The G.I. Joe film series started with enjoyable G.I Joe: The Rise of Cobra in 2009 and was directed by Stephen Sommers (who previously directed The Mummy and The Mummy Returns). Based on the Hasbro toy franchise, the film featured an ensemble cast including Channing Tatum and Marlon Wayans as Duke and Ripcord, two soldiers recruited by the elite G.I. Joe team to protect four lethal warheads that are capable of destroying cities within seconds. While delivering them to the G.I. Joe base, they are ambushed by Baroness (Sienna Miller) and bad ninja Storm Shadow (Byung-Hung Lee). The G.I. Joe team is made up various soldiers who each have a unique skill, including good ninja Snake Eyes (Ray Park). Despite receiving negative reviews, the film was an international hit at the box office and was pleasantly entertaining with its James Bond-esque plot and hammy, over-the-top action scenes that also included some martial arts action from both of the ninjas, Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes. I enjoyed this film mainly due to the interesting cast and camp, fun action scenes. Wayans, who is better known for his comedy, brought lots of witty one liners to the role. Tatum and Miller, who are better known as serious, dramatic actors, and appear to have had a blast in this, even if wasn’t the type of genre that they are normally known for. The biggest highlight of this film was Byung-Hung, who already was an established actor in Korea with hits such as The Good, the Bad and the Weird, was able to show his charisma and be extremely cool as the bad ninja.
The sequel, 2013’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation, took a slight change of direction as it started with Tatum’s character Duke, surprisingly being killed off at the start of the film and then followed new character, the heavy machine gunner Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) as he leads the G.I. Joe team on a revenge mission. This time the director was Jon M. Chu (who went onto have a huge success directing Crazy Rich Asians) and brought back several characters from the first including Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes, with the same actors returning. Retaliation was also a success at the international box office while, as expected, getting mainly negative reviews. I also found this to be highly enjoyable
This time, Snake Eyes sees the G.I. Joe franchise being rebooted and given a new take on the character of Snake Eyes. The film opens with a father and son bonding while at, what we learn, is a safe-house cabin in the woods. When startled during the night, the father tries to leave with his son but is caught by and then given a chance to live by a rolling two dice. Both land on ones, “snake eyes” and the father is then executed but the son manages to escapes.
The film then moves forward twenty years to the present day where we see the son all grown up, in the middle of an underground fighting match and now going by the name Snake Eyes (Henry Golding). After winning the match, Snake Eyes is made an offer to join the yakuza and in return will be helped to find the person who murdered Snake’s father. When Snake is instructed to execute Tommy (Andrew Koji), an undercover fighter from the powerful crime fighting Arashikage clan, Snake saves Tommy and manage to escape to Japan to Tommy’s family’s fortress. It is there where Snake is given the chance to prove himself as a worthy warrior and learn what it takes to become a ninja. As always, all is not what it seems and Snake finds himself caught in the middle of a family feud, unsure if to follow his loyalty to the family or continue to work for the yakuza so that he can take revenge for the death of his father. He is also watched by Akiko (Haruka Abe), a deadly security expert for the, clan who is suspicious of Snake’s intentions.
Snake Eyes is an unusual and unexpected attempt at giving the title character an origins story. It is fair to say that this is a film that nobody asked for but its also a fun treat to watch. One thing I ask of cinema, is for more big-budget ninja films. Not only do we have the charming and charismatic Henry Golding taking over the role from martial arts expert Ray Park, we also get a Japanese-dynasty style melodrama as we follow Snake Eyes being the modern day warrior who learns that there is a much deeper feud in the clan. The action scenes, especially the fight scenes, appear to have been constructed really well but sadly over-edited. There is also great high-speed motorbike chase in tunnel that looks like it was borrowed recent action films John Wick 3 and The Villainess and made even more over-the-top and enjoyable. The cast are all brilliant including the charming Haruka Abe who, like the two leading actors Golding and Koji, deserves to cast more in big budget productions.