Snake Eyes review: A clumsy GI Joe reboot that barely stands to attention

Was there really another need for a ‘GI Joe’ reboot? There is if there’s a whiff of franchise potential! But the makers of this Japan-set action flick starring Henry Golding needn’t have bothered

Clarisse Loughrey
Friday 20 August 2021 06:32 BST
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Snake Eyes trailer

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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Dir: Robert Schwentke. Starring: Henry Golding, Andrew Koji, Úrsula Corberó, Samara Weaving, Iko Uwais. Cert 12A, 121 mins

If you’re utterly clueless when it comes to the GI Joe franchise, don’t fret. While Snake Eyes supposedly provides the origin story of one of its oldest and most popular characters – a commando who at some point acquired full ninja training – there are scarce few indications this film ever originated from a series of Hasbro action figures designed as child-sized propaganda for the US armed forces. Neither is it necessary to have seen the dimly remembered 2009 film GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra or its sequel GI Joe: Retaliation, since Snake Eyes is firmly positioned as a hard reboot. In fact, the words “GI” and “Joe” only ever crop up in the final few minutes, right at the point the filmmakers suddenly remember that it’s their sworn duty to always set the groundwork for a sequel.

Otherwise, there’s very little that separates Snake Eyes from every other clumsily shot, loosely plotted action film from the last 10 years or so. In this story, the titular Snake Eyes (Henry Golding) has christened himself after the source of his own trauma (the therapeutic benefits of this remain undetermined) – his father was killed by a mysterious figure who lets his victims roll dice to determine their fate, a la No Country for Old Men’s Anton Chigurh and his minatory coin toss. The dice land on double ones (hence, Snake Eyes). Bad luck.

While working as a Los Angeles cage fighter, our hero finds himself both hired by a yakuza boss (Takehiro Hira’s Kenta) and inducted into the Arashikage clan of ninjas by Kenta’s cousin, Tommy (Andrew Koji) in quick succession. After jetting off to Tokyo, he spends the rest of the film suspended somewhere in the middle of this familial squabble. Kenta promises to deliver his father’s killer in exchange for the legendary “Jewel of the Sun”, which the Arashikage clan are sworn to protect. Tommy offers the chance for a new life if Snake Eyes can successfully pass the three trials that would crown him as a worthy fighter.

Snake Eyes simply comes and goes, leaving behind only the faintest of impressions. There are the chalk-white walls of Kishiwada Castle, one of several Japanese historical sites featured, and the saving grace that prevents Snake Eyes from becoming another green screen eyesore. There is Louise Mingenbach’s costume design (a rare returning element from GI Joe: Retaliation), which finds a handful of clever ways to blend the modern and the traditional. Then there’s Golding’s diamond-cut jawline and the way his natural charisma – so magnificently deployed in Crazy Rich Asians or Last Christmas – seems to be fighting to break out of the film’s dry and largely expository script.

Haruka Abe brings a welcome playfulness, and a touch of righteous fury, to her role as Akiko, the Arashikage clan’s head of security
Haruka Abe brings a welcome playfulness, and a touch of righteous fury, to her role as Akiko, the Arashikage clan’s head of security (Ed Araquel)

Snake Eyes seems to barely recognise the talents of the cast it has on hand. Haruka Abe brings a welcome playfulness, and a touch of righteous fury, to her role as Akiko, the Arashikage clan’s head of security. But on the page, she never gets to do more than fulfil the “strong woman” archetype. And then there’s Iko Uwais – star of The Raid and The Raid 2, an expert in the martial art of silat and a gift to any action filmmaker. You wouldn’t know it from this film.

Director Robert Schwentke captures his action sequences with such queasy, chaotic camerawork that it begs the question of whether we’re being robbed of brilliant fight choreography or whether Schwentke is trying to hide something from us. Is there any escape from the apathy of Snake Eyes? No dice.

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