Review: ‘Snake Eyes’ is not playing its cards well |
Henry Golding has an undeniable screen presence. He’s handsome, that’s for sure. Many players are. But Golding also has that effortless charisma that the biggest movie stars have. It’s no wonder he was catapulted from the relative obscurity of a travel show host to cinematic celebrity with a single role in “Crazy Rich Asians” and that his name often appears as a choice of fan for the upcoming James Bond. If Hollywood’s powers don’t spoil him, he’ll be there for a while.
It’s also not surprising that the industry is capitalizing on its watershed moment and coming strike with a piece of intellectual property to play the part. Sadly, that piece of intellectual property is “Snake Eyes,” an origin story about a GI Joe character who completely misunderstands his star appeal. Golding is just not the right actor for the role. It’s not really bad, just misinterpreted and misused. And despite the romance trims and the flash around him, his character is terribly generic.
“Snake Eyes” has a few advantages. For one thing, the names Cobra and GI Joe aren’t even mentioned for almost an hour. Credited screenwriters Evan Spiliotopoulos, Anna Waterhouse and Joe Shrapnel seem to understand that a mere association with GI Joe is not enough to attract regular moviegoers to theaters. And after seeing Atlanta and Vancouver destroyed time and time again in superhero movies, it’s a breath of fresh air to transport to Tokyo, where director Robert Schwentke (RED, RIPD) makes sure to film with love both neon and old. He even takes our booming hero to the Golden Gai and creatively uses the back alleys for a fun fight.
In fact, if you can get to the section of Tokyo, which takes almost half an hour to get there, you’ll be off for a pretty fun ride as Snake Eyes starts training with an ancient Japanese clan. called the Arashikage. In the needlessly boring first part we learn that Snake Eyes’ father was murdered in front of him when he was a boy, he has spent his life ever since as a loner living in the streets and stuffing fish with weapons for the Yakuza and he also saves the life of Arashikage heir, Tommy (Andrew Koji).
Is he just naturally a good fighter? Has he taken any training? You won’t learn this answer in “Snake Eyes,” but very soon the Arashikage and another established crime syndicate were using it as muscle and brain. In other words, its rise through these established ranks is alarmingly rapid.
This backstory also requires Golding to assign an unrefined American accent, which is a stretch and a mistake. Its ‘is not’ is unlike any ‘is not’ you have ever heard before. This can be forgiven however, he is not the first Briton to be overwhelmed in this regard. The real sin is that Snake Eyes as a character is so dull. He barely has a personality. He’s purely motivated by revenge and doesn’t seem like he has to work that hard at anything either.
It’s frustrating because he’s actually surrounded by some pretty interesting characters, like the naive but arrogant Tommy, who is desperately seeking his grandmother’s approval (Eri Ishida plays Sen, who leads the clan). And there is also Akiko, played by Haruka Abe, who is not a blood tie in the clan but who has risen through his skills and courage to become one of the trusted relatives. Either of these women’s stories would’ve been more interesting to focus on and hopefully we’ll see Abe on screen again soon.
The IP finally comes back to the story and we meet the baroness d’rsula Corberó, agent of Cobra, and a “Joe”, Scarlett, played by Samara Weaving who, as usual, does wonders without any expected role. Although, like many toy-based films, “Snake Eyes” may be betting too much on audiences who care more about connections to a larger universe of Joes than the story in front of them.
“Snake Eyes,” a Paramount Pictures release in theaters Friday, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “intense violence, short strong language”. Duration: 122 minutes. Two out of four stars.