In the mythology of G.I. Joe, the link between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow is dense and complex. The two fought together, trained together, and became as close as brothers—only to eventually turn into bitter rivals. That relationship carries over not just into the new movie, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, but its actors. Though their past has decidedly fewer samurai swords and killing.
Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians, Last Christmas), who plays Snake Eyes, and Andrew Koji (Warrior), who plays Tommy (aka Storm Shadow), didn’t meet until they were cast in Snake Eyes. But the two grew up in the same area of England and are roughly the same age. “We’re both from Surrey,” Koji told io9 over video. “We’re Surrey boys.” Golding explains that Koji went to the same college most of his friends went to, which was also right next to where he grew up. “Two half Asian kids growing up in that area, to not have met and only to meet halfway across the world on this amazing sort of production was something really special,” Golding said. “And so our bond was naturally there from the beginning.” Koji added, “And I think some of that has probably gone into the film.”
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins takes place in a world where the famous groups G.I. Joe and Cobra exist, but they’re not the focus of the story. The focus is on a young man (Golding) who is on the hunt for vengeance after the murder of his father. He saves the life of Tommy (Koji), and the two form a bond and travel back to Japan to train with Tommy’s family, the legendary clan known as the Arashikage. However, not all is as it seems as both of the men are carrying secrets. “We are taking it out of the traditional kind of tropes of being a hero and making it as layered as possible.” Golding said of the film. This means at least at the start, the heroic G.I. Joe Snake Eyes you know from action figures, cartoons, and comics won’t be there yet, and neither will be the villainous Cobra agent Storm Shadow. But each is working towards it.
“In the beginning, Snake Eyes is kind of this very mislead kind of youth. He’s had a very traumatic past and his main goal and only purpose at that point in life is vengeance … In doing that, we realize later, he has had no code of honor,” Golding said of his character. “A code of honor really implies that you have sacrificed yourself to a greater good … and something like honor only comes with family. That’s what he finds with the Arashikage. So once he finds that honor within himself, he becomes the Snake Eyes that we all know and love. That journey and that story arc, I think, was really subtle yet very important.”
Directed by Robert Schwentke (Red)—from a screenplay by Evan Spiliotopoulos, Joe Shrapnel, and Anna Waterhouse—Snake Eyes was shot partially on location in Japan with a predominately Asian cast. More so than even its tale of honor, betrayal, and action figures turned to life, that’s what Koji believes resonates with the film. “All I wanted, really at the end of the day, was for the kids that watch this film and the fans [to be pleased],” Koji said. “I didn’t have a character or big film like this when I was growing up that I could see, [so] I want [the kids] to feel seen and heard and for them to feel empowered.”
Much as Koji hopes the film empowers fans, the fans conversely have the power to see more of G.I. Joe. It’s not surprising to say the film ends in a place where the stories of Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, as well as G.I. Joe and Cobra, could continue in more movies if this one is a hit with audiences. And if that happens, each actor has very specific thoughts on what they’d like to do next.
“I really want to see a bigger world,” Golding said. “We are very much in this microcosm of a corner of the Arashikage and Japan. But of course, the reaches of Cobra are far-reaching beyond that of where we are in this particular film. I love the world of sort of espionage, and I think G.I. Joe and this world it has that aspect. I would love something in that realm of having to kind of infiltrate … I want to see him, with the right motivations, infiltrate somewhere else. And of course, I want him to get hold the weaponry which makes him sort of iconic.” Koji agrees. “I’d love to see him in more the Cobra look [where] he’s got a hooded look and his bow and arrow,” he said. “And I love to see him with these different weapons that he’s a master of. I’d love to see more of the Arashikage techniques. And obviously, it would be really cool to explore the psychology.”
Plus, this is Hollywood. At the same time Paramount and Hasbro are rebooting G.I. Joe with Snake Eyes, the companies are also working together on a new take on Transformers called Rise of the Beasts. Could the companies make Snake Eyes and Optimus Prime team up? “Snake Eyes on the shoulder of Optimus Prime is something that I grew up imagining with the comic books and all that jazz,” Golding said. “That would be phenomenal.”
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins opens in theaters on July 23.
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