For all the snobbery for fast food, McDonald’s inspires a certain respect for the uniformity and consistency of its products, the certainty that a Big Mac will taste the same in Spain, South Africa or Switzerland. But the odd American tourist who decides to use a lunch abroad to research a Mickey D franchise run abroad will find that while the menu staples remain unchanged, subtle additions have crept into those illuminated chalkboards. on the counter. In Japan, for example, intrepid and low-key foodies can try local delicacies like Ebi-Filet Shrimp Pie or chocolate chips drizzled with sauce. Everything is comforting and familiar in its slight novelty, different enough to add a mild flavor to the mix of similarity.
That’s the long and short of the new Snake Eyes, a largely interchangeable hunk of Hollywood product that stands out a bit for its Asian regional details. Robert Schwentke’s film arrives as a spinoff and prequel to a pair of GI Joe’s action rah-rah / feature film toy commercials from 2009 and 2013, no one has been in debt for quite some time with an elaborate continuity architecture that owes reinforce. and expanded. The backstory of Team Joe’s (Henry Golding) ninja Snake Eyes takes the form of a martial arts exhibition reported by Japanese jidaigeki and Chinese wuxia cinemas, a fitting fusion for a film set in Tokyo, featuring Malaysian and Indonesian actors, and prepared for launch in the lucrative Chinese market. The international language that ties together this trans-Pacific pan-Asian issue is the beating, delivered here with inventive glee, albeit with an impact tempered by leaden Western techniques.
The first years of the boy who would be Snake Eyes pass through the book of the genre, lighting a fire of revenge in his young heart with a fierce attack that takes the life of his father. Cut to 20 years later and he’s still feeding that grudge, so hell-bent on retribution that he’s willing to play double agent for the nefarious Cobra syndicate just to try and kill Daddy’s killer. He infiltrates the elite Arashikage clan on behalf of Kenta (Takehiro Hira), the prodigal son who once ranked first, now with the intention of taking him by force. As an integral part of this storytelling tradition, honor and self-discipline will be weighed against arrogance and rage, honor will be put to the test; we know the deal as well as Snake knows how to handle a katana. Ultimately, the plot relies on a magic gem that can set off big and nice things, just an illustration of how a script that relies on time-tested tropes can turn out to be underdeveloped independently. The characters are drawn in fine, functional strokes, all doing and not being, while the terminally unappealing dialogue refers to a climactic fight as “the party.”
The technical achievement is supposed to be the appeal in a setup like this, a deal Schwentke can’t keep. PG-13’s deadly bloodless attacks never land with satisfying force, a void that echoes in a drab CGI piece that pits Snake Eyes against three oversized snakes. Despite Henry Golding’s undeniable movie star pull, he seems like a pretty boy buff alongside a cast chock-full of veteran melee experts like Iko Uwais, Andrew Koji, and Peter Mensah. (Perhaps the shamanic blind master played by Mensah could sustain a split of his own in eight more years, like a presidential term.) An effort to obscure that could account for all the nauseating hand-shots, cutting the choreography into pieces until the final, calmer and more orderly reckoning. Imagine Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross scolding cinematographer Bojan Bazelli: “Put on. The camera. Under!”
The inelegant treatment of the face in an elegant way halfway between boxing and chess betrays the crude approach of the American study system to the genuine article. Just as Snake Eyes first learns the steps of combat without harnessing the spirit of the warrior, his film can adopt the markers of martial arts classics without taking into account the parts that contain his soul. The script’s attempts at wisdom amount to little more than trivia, and the Arashikage clan’s inner turmoil never comes close to emotional weight. Flying fists may make this a relative anomaly for the multiplex release schedule, but that should be understood as the lightest praise possible, an acknowledgment that this is one of the most interesting varieties of boring movies. Anyone with a keen curiosity can see one of a dozen superior alternatives coming out of Asia each year, demonstrations of just how rewarding the action of middlemen can be in the most capable hands. This was the promise of a globalized film landscape, now in doubt: that the best of the planet would be broadcast for all to enjoy, rather than personalized mediocrities shipped around the world.