after witnessing the brutal murder of his father 20 years earlier in a cabin in Washington State. Since that fateful night, Snake has been consumed by his unquenchable thirst for vengeance, channelling that rage into a career as a successful brawler among L.A.'s no-holds-barred underground fight circuit. But when he's approached by a Yakuza boss by the name of Kenta (Takehiro Hira), who promises to deliver him the revenge he's been seeking for most of his life, Snake finds himself thrust into a world of ancient Japanese tradition and modern-day espionage he never knew existed.

After saving the life of Tommy (Andrew Koji), a man he thought was just another Yakuza thug, Snake discovers that Tommy is actually a member of the Arashikage clan, a centuries-old group of noble ninja warriors. Invited back to Tokyo to join the Arashikage, Snake must first complete a series of three challenges, each one more treacherous than the next, and all designed to assess whether he's worthy of becoming one of the clan's sworn protectors. What Tommy and the rest of the Arashikage — including its cautious Chief of Security, Akiko (Haruka Abe) — don't suspect, however, is that Snake is harboring an ulterior motive. And when that hidden agenda is eventually revealed, it will spell the start of a bitter and bloody — not to mention, legendary — rivalry.

Of course, G.I. Joe fans will have to wait for future installments to see how that rivalry unfolds. But in the meantime, Schwentke and screenwriters Evan Spiliotopoulos, Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse do a respectable job setting up the movie's major players, their backstories, and even how it all ties in to the G.I. Joes and Cobra, introducing characters like Scarlett (Samara Weaving) and the Baroness (Úrsula Corberó) along the way. Where the film somewhat falters, though, is in its handling of its action set-pieces. Suffice to say, these sequences are few and far between. And although the movie's climax certainly compensates for the lack of action present throughout the rest of the film, it also involves fantasy elements that undercut the real-world grounding of the story's first half.

That said, Golding makes for a convincing action hero, and, likewise, Snake's evolution over the course of the movie makes for a convincing hero's journey. As for what the future holds for this real American ninja warrior, only time will tell. What's for certain, however, is that Snake Eyes proves to be an honorable beginning for a fan-favorite character whose moment in the spotlight has been a long time coming.

Snake Eyes releases July 23rd, 2021 from Paramount Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for sequences of strong violence and brief strong language. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 1 min.

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