Most people will compare Snake Eyes to the previous two G.I. Joe movies. As the film begins, though, it feels more like a Mortal Kombat remake. Both films open with the death of a main character’s family member(s), immediately followed by a cage match and the protagonist being recruited by a mysterious group. Is there an unwritten rule that all modern martial arts movies need to start like this? For all the similarities, Snake Eyesdelivers in one area where Mortal Kombat fell short. Most would agree that the bad blood between Scorpion and Sub-Zero could have made for a compelling Mortal Kombat movie, but their history was relegated to the beginning and end. From start to finish, Snake Eyes tells an engaging story about brotherhood and betrayal. Like Mortal Kombat, however, it’s still not without shortcomings.
One undeniable advantage is Henry Golding, who seamlessly transitions from the romantic lead in Crazy Rich Asians to a vengeful fighter here. Golding plays the eponymous loner known as Snake Eyes, who’s dedicated his life to avenging his father’s murder. Snake Eyes seemingly finds what he’s been looking for after saving a fellow warrior named Tommy (Andrew Koji). Forming a strong friendship, Tommy wishes to make Snake Eyes part of his clan, but there’s something else going on behind the curtain. Snake Eyes has several twists and while most of them are predictable, there is one that elevates this above a run-of-the-mill origin story.
The best moments in this action-adventure are the bonding moments between Snake Eyes and Tommy. Our hero also has natural chemistry with Akiko (Haruka Abe), a member of the clan who slowly warms up to the outsider. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and Retaliation packed in so many characters that it was hard to get invested in anybody, the Rock included. Snake Eyes is more focused and character-driven than its two predecessors. With a darker, more sophisticated tone, it’s easy to forget that you’re even watching a G.I. Joefilm, although this isn’t always for the best.
Snake Eyes is like Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but in reverse. Deadpool went from being the Merc with a Mouth to having his mouth sewn shut. In Snake Eyes, the titular character goes from a masked ninja who never speaks to a beautiful man who talks a lot. For hardcore G.I. Joe fans, this may be a deal-breaker. Like Todd Phillips’ Joker, though, Snakes Eyes does make for an entertaining watch if you’re willing to accept these changes. With the possibility of a sequel, this could be just a stepping stone towards becoming the character we know. In any case, at least Úrsula Corberó finally delivers a Baroness with a proper accent.
Like the main character, Snake Eyes can be torn on what it wants to be. The grittier tone doesn’t always mesh with the more over-the-top scenes involving giant snakes and a McGuffin that shoots fireballs. The action is thoroughly amusing, albeit never groundbreaking. There’s also a decision that one character makes towards the end that feels about as abrupt as Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side. The film owes much to its cast, which also features Samara Weaving as Scarlett, Iko Uwais as Hard Master, and Peter Mensah as Blind Master. What sells the movie is the dynamic between Snake Eyes and Tommy, which is the most important element. After two G.I. Joe with nobody worth caring about, I’ll gladly settle for two.