Henry Golding broke out in 2018 as the charming boyfriend in Jon M. Chu’s hit romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians.
Since that time, the Malaysian actor has built a reputation for using his good looks and charisma with successful supporting turns in films like the thriller A Simple Favor, dramedy Last Christmas and crime dramedy The Gentlemen.
His first major lead role is a woeful misuse of Golding’s talent and skillset to this point as director Robert Schwentke strangles out any personality the actor might bring to the table with a stoic, borderline unlikeable character in hopes of restarting an unpopular action franchise based on a children’s cartoon and toy line.
Snake Eyes functionally erases everything about the well-established hero from the G.I. Joe series and hits the reset button for a third time after failed attempts to launch a franchise with 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and 2013’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation, directed ironically enough by Chu.
In this iteration of the title character, Snake Eyes is a drifter wandering across the world looking for a fight when he stumbles into the middle of a war between the Yakuza and the Arashikage clan, where he saves the life of a potential rival and trains in the ways of the ninja.
The film functionally does both the character and Golding himself a major disservice by blurring the line too much between Snake Eyes as an anti-hero and an antagonist. There’s no real reason to root for Snake Eyes other than Golding’s innate likeability as he bafflingly waffles both sides of the coin to the point where it doesn’t even really feel like writers Evan Spiliotopoulos, Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse know what to do with him.
Golding is clearly trying here, both physically by putting himself through rigorous training to do as many of the stunts himself as possible and emotionally to try and draw anything out of an underdeveloped character. But unfortunately nothing seems to be working.
The same could be said for Andrew Koji’s Tommy, a man who craves to be trusted and loyal but without any real motivation. The film’s true villains also lack distinctive motivations beyond cursory nods to G.I. Joe’s rival Cobra organization and it’s only Samara Weaving’s introduction as fellow “Joe” Scarlett that provides Snake Eyes with any punch in the latter half of the film.
Snake Eyes prides itself on intense hand-to-hand and sword-to-sword action sequences, but all too often these moments are plagued by poor cinematography, or worse yet, inherently terrible lighting that masks and distracts from the deliberate, methodical work of the stars and stunt teams.
As is most often the case in subpar fight-intensive films, the pivotal sequence in the final act is shrouded in the cover of darkness with pitch-black layers obscuring a car chase scene and combat on an 18-wheeler leading into a mystic battle in tight spaces with random blazes of fire lighting the way.
Audiences quite often won’t know what they’re watching on screen, which allows Schwentke to cut corners visually and attempt to create excitement via parlor tricks. It certainly doesn’t help that a film that prides itself on realism in its combat resorts to CGI-heavy machinations in its final moments, shortchanging some solid early work and leaving a bitter taste in viewers’ mouths.
While it’s clear Paramount is trying to draw in new audiences, Snake Eyes is too forgettable to generate any traction with viewers reluctant to go to the theaters for just any movie.
Rebooting G.I. Joe this way is simply rolling the dice over and over again, expecting it not to land on double ones.