As a newcomer to the G.I. Joe series, one likely has little in the way of expectations walking into Snake Eyes. The trailers seemed exciting, and ninjas are always cool. But walking out of the theater, there was no feeling of exhilaration. Rather, just one of numbness.
Usually, when one feels numb after watching a movie, it can be a sign of the film failing to live up to the hype created by trailers and or previous entries (such as the response by many to The Rise of Skywalker). However, with Snake Eyes, this isn’t the case. Rather, one finds themselves numb because there are no longer invested in the story it wanted to tell. Due to its rough editing, and rougher writing, Snake Eyes fails to be worth investing into.
Snake Eyes tells the story of a man seeking vengeance for the death of his father. Along the way, Snake gets wrapped into a war between Cobra and the Arashikage, two shadow organizations, one seeking global domination, and the later seeking peace and unity.
These concepts aren’t new to movies. Both action and spy movies have used these tropes for decades. But Snake Eyes fails to utilize these tropes in an interesting way. Part of this is due to the characterizations being flimsy and shallow. Without a strong identity to attach ourselves to, the story becomes a series of callbacks to other, better movies, whilst doing little with these story elements. It’s uninteresting, and after the first hour, it all fades together as a series of unimportant moments.
Speaking of the weak characterizations, Snake Eyes seems to make the critical error of creating a backstory to a character that never spoke and doing it poorly. While Henry Golding is charismatic in the role of Snake Eyes, the writing leaves much to be desired, creating a typical revenge-driven character that has no other desires. Along with this, other characters lack zeal for the motivations stated early in the film. Tommy has a character arc that falls flat, feeling eerily similar to that of Will Tillman from 2018’s Robin Hood. The only character with a clear goal who chases after it actively is Kenta, brought to life by the menacing Takehiro Hira. The persistent lack of autonomy harms the film’s plot, as characters seem to be going through the motions for much of the 2-hour runtime.
Beyond the story, there are a host of odd decisions found within Snake Eyes and by director Robert Schwentke. The structural editing of the film is jarring throughout, with the result feeling like a collection of scenes that don’t mix very well. While it is followable, the action doesn’t deliver on the promise of captivating, epic sword-fights fought by the world’s deadliest assassins. Often, the action steers closer to what one might find in a YouTube short, with a small budget. And where there are some decent shots leading up to a set-piece, the editing lacks the rhythm, to create any momentum prior to a fight. It’s not the worst, but after the first 3 battles, it begins to lose its luster, along with audience attention.
These flaws, from the writing to the editing, remove any tension in the story. The blocking and framing of sequences are plagued by handheld shaky-cam. Along with this, action scenes often lack enough light to follow the fights fluently. It’s not completely incoherent, but it’s tiring to watch.
All that said, Snake Eyes isn’t the worst film of the year either. For all its faults, it is still coherently filmed and followable from start to end. And at points, the action ramps into high gear, with speed ramps that create anticipation for what will happen next. There’s even a battle that occurs during a rainstorm in the night with neon lights. And these moments are genuinely thrilling. And yet, for as quick as these moments come, they disappear quicker, like ninjas in the night. Those small moments of genius show what could have been, damning the rest of the film for its mediocrity.
And ultimately, it’s that lack of style, flair, and ambition that leaves you numb as you exit the theater.