Director Robert Schwentke’s Snake Eyes recalls 20 years ago in Washington. A young boy witnesses the brutal murder of his father, played by brave, compassionate Steven Allerick, at the command of unbeknownst Mr. Augustine, played by Samuel Finzi. Ever since, that boy’s heart was filled with great hate and vengeance. In the narrative arc of screenwriters Evan Spilliotopoulos, Joe Shrapnel, and Anna Waterhouse’s story, the boy adopts the name Snake Eyes, foreboding bad luck.
In the present, Henry Golding plays Snake Eyes, who’s the deceptively powerful professional cage fighter. Snake Eyes commands amazing street fighting and martial arts skill. He also possesses resilience and great internal rage.
The dark mysterious Kenta, played by understated, measured Takehiro Hira, offers Snake Eyes his shiny object: the man who murdered his father. Kenta is Japanese Yakuza. Reluctantly, Snake Eyes accepts the offer and becomes a “fish boy” at Kenta’s docks in Los Angeles. Kenta literally uses fish to smuggle automatic weapons abroad.
Kenta reveals the traitor in his midst, Tommy, played by breezy cool Andrew Koji. As the symbol of loyalty, Kenta hands his gun to Snake Eyes to execute Tommy. Looking at Tommy, Snake Eyes chooses otherwise. The two beat the hell out of Kenta’s men in the eclectic mix of Japanese kenjitsu, karate, and kickboxing. Henry and Andrew put in their work training for the movie. That wonderfully translates on the screen. In a signature scene, Snake Eyes and Tommy’s escape truck is skewered by dozens of katanas, like some magic trick.
Injured Snake Eyes awakes on Tommy’s private jet to Japan, home. Tommy says, “You saved my life. Why?” Snake Eyes says, “I looked into your eyes. I saw honor.” Thus begins the journey of their tragic brotherhood. Tommy is heir to the legendary Arashikage Ninja Clan, the world’s subversive peacekeeper for the last 600 years. Sen, played by sublime Eri Ishida, is the revered matriarch of the Arashikage Clan. Tommy wants Snake Eyes to stand by his side and lead the Arashikage into the Modern Era.
First, Snake Eyes must pass the 3 Challenges of the Warrior. If he fails the Third, he forfeits his own life. Although Snake Eyes is a formidable fighter, he’s no trained warrior. Far from it. Humble and powerful Arashikage Leader of Security Akiko, played by beautiful, badass Harube Abe, makes that clear to Snake Eyes, dispatching her spear in personal combat. Akiko and Snake Eyes are spiritual twins. Both had no family. The Arashikage offer them a home, a family, a purpose.
Snake Eyes passes his contrived lesson of humility in the First Challenge against Hard Master, played by martial arts star Iko Uwais (of Raid), in the contest of the two bowls. However, he will not glide his way through the Third Challenge.
In the surprisingly eloquent narrative arc, Akiko gently places her hand on Snake Eyes’ chest. She says, “Empty your heart.” Snake Eyes must release his anger and vengeance within. He’s still the frightened little boy, not strong enough to save his father. He must choose the selfless path. The Founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba said, “True victory is victory over oneself.” Despite, its conspiracy silliness, the quest for some mythical omnipotent stone, and narrative logic gaps, Snake Eyes at the core is boldly about choosing the selfless path, letting go of the suffering of one’s past.
That overarching narrative is admirable and so unexpected given the source material based on the G.I. Joe movie mythology and comic books. Ursula Corbero is charming strength as the evil duplicitous Baroness from the G.I. Joe Cobra Universe. Beautiful, confident, strong Samara Weaving plays Scarlett, an operative for the good guy Joes. Props to Robert Schwentke for weaving this narrative thread in what already is entertaining movie eye candy. The cinematography of Bojan Bazelli is both expansive and pristine.
Snake Eyes has some of the best Japanese sword fighting on screen in the last 10 years. The sword fighting with Snake Eyes, Tommy, and Akiko on speeding motorcycles and trucks through the streets of Tokyo electrifies. I loved the Old School showdown between Kenta’s warriors and the Arashikage Clan. Tommy, aka the future Storm Shadow, is so cool executing his two-sword fighting style. Snake Eyes has his back using his traditional one katana. Tommy and Snake Eyes would sacrifice their life for the other. Although, their touching brotherhood was founded on a lie, a betrayal. Profound tragedy.
Henry Golding and Andrew Koji make Snake Eyes work, regardless of its narrative failings. Andrew is open and sincere as Tommy in making Snake Eyes family. Henry’s humanity poignantly reveals his mistake in playing the pawn with his eyes wide open in the bigger picture. We get that their love and brotherhood are true. Yet once betrayed, there might be no redemption. Both Henry and Andrew command genuine charisma and compassion. Snake Eyes is about emptying your heart, letting go. In the end, that makes Snake Eyes worth seeing.
Watch the official trailer:
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