Twitter Plot Summary: After the death of their master, 47 samurai seek revenge on the man responsible. Keanu Reeves tags along.
Five Point Summary:
1. Bad CGI.
2. Evil is afoot.
3. Getting the band back together.
4. So… is this supposed to be set in the real world or not?
5. Finally, something interesting has… oh, it’s finished.
If you were expecting a faithful and entertaining romp through feudal Japan, filled to the brim with exciting ninja battles and a compelling story, then don’t see 47 Ronin. Whilst based on perhaps one of the best known stories to come out of that era, the tale of 47 samurai seeking honourable revenge for the death of their master, it’s never sure if it wants to be a full blown fantasy or a serious revenge drama, uncomfortably straddling the two styles like Vanessa Feltz on an exercise bike.
There’s little more to the tale than just described – a group of samurai go on a revenge quest after their master, Lord Asano, is killed by Lord Kira, who has plans to take command over the entire region. He takes Lord Asano’s daughter Mika away with him, with the intention of marrying her once her time of mourning has ended – in a year’s time. It is therefore up to our plucky band of 47 ronin (samurai without a master) to stop the wedding and gain the revenge they seek. Along for this ride comes Keanu Reeves, a halfbreed who is often shunned by the noble samurai as having no honour, no family history and so on. It will of course transpire that he proves himself to this group. To further complicate matters, he has a love interest with the kidnapped Mika, so he has a personal stake in events.
I’m glad I didn’t see it in 3D – the standard film is so dark that I imagine the 3D conversion would be horrendously dark and under-exposed. There are a few hints of nice set design, but most of it is hard to pick out due to the low light levels. On the plus side it’s always nice to see feudal Japan receive the big screen treatment, even if half the time they don’t quite get it right. On the negative slant (again), the CGI is mostly terrible, it’s as if the clock has been wound back 15 years to Flubber-era effects. In practice it’s not quite as bad as that sounds, instead it’s more on par with the effects in 2013’s equally derisive R.I.P.D. On that note, the fantasy element is badly set up and isn’t explained satisfactorily. Much like most of it, then.
Keanu Reeves provides a typically wooden performance, and actually serves no real importance to the plot. In fact it would have been improved immeasurably if he hadn’t been involved at all. The remaining cast of Japanese actors are reliable and solid, but are lost in the weak script. Furthermore is it too much to ask for the film to be in Japanese rather than mostly English? On several occasions it switches between the two, again confusing the film’s intentions. I know subtitles are considered a bad thing by the majority of Western audiences, but either have everything in English, or have everything in Japanese with subtitles – we don’t need both. Rinko Kikuchi looks like she’s having the most fun as the Witch, but much like the remainder of the film, the character has little of consequence worth contributing.
A couple of nice action set pieces also do little to sway opinion in the film’s favour – the final assault on Kira’s home as he prepares for