Snake Eyes

  • 14 Aug - 20 Aug, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

The early years of the boy who would be Snake Eyes go by the genre’s book, lighting a fire of vengeance in his young heart with a vicious attack that claims his father’s life. Cut to 20 years later and he’s still nurturing that grudge, so bent on retribution that he’s willing to play double agent for the nefarious Cobra syndicate just to get a shot at Dad’s killer. He infiltrates the elite Arashikage clan on behalf of Kenta (Takehiro Hira), the prodigal son once positioned for the top spot, now intent on taking it by force. As is part and parcel to this narrative tradition, honour and self-discipline will be weighed against hubris and rage, honour will be tested – we know the deal as well as Snake (Henry Golding) knows his way around a katana. The plot ultimately hinges on a magic jewel that can blow stuff up nice and big, just one illustration of how a script reliant on time-tested tropes can turn out underdone regardless. The characters are sketched with thin, functional strokes, all doing and no being, while the terminally uncool dialogue refers to a climactic fight as “the party”.

Technical accomplishment is supposed to be the draw in a set-up like this, a bargain that Schwentke cannot fulfill. The bloodless PG-13 deathstrikes never land with a satisfying force, a hollowness echoed in a drab CGI set piece pitting Snake Eyes against three oversized serpents. Despite the undeniable movie-star pull exuded by Henry Golding, he looks like a pretty-boy dabbler next to a cast stocked with veteran hand-to-hand experts like Iko Uwais, Andrew Koji and Peter Mensah. An effort to obscure that much might explain all the nauseating handheld shooting, which chops the choreography to bits until the stilled, more orderly final reckoning.

The inelegant in-your-face treatment of a graceful form halfway between boxing and chess betrays the American studio system’s crude approximation of the genuine article. Just as Snake Eyes first learns the steps of sparring without tapping into the warrior’s spirit, his film can adopt the markers of martial arts classics while missing the parts that contain their soul. The script’s attempts at wisdom amount to little more than dime-store platitudes, and the internecine turmoil of the Arashikage clan never comes close to anything like emotional heft. The flying fists may make this a relative anomaly for the multiplex release calendar, but that should be understood as the faintest possible praise, an acknowledgment that we’re looking at one of the more interesting varieties of boring movie.

– Compilation