If you’re expecting G.I. Joe’s cinematic ambitions to crap out again, don’t bet on Snake Eyes (2021).

Snake Eyes Review

Proving that revenge is apparently a dish best served reheated, SNAKE EYES: G.I. JOE ORIGINS helps itself to a buffet of familiar flavours from THE WOLVERINE, HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS and even – or especially – YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE to concoct a tasty treat that’s better than it has any right to be and probably a lot better than you’re expecting.

A young boy, orphaned when his father is murdered in front of him, grows up on the streets, developing into a talented martial arts fighter, driven to avenge his father. Taking the name from his father’s killer who forced his victim to roll a pair of dice to determine his fate, Snake Eyes (Henry Golding) saves the life of “Tommy” Arashikage (Andrew Koji) and finds himself swept up in a Japanese clan war with geopolitical consequences.

Although passingly familiar with G I JOE, most of my knowledge comes from the previous two movies so, given knowing is half the battle, I went into SNAKE EYES feeling a little underprepared. Ultimately, a lack of GI Joe lore doesn’t hamper the film – in fact, it turns out to be quite the opposite as the somewhat ham-fisted and clunky involvement of GI Joe characters – Scarlett (an underused Samara Weaving) and the Baroness (Úrsula Corberó) –  gets under the feet of a respectably solid martial arts action movie.

Although it falls short of greatness, it’s good enough to make you kind of mad it’s not better. The early scenes, before the action moves everything to Japan, are somewhat muddled and confusing and, although it all makes sense by the end, you’re still having to put the pieces of the plot together long after you should just be sitting back and enjoying the action. Robert Schwentke’s direction is haphazard and wildly inconsistent, capable of delivering brilliance and boneheadedness in equal and unpredictable measure. Performance-wise, the relatively small main cast acquit themselves well, although SNAKE EYES joins that increasing list of Hollywood movies which cast then egregiously underuse Iko Uwais. Much more of a two-hander than you may be expecting, the real heart of the movie comes from its lead actors, Andrew Koji and Henry Golding. For Golding, in particular, SNAKE EYES is as naked an audition to be the next James Bond as STAR TREK was for Abrams to snag the STAR WARS director’s chair. The chemistry between the pair manage to elevate the material above the franchise fodder it could easily have settled for and makes SNAKE EYES a fun, frantic and surprisingly fresh outing for the aging IP with as much bloodless katana action as you can shake a bo staff at.

score 7