47 Ronin in 3D Review
Everyone seemed to hate this movie. I don’t know. I kind of liked it.
This movie got a miserable 12% on Rotten Tomatoes and a quick scan of other reviewers have it listed as out of genre, boring, unfocused, and underwhelming. In reading the reviews I can see a lot of the things other reviewers have taken issue with, but the fact is as a fan of fantasy films, sword and sorcery, and samurai culture I found myself reasonably entertained. I think I vote more with the audience, who gave it 63%. (47 Ronin image courtesy of the Movie T Shirt collection incidentally)
That’s not to say this film was great or even really good. It tanked horribly and if you aren’t t total nerd you might find a lot of it completely wrong. I think it fair to say if a studio sinks $150 million into a production having them come out with just plain mediocre is tantamount to a crime. Since I kind of skipped right past my annoying detailed analysis in the last review let’s dive into the reasons why I think this movie is floundering.
First off, while the writer has a couple decent credits (Wanted, a lot of the Fast and Furious franchise) he has no real history in a period piece, nor in a film with more import than fast cars are cool and you can’t fight fate. I don’t even want to drop the entirely in his lap. It looks like the studio decided they wanted a film with significance otherwise missing from their lineup and then hired the guy who wrote Tokyo Drift to develop it. This is like deciding you want to throw a fancy dinner party and bringing on the fry cook from the local McDonalds to prepare your food. I’m sure the fries would be delicious but you can’t really blame him when the filet mignon doesn’t really garner mass praise from your guests.
Secondly, this movie makes the cardinal sin of straddling the fantasy/reality fence and ends up with a fence post stuck in its ass. Magic works well in the Lord of the Rings (a movie that clearly “inspired” this production BTW) mainly because Middle Earth is a land of magic and fantasy, with elves, dwarves, trolls, etc. 47 Ronin is sent in feudal Japan and calls back to that fact all the time, but once your brain gets set into reality mode a witch casts a spell or magical bird monks show up. Shifting gears back and forth too often hurts the brains of the audience. Would you really want to see an episode of Sons of Anarchy end by Jackson casting a spell on a rival gang? No, that would be completely out of place. This is especially aggravated by the complete lack of explanation of what the magic is about and who is doing what. If you are going to have magic in a period piece you need to at least attempt to ground it in some kind of established and universally understood lore (voodoo, pact with Satan, eye of newt, etc.). The sad part is the magic added absolutely nothing to the film and really only served to justify the 3D and keep the CGI drones employed.
Before I go into my third point let me preface it by saying I don’t hate Keanu Reeves. He has been responsible for a number of films I have enjoyed a great deal (Matrix, Speed, Devil’s Advocate). However I will say he tends to have a fairly wooden delivery and when he is matched up with a cast comprised entirely of stoic Bushido samurai the film stops looking less like a movie and more like an Animatronic historical reproduction in a new ride at Disneyland. The audience needs a character to identify with and it is far easier to identify with someone showing strong emotion. This was a truly missed opportunity, in that had they cast someone who was the completely contrasting mien emotionally it not only would have given us a protagonist to identify with provide a great context to better understand and appreciate the samurai. This was done very well in The Last Samurai I think, and could have been done well here.
Finally, a lot of people say it was slow and boring but I honestly think the pacing was perfect for showing the culture behind the story. I thought there was plenty of action and as a cultural exploration not a bad experience. I didn’t have a problem with it.
There was one thing the movie did well but that many other people might not have liked is they didn’t “Hollywood” up the ending. I don’t want to spoil it but I kept waiting for the plot to suddenly swerve off the path it was traveling and land in the great unwashed trailer park that is most movie denouements. Unfortunately there is a reason cheesy endings work in mainstream film and the box office return on this movie might be an indication. This bodes ill for future artistic integrity.
