"Snake Eyes" is a strange movie in many ways — one that, much like its title character, is filled with mystery, impressive feats of martial artistry, and blurred lines of allegiance.
It is the third live-action G.I. Joe movie (following 2009’s underwhelming "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" and 2013’s even worse "G.I. Joe: Retaliation"), but in many ways feels like the first. It introduces new versions of not only Snake Eyes (played by Henry Golding from "Crazy Rich Asians"), but also "A Real American Hero" icons Scarlett, Storm Shadow, and the Baroness. It also indicates that at least one generation of Joes and Cobras has already waged war before them.
This is where you, dear reader, are reminded that major spoilers of the "Snake Eyes" movie appear below. It’s also the place for discussion of the film’s conclusion, a fireworks-fueled (literally) series of events that set one tumbler in motion after another, seemingly laying the groundwork for an all-new cinematic series that might just have you jumping up out of your seat to cheer: "Yo Joe!"
The slow reveal
Aside from the word "snake eyes," somebody wandering into this film would have no idea it’s a G.I. Joe-related movie for a good hour or so — not that there’s anything wrong with that, if you’re in the mood for 60 minutes of ninja training and lengthy discussions about fate, revenge, and loyalty.
It’s around that hour mark when Snake Eyes’ on-again, off-again "friend" Tommy (Andrew Koji, "Warrior") loses his temper, prompting Akiko (Haruka Abe, "Cruella") to comment: "You have that look you get sometimes. The shadow before the storm."
This is when the film seems to diverge onto two paths. While the "A" story continues to be Snake Eyes and Tommy training and pledging allegiance to the Arashikage clan while battling the power-hungry Kenta (Takehiro Hira, "Giri/Haji"), the emerging "B" story details a decades-old G.I. Joe/Cobra conflict about to touch the lives of both young ninjas.
Tommy … err … Storm Shadow fully emerges in the film’s latter third, as the audience sees him getting hold of his clan’s precious jewel. Intoxicated by the power it gives, and consumed by anger, he attempts to incinerate a fleeing Kenta. Later, that outburst is cited as the reason Tommy is ostracized from the Clan Arashikage.
This sets up the film’s conclusion, as Tommy and Snake Eyes officially become enemies, Kenta is eliminated from the equation, and Snake Eyes finally has enough closure on the murder of his father to move on with life.
The recruitment of Snake Eyes
You might want to grab a pen and paper, because there’s a lot to keep track of in the film’s final moments, from a franchise-building perspective.
The audience has already seen Scarlett (Samara Weaving, "Ready or Not") and the Baroness (Úrsula Corberó, from the "Snatch" TV series) form an unlikely alliance to survive the carnage in the Arashikage temple. As the smoke clears, Baroness pulls a classic move that would fit right in with her behavior on the "Real American Hero" ’80s show that introduced her — she sneaks away just when the real fighting begins. Scarlett, on the other hand, rides things through to the bitter end — and then presents her new friend Snake Eyes with a gift to celebrate his apparent emancipation.
"My commander, General Joe Colton, wanted me to share this with you," she says, handing him a highly-redacted folder.
As diehard G.I. Joe fans know, Colton is also known as "the original G.I. Joe" — which is a bit ironic since the name never appeared in the classic ’80s cartoon’s 95 episodes. Portrayed by Bruce Willis in "Retaliation," the character made a few appearances in the "G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero" comic series and exists as an acknowledgement of the ’60s "Kung-Fu grip" line that started it all, but didn’t really come into his own until 1994 when he was offered as a mail-in figure celebrating the franchise’s 30th anniversary.
The file reveals to Snake Eyes that his father died 20 years ago while serving as an undercover Joe. Moments earlier the character (and the audience) learned that the man who killed him was a longtime Cobra agent. So, as this war seems to be launching a new battlefront, Snake Eyes has plenty of motivation to join in.
"Your father was one of us, a Joe. He kept you off the grid to protect you," Scarlett explains. "Your father infiltrated a Cobra cell. The intel he provided saved thousands of lives."
Then she adds: "He left some big shoes to fill, your dad. It hasn’t been easy finding someone to fill them."
