Over the years there have been about a dozen G.I. Joe movies and animated TV shows as well as a series of video games and comics and I have consumed none of them so went into this origins film with absolutely zero knowledge.
How the two previous G.I. Joe films completely bypassed me I really don`t know. I was recently listening, as ever, to the BBC Radio 5 Live Kermode and Mayo film review podcast when my ears pricked up at the mention of Tokyo. I wound back to the start of that particular review and that is how I found out about this film and the two previous ones in the franchise.
Consequently, my judgement here is purely about this story as a standalone film which is basically the equivalent of someone reviewing the final Harry Potter movie when they`ve never seen or heard anything about what has gone on before it! Go easy on me G.I. Joe fans!!
Admittedly, when I heard the words `Snake Eyes` I immediately thought that it was a remake of the 1998 film starring Nicholas Cage. Far from it though as it`s an origins story featuring Henry Golding as the main man, my former room-mate Andrew Koji (we lived in a shared house in Ikebukuro for a short time around 2006-07) and Haruka Abe who I only previously knew from the `Rather Be` music video by Clean Bandit.
Warning: Contains spoilers!
It`s a fast-paced, tense and exciting opening segment prior to the Japan scenes as the story opens in Washington State 20 years ago where the very young Snake Eyes manages to escape as his father is attacked and killed. Fast forward to the present and he`s an underground fighter in L.A. who is tracked down by Yakuza leader Kenta who wants him to do a job in return for information on the killer. However, when asked to prove his loyalty by shooting a man who betrayed Kenta’s trust, Snake Eyes refuses and instead helps the traitor escape.
The traitor turns out to be Kenta’s cousin, Tommy (Andrew Koji) who flies him via private jet to his ninja dojo in Japan in the hope that he`ll be allowed become a member of his Arashikage clan, an ancient ninja society devoted to preserving order and fighting evil. If you know Japanese then the direct translation of “Arashikage” gives a huge hint for the name of one of the most prominent characters in the franchise.
Japan enters the stage around the 20 minute mark and remains for the rest of the 121 minute movie. Filming locations include Edo Wonderland Nikko Edomura, Rainbow Bridge, Kishiwada-jo Castle in Osaka, Engyō-ji in Himeji (also seen in `The Last Samurai`) as well as the usual establishing shots of Tokyo`s neon lights (a brief shot of Zojoji Temple is also shown) seen as ever from a taxi ride through Shinjuku and Shibuya at night. Such visuals, including the CGI, are one of the films biggest positives.
The first couple of trials determining Snake Eyes` worthiness of joining the clan are quite enjoyable but then the final one involves some ridiculous giant over-sized anacondas which can sense if his heart is truly pure. The spiritual aspect of it all did remind me ever so slightly of a scene with Rey and a cave monster in `Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise Of Skywalker` (2019), but here it did seem a little out of place.
There was a fight scene reminiscent of `Raiders Of The Ark` (1981) regarding the use of gunfire when up against a load of sword-wielding ninjas. As for the fight scenes, they are quite headache inducing as, along with the shaky-cam style of filming, they are edited together in a fairly choppy and haphazard fashion. For a film of its genre, this was rather disappointing and it seemed like a waste of the neon light scenery in some of those scenes.
The whole Arashikage family plot is rather ridiculous at times, and hard to take too seriously but maybe that`s down to some of the clichéd dialogue. I thought Golding did a mostly fine job in the lead role but it took me a while to shake off visions of his romantic `Crazy Rich Asians` (2018) persona. Koji showed his depth as an actor with a range of emotions and as a non-fan I wasn`t sure who I should be rooting for until the end where his character`s transformation felt a bit rushed.
It`s got many flaws but overall I found this film to be entertaining enough with a story that was fairly simple to follow. Maybe director Robert Schwentke didn`t take enough risks with the script (it`s a little cheesy and predictable at times but there were a few good lines) and the plot. It`s an origins story but it`s not so original.
Tokyo Fox Rating 6/10