Anyway, the story. Kai (Keanu Reeves) is a half breed found by local Japanese lord Asano (Min Tanaka-Return, No Beginning, No End, Kyoto Story) and is raised in relative kindness along with the lord’s daughter Mika (Kô Shibasaki-One Missed Call, Go, Crying Out Love in the Center of the World). He is disliked by all the samurai including Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada-the Wolverine, Rush Hour 3, the Twilight Samurai) the lord’s right hand man. They all think he is a demon. Their land is beset by a magical beast that Kai helps kill. The creature was summoned by a witch (Rinko Kikuchi-Pacific Rim, the Brothers Bloom (Boom Boom!), the Sky Crawlers) who was working for Lord Asano’s rivel Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano-Battleship, Thor, Ichi the Killer).
Asano is hosting a tournament for the Shogun (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa-Planet of the Apes, Pearl Harbor, Mortal Kombat) but the witch casts a spell on Asano’s champion. Kai takes his place against a giant in armor but after he loses the Shogun realizes he is not a samurai and shames Asano. That night the witch casts another spell on Asano, making him attack Kira and shaming him further. The Shogun orders Asano to commit seppuku, leaving Miko to marry Kira and Oishi and the rest of the samurai as ronin.
Eventually Oishi finds Kai as a slave and rescues him. He collects the rest of the ronin and they cook up a plot to take revenge on Kiru. They need weapons and so Kai takes him to the demon/birdman/monks who raised him. Battles are fought, Kai fights the illegitimate love child of Falkor the Luckdragon and Cthulu, and the Shogun shows the world what a dick he is.
I thought it a decent movie that kept me at least engaged. One star. The costumes and culture were spot on as far as my ignorant ass knows. One star. Sword fights are always cool. One star. Samurai are also very cool, and they managed to avoid the pitfall of including ninjas in this one. One star. The girl who plays Mika is super hot if you like gorgeous Japanese girls (which I do). One star. Massive props for giving us the ending the story needed, not the one that most American audiences would have wanted. Three stars. Total: eight stars.
The black holes.
There was a lot of stuff that this film didn’t need and detracted from the story. Magic, dragons, mystical birdman monks. One black hole. The whole unresolved fantasy/reality question, which was exacerbated by film techniques more appropriate for sci fi in my opinion. One black hole. Wooden acting all around, some intentional and some accidental. One black hole. No explanation or understanding was given for the super giant samurai working for Lord Kira. Was he mystical? A demon? A big dude who never took off his armor? A big woman who never took off her armor? For some reason that was really bugging me. I wanted to know more. One black hole. Total: four black holes.
A grand total of four stars, which for me is the upper end of the mediocre range. Worth seeing? If you like fantasy movies and/or are into feudal Japan sure. It won’t be a waste of your time. For the rest of you meh. You can take it or leave it. If you are a Keanu Reeves fan maybe, but with the beard he had you don’t even realize it’s him most of the time. However if you are going to see it try to see it on a big screen. 3D wasn’t awesome but did add some. Date movie? Probably not. If she is not into the culture this might put her to sleep. What little romance there was was stunted at best. Nothing here that will really flip the average girls switch.
By the way, if you are a regular reader and look for the whole date movie or not part of my reviews know two things: 1) this is based on my understanding of the average girl and in no way could be considered specific to the individual you are dating and 2) my own success rate in the world of dating is on par with the success rate of dried spaghetti being used to break down a concrete wall. It would be safe to assume that my actual understanding of the average girl is pretty limited (based more on what I read or see in movies than anything else) so take my advice for what it is worth.
Anyway, bathroom break. Nothing jumps out at me but if I were to pick a scene the one where the witch is trying to force feed Mika with her tentacle hair doesn’t do much of anything.
Thanks for reading. Lots to see right now and I want to get more done in time for my end of the year review so tomorrow might be a two movie day. Now that Xmas is done I have time to get caught up. Follow me on Twitter if you dare @Nerdkungfu. Comments on this film or my review can be left here and suggestions or off topic questions should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a great day and I will talk to you soon.