REVIEW: Snake Eyes: GI Origins Reboots the G.I. Joe Universe With Yakuza Flair
Sam Stone
After two previous films set in the G.I. Joe cinematic universe failed to live up to the audience's and critics' expectations, the universe is being rebooted with 2021's Snake Eyes: G.I. Origins. As the title suggests, the reboot is largely focused on the eponymous ninja hero, chronicling his backstory and martial arts training in Japan. Powered by an impressive cast and gorgeous art design, Snake Eyes vaults over the bar set by its predecessors, particularly whenever it leans into its Japanese cinematic influences rather than its G.I. Joe mythos.
Directed by Robert Schwentke and starring Henry Golding as Snake Eyes, the rough-and-tumble fighter leads a violent life after witnessing his father being gunned down when he was a young boy. Eventually finding himself in deep with the yakuza, the no-nonsense Snake Eyes is sent off to train in the ways of ninjitsu in Japan -- after impressing one of his privileged associates. As Snake Eyes faces increasingly more difficult trials to prove himself worthy of being inducted in the Arashikage ninja clan, he finds himself drawn into the explosive global conflict between the elite G.I. Joes and the shadowy terrorist organization Cobra.
Given its primary setting in Japan and its premise, Snake Eyes is a film that excels when it plays more like a yakuza movie than a G.I Joe one. From its neon-soaked vistas in the heart of Tokyo to the film's hard-hitting brawls against waves of audaciously dressed mobsters, Snake Eyes fires on all cylinders when it's focused on celebrating Japanese culture and cinema. Fortunately, this emphasis is noticeably dominant in the movie's first half. However, when elements and characters from the wider G.I. Joe mythos are woven into the narrative around the halfway mark, the movie begins to lose its focus and its careful pacing veers off course.
Snake Eyes: GI Joe Origins final trailer
Snake Eyes: GI Joe Origins final trailer
Luckily, the ensemble cast is likable enough to keep audiences invested in the action, making something as familiar as a training montage engaging. No matter how bonkers the story gets -- and, by the end, it's exceedingly apparent this is a G.I. Joe movie -- the cast reels the audience back into the plot. Joining Golding is Andrew Koji as Tommy Arashikage, the once and future Storm Shadow, and their brotherly dynamic creates a compelling, emotional crux for the film. Haruka Abe more than holds her own as the Arashikage head of security Akiko, preventing the film from becoming a testosterone-fueled boys' club. While Samara Weaving and Úrsula Corberó are largely relegated to the sidelines as Scarlett and Baroness, respectively, they play off each other well when given the opportunity to lean into their rivalry.
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe lovingly homages '80s action movies, complete with a synth-heavy score by Martin Todsharow and the film's unapologetic swagger. While G.I. Joe purists might not be able to overcome the traditionally silent and masked protagonist being neither silent nor masked for the bulk of the film, this film unapologetically comes out swinging. Golding's portrayal of Snake Eyes is charismatic and his action scenes are fluid, gifting the audiences with a good time -- as long as they don't think too hard about the film's narrative.
Directed by Robert Schwentke, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins arrives in theaters July 23.