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Henry Golding Holds His Own In Potential Series Starter ‘Snake Eyes’ – Review

Paramount is trying their luck again at revamping one of their most treasured IPs. It is not as prevalent today, but there are still plenty of fans who will vouch for G.I. Joe. The last two film adaptations are infamous for various reasons, no more needs to be said here, but Paramount hasn’t completely given up. Using a similar strategy to how they just revived Transformers with 2018’s Bumblebee, the studio is hoping Snake Eyes will be another origin story/stealth reboot on the same level of success. Although both originate from Hasbro’s iconic toy figures, the latest G.I. Joe adventure doesn’t reach the same highs as Bumblebee. Yet, there’s some solid potential here, thanks to the film’s leading star, Henry Golding.

(Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Snake Eyes is one of the few G.I. Joe characters that can carry a solo film, there’s not much denying that. However, the idea does seem somewhat at odds with itself, with the character being mute and always masked. Now, no studio would dare mask Crazy Rich Asians star Henry Golding for the majority of a project, and given that this is an origin story, you just don’t question it. This is ultimately for the better because Golding kicks ass and the film shines when taking the most creative liberty (are G.I. Joe fans going to be that upset?). As creatively free as this fresh interpretation of Snake Eyes is, the film is just as much tied down by a standard franchise setup. Striking a nice balance of originality with sequel potential isn’t as easy as Paramount thought.

This leaves Snake Eyes feeling like two different movies in one, almost in a literal sense. You have the Eastern-influenced ninja flick, serving as the origin for Snake Eye’s persona and skills, and you have an espionage-like plot about the Joes’ rivalry with Cobra. To be fair, G.I. Joe itself is famous for blending these types of aesthetics. However, you frequently forget about certain characters or threads because the A and B plots feel so far apart from one another. The lack of connective tissue between characters and plot is odd. The film tries to weave everything together in the end, but what’s the point if there’s hardly any reason for these characters to meet, other than to remind you that this is, indeed, the beginning of a new G.I. Joe series.

(Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Even with all of this film’s missteps, it still manages to build its visual language. Most action scenes throughout actually feel inspired, which is the least you can ask for when so many films have tried to replicate such magic. The hits feel heavy and the effort in creating a constant sense of physicality is a highlight, which is expected just from the Snake Eyes name. The film doesn’t disappoint with dynamic action you can get sensory overload from just how bombastic Snake Eyes gets. If that’s the experience you’re looking for, then you’re in luck (bonus points to Iko Uwais and Peter Mensah who deliver some killer moments).

For what it’s worth, the main narrative focusing on Snake Eyes rise to prominence and relationship to Storm Shadow (Andrew Koji) is pretty solid. In terms of starting a new series, Golding gets the job done. What was once a character that mainly served just to provide thrills, is now someone filled with individuality and pathos. Golding is given enough in the script to make it his own, though it also helps when he’s got someone like Koji to build off of. Koji commits to the chaotic nature of Storm Shadow, melodrama and all, leading to the most memorable performance in the film outside of Snake Eyes himself. This is quite gratifying, with their rivalry being one of the most exciting elements of the whole G.I. Joe brand. Whatever plans Paramount has in store for Golding in this series, they’re twice as exciting knowing that Koji is bound to return.

(Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

The studio did manage to capture lightning the bottle again, but you can’t deny that there’s still a spark. Snake Eyes is probably is the best G.I. Joe movie thus far, even if that isn’t exactly the best compliment. We just have to hope the next film will have a sharpened focus (not purely relating to franchise fulfillment), allowing for a smoother transition into the extravagant world of the Joes. We could also hope that these movies ditch winking dialogue that only serve to spell out the obvious. It makes the film feel like it belongs in the past, rather than achieving its own sense of campiness or fun. This will prove to be this series new hurdle to overcome, showing that a well-known name like G.I. Joe can still pull off a few surprises. 

Whatever direction they take this story next, at least we’re assured that Henry Golding and Andrew Koji will be up for the task.

Rating: 6/10

Snake Eyes opens in theatres on July 23.

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