Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, M. 121 minutes. 3 stars.
The G.I. Joe franchise - originating with a 1960s toy line - has been a bit messier in its cinematic incarnations, than, say, the Marvel franchise. Movies have come out haphazardly at irregular intervals with different casts and storylines and little in the way of continuity.
The latest instalment, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, as the title suggests, is an origin story for one of the "Joes", the mysterious figure known as Snake Eyes. Originally a white man who trained as a ninja, here he's played by English-Malaysian actor Henry Golding in a role closer to his part in the crime movie The Gentlemen than his suave romantic lead in Crazy Rich Asians. He's impressive (though his accent seems to wander around a bit).
Despite its flaws, it's a fun, action-packed watch even if you're not intimately familiar with the entire backstory.
It begins two decades ago with a boy seeing his father confronted by a man with a gun and a pair of dice. When the dice are rolled and come up with a pair of ones - "snake eyes" - he is killed but his son escapes, vowing revenge.
As an adult, Snake Eyes, as he is known, is a drifter who goes from place to place, making a living through underground cage fights.
That's only the start of a story that includes secrets, family infighting, lying, betrayal and honour.
One day Snake Eyes encounters Kenta (Takehiro Hira), a weapons smuggler who recruits him with an offer he can't refuse: he'll get the chance to confront the man who killed his father. Still, working for a criminal isn't his ideal job.
But things change when he refuses to kill Tommy (Andrew Koji), the wealthy heir to the Arashikage family. The two men escape and the grateful Tommy brings Snake Eyes to his family compound. He's offered training as a ninja but first he must pass three tests, to be administered by the Hard Master (Iko Uwais) and the Blind Master (Peter Mensah). The penalty for failure is death. You might be thinking, there's gratitude for you, but Snake Eyes accepts, and it's no great spoiler to say he eventually makes it through (it would be a short movie otherwise).
That's only the start of a story that includes secrets, family infighting, lying, betrayal and honour. There's also a little philosophising, Canberra's own Samara Weaving in a supporting role, and lots of action. The martial arts scenes are impressive (though how much is technological rather than purely physical is hard to know) and the relationships are interesting.
I found the film grew more implausible as it went along but don't want to spoil anything: suffice it to say there are moments that prompt a bit of headshaking.
But they might be forgiven: despite these and some other issues - there are quite a few cliches here in the characters, situations and dialogue and some of the editing and camerawork is a bit too jittery - I still had quite a fun time here. If you like the G.I. Joe franchise, martial arts or action movies in general, this isn't bad (and there's a final scene shortly into the end credits).