Anyone hoping for a “so bad it’s good” experience with 47 Ronin is bound to be disappointed. Actually, pretty much anyone seeing 47 Ronin is bound to be disappointed by this bland and muddled would be epic. Unlike World War Z, which managed to overcome a bloated budget, reshoots, and delays, this film is crushed under the weight of those boondoggles. While not overtly terrible, the movie is far more boring than one based on this legendary tale should be and only comes alive during sporadic moments, mainly battle scenes. While admittedly good to look at, there’s nothing there for this flick. Director Carl Rinsch and his writers don’t do Keanu Reeves any favors, but let’s face it…Reeves rarely does himself any favors either. There might have been a mildly entertaining 80 or 90 minute quickie action film to be made with this material, but instead we’re given a pointlessly long flick that hits the two hour mark without ever earning that length. The movie is being set up to fail by coming out now against sure to be seen Oscar fare, so it’s no secret about the quality (or lack thereof) on display here. I do wish that Reeves, Rinsch, and company could have fixed this mess, but they didn’t, so it really just is what it is.
One of ancient Japan’s most timeless and enduring legends/tales, here we have the story of the 47 Ronin. In short, a group of samurai (guess how many) led by Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada) and including the village outcast (for obvious reasons) Kai (Reeves) must seek revenge after being driven from their home and seeing their leader killed in the first act by some greedy enemies and a witch (Rinko Kikuchi). Their forbidden from seeking vengeance, but as samurai they can’t let this betrayal go unavenged. It’s not the worst setup in the world for a movie, but from then on it becomes almost like a knockoff Hobbit/Lord of the Rings flick, as the group walks a lot, encounters random monsters/villains, repetitive moments that are meant to “test” them, and eventually makes it back in time for a big battle sequence. The final act has some borderline exciting moments, but the film has long since become a loser by that point. Nothing here is especially terrible, but there’s not enough to drive the narrative forward and emotional involvement is basically nil. This tale has been told many times by Japanese artist, but Hollywood’s attempt at making a movie mostly falls flat on its face.
You obviously don’t go into a movie like this expecting noteworthy acting, and it’s a good thing that you don’t too, since you’re not getting any here. Keanu Reeves is often silent during the first half, delivering thoroughly mediocre work, but during the second half when he speaks up, things get a little sillier. His fight scenes aren’t bad though, I’ll give him that. Still, if this was a passion project of sorts for Reeves, it doesn’t show up on the screen. Rinko Kikuchi does get to chew the scenery a bit as the evil witch, but Hiroyuki Sanada is a pretty bland samurai leader. Kikuchi seems to at least know the movie is failing dramatically, something that Sanada doesn’t realize at all. Neither is bad, like Reeves (though he wouldn’t have been my first choice for the role at all), but none of them do much to improve the film. The same goes for supporting players like Tadanobu Asano, Kou Shibasaki, Min Tanaka, and others. This is a visual spectacle if it’s anything, so asking anything else of it is more or less a fool’s errand.
Those of you who recognize the name of filmmaker Carl Rinsch might be recognizing him as the man who once upon a time was going to direct what became Prometheus. As much as that film is disappointing, I’m glad he didn’t get that one, since he’s still got a ways to go as a director. He nailed the look of this movie (pointless 3D aside), but everything else has escaped him. Rinsch’s writing team of Hossein Amini, Walter Hamada, and Chris Morgan don’t bring out anything interesting in an inherently interesting story, so Rinsch wasn’t getting much help to begin with. Amini, Hamada, and Morgan do come up with an ending that works pretty well, but it’s too little, too late by that point. Factor in the incredibly slow pace and there’s not much to like here.
In the end, 47 Ronin is pretty much a waste of time, though it’s never awful enough to get past mediocrity. By that same token, the individual moments than work never get it past that point either, in the other direction. Unless you’re a die hard fan of anything involving samurai, you can do a lot better than 47 Ronin. Especially this week when just about everything worth seeing is now out, you really have no excuse for not opting to see something else…
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!