The recruitment of Storm Shadow
Tommy, meanwhile, has vanished from the film at this point. But give the credits a few seconds to pass, and you’ll see what the future has in store for him.
As the screen lights back up, we see Tommy on a plane, about to nurse a stiff drink. The flight attendant reveals herself to be the Baroness, however, and Tommy reacts by placing a blade at her throat.
"I’m not here to kill you," she coos. "I’m here to make you an offer. You lost an army, Tommy. I can offer you a better one."
"Storm Shadow," he replies, apparently accepting the proposal. "Call me Storm Shadow."
So as the credits roll (for real, this time) we know that Cobra has been around for at least 20 years, the Baroness has been a key cog for some time, and now Storm Shadow is joining their ranks. Earlier, there was a substantial subplot involving weapon smuggling, and those weapons had the Cobra logo on their boxes. So, could weapons-manufacturing mega-baddie (and occasional Baroness boyfriend) Destro already be behind the scenes at this point, even if there’s no mention of him in the film? It seems quite likely.
Here come the masks
For a film ostensibly about two of the greatest masked characters in ’80s pop culture, there is a startling lack of masks going around. Until the end.
Both Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow see their signature uniforms (and weapons) inch closer to fruition as the film progresses, with the breakthrough moment coming during a showdown the duo have while standing on top of a moving car hauler. During this key scene, both are wearing the black and white ninja outfits that fans know and love — and from the neck down, they look awesome.
Now, if you have a sharp eye, you may have noticed earlier when Snake Eyes infiltrated the Clan Arashikage temple that there was a glass laboratory which housed, among other things, the Snake Eyes mask.
After Kenta has been dispatched and the Arashikage saved, Snake Eyes is finally presented with his iconic mask. Unfortunately, his donning of the mask is so brief that it’s almost a head-scratcher — it’s as if they made an entire Superman movie where he never had an "S" on his chest. But the film’s final image is full-on Snake Eyes, dressed as fans remember — albeit, quite a bit more verbose — and prepared to head out on a mission.
Back to the A story
For the majority of the runtime of "Snake Eyes," Tommy and "Snake" (as he is usually called) have an on-again, off-again blood brothers friendship. It’s a precarious, complicated bond that has seen Snake Eyes save Tommy’s life, Tommy bring his new friend "home" and invite him into his clan, Snake Eyes taking a mission for the Baroness but ultimately having her recruit Tommy, and the two of them having a final falling out after Tommy’s expulsion from the clan.
"You offered me your life," Tommy says to his onetime friend as they part ways with palpable tension. "Next time we meet, I will take it."
Now that Kenta is out of the picture, Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes are poised to carry on the battle that involved the previous generation of G.I. Joes and Cobras. In the film’s closing moments, we see Storm Shadow fleeing — likely to the United States, if the next film is going to go full-on G.I. Joe. We also see Snake Eyes getting himself a spiffy new mask, determined to set out after Tommy.
Where do we go from here?
Assuming "Snake Eyes" makes enough money to warrant a green light for this latest "Joe" universe, the next film would undoubtedly have Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, now masked, going toe to toe. In a perfect world, this plotline would borrow heavily from the classic 1984 comic issue #21 of "G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero," entitled "Silent Interlude." Told entirely without a single speech bubble, sound effect or caption, "Interlude" continues decades later to be a revered tale.
For the reasons listed above, it seems obvious that General Colton would make an appearance, as would Destro. Wherever there is Cobra, there needs to be Cobra Commander — and from there you have a rogue’s gallery of villains that nearly rivals that of Batman. From Dr. Mindbender and Major Bludd to Zartan and his Dreadnoks, not to mention Serpentor (whose creation from the DNA of long-dead dictators somehow seems more plausible now than it did in the ’80s) and evil twins Tomax and Xamot, there are a lot of directions the next film could go.
Not to be outdone, there are probably twice as many Joes. The presence of Scarlett would likely indicate that Duke would be nearby. Roadblock, Gung-Ho, Wild Bill, and Shipwreck were among other frequent team-ups on missions in the "Real American Hero" cartoon and comic books, and the right casting and script could make them soar on the big screen.
So, while the "Snake Eyes" ending wraps up certain elements of these origins, it also provides substantial hope for the future of a beloved franchise.