He’s also got a great cast backing him up too. Koji is magnetic as the sword-swinging Tommy, who will later become Storm Shadow (the writers do a good job of explaining why the fan favorite character is so duplicitous by nature). Adopted sister Arishakage Akiko (Haruka Abe) is the only family member skeptical enough to sense that Snake Eyes isn’t being 100 percent honest with them, and the friction between them serves the story well. The Raid star Iko Uwais lends a tremendous level of physicality to the action as Arashikage fight guru Hard Master, and Peter Mensah brings a palpable sense of mystery to the proceedings as Blind Master.
Unlike the previous G.I. Joe movies, Snake Eyes takes a more personal, ground-level approach to both the action and storytelling, with a smaller sense of scale that focuses more on character dynamics than bombast, guns, explosions, and hero-posing. There’s also a notable absence of the military aesthetic and milieu the franchise is known for since the 1960s, which may seem like a major departure but actually opens the brand up for a more diverse line of titles going forward.
As for tie-ins to the larger G.I. Joe universe, Baroness (Úrsula Corberó) and Scarlett (Samara Weaving) join the fray in the later acts, seemingly for the sole purpose of providing on-ramps to future titles that expand the story. A Scarlett solo movie seems likely (Weaving falls into the role well and deserves a brighter spotlight in the future), but what’s even more likely is a continuation of the ninja blood brothers’ saga, perhaps in the form of a Storm Shadow movie. If Snake Eyes is any indication, the future of the franchise looks bright.
But being something of a supernatural Yakuza flick, this particular movie is filled to the brim with fight scenes, mostly of the hand-to-hand variety. The combat sequences are choreographed well, and with practitioners like Uwais on-screen, you know you’re going to see some cool-looking stuff. The set pieces are nice (a duel set on top of a moving car carrier trailer later in the film is a highlight, as is a neon-lit mob fight on the streets of Tokyo), though a tussle between Snake Eyes and a trio of gigantic anacondas comes off as just a little hokey in contrast. The shaky-cam is abused often, mostly during intimate fight scenes, but not enough to ruin the mood.
As an action/martial arts movie, Snake Eyes is rock solid. But the story is what pulls you through—getting to know Snake Eyes and his relationship to the other characters, and watching him confront his inner demons is more riveting than it has any right to be. This is the kind of summer movie you’d watch on a whim, or perhaps out of sheer boredom, only to be surprised at how legitimately awesome it is.