Orphaned at a young age, Snake Eyes (Henry Golding) saves the life of Tommy (Andrew Koji), who is the heir of an ancient clan of warriors in Japan. Unbeknownst to him, Snake Eyes has made a deal with Tommy's cousin, a Yakuza boss, (Takehiro Hira) to betray the clan in order to learn the identity of the man who killed his father.
It says a lot that 'Snake Eyes' might just be the best 'GI Joe' movie made thus far, and that there's been two of them already. Anyone over the age of 35 will know 'GI Joe' from the plastic action figures and the cheesy '80s cartoon series made purely to help sell said action figures. The central character of this outing, however, feels far away from what audiences might know of 'GI Joe'. Indeed, the movie almost functions best when it's ignoring its origins and focuses itself on being a goofy, over-the-top revenge movie.
The frustrating thing about 'Snake Eyes' is that there's some promise to it. There's a neon-soaked swordfight in Japan, a harbour brawl with about a dozen stuntmen flinging themselves around the screen, and a big finale set inside a fortress of ninjas with a magical stone that's able to set things on fire. Yet, between these faint glimmers, you've got some painfully clunky dialogue, wooden acting, joyless exposition, and vain attempts to crowbar in a franchise reboot too.
As to the cast, Henry Golding can do action surprisingly well, even if he's much more interesting as a romantic comedy lead than a tough loner type. As well, Takehiro Hira - who audiences will know from the excellent BBC series 'Giri/Haji' - is able to convincingly play a maniacal villain, even if he's able to play a tragic figure much better. Andrew Koji, who plays Storm Shadow to Golding's Snake Eyes, gives a truly spirited performance - even if he has to contend with truly woeful dialogue and clunky exposition. Samara Weaving and Ursulá Corberó, meanwhile, are dropped in to do the heavy lifting and attempt to place 'Snake Eyes' into a wider franchise.
You could almost forgive 'Snake Eyes' for some of the cliched plotting, the dull storyline, and the jittery action sequences if it simply leaned into its own silliness. Director Robert Schwentke made the agreeably enjoyable 'Red', which featured Bruce Willis in one of his few good movies of the past two decades. 'Red' saw Willis lead a team of aged assassins on a merry revenge plot, and it was delightfully silly and fun. 'Snake Eyes', sadly, gambles away any hope of enjoyment by a weak story and overblown exposition. In fact, a lot of the action sequences themselves were cribbed from other, far better action movies like 'The Villainess', 'The Matrix Reloaded', and 'Rurouni Kenshin', which shares the same stunt coordinator as 'Snake Eyes'.
All that said, 'Snake Eyes' does look gorgeous in parts, especially the aforementioned neon-drenched street fight. The production design too looks impressive on a big screen, and you get that the cast are doing their best with the poor material they've been given. Ultimately, watching 'Snake Eyes' is like watching someone attempt to fashion a silk purse out of a sow's ear. You want them to succeed, and they almost do, but it's not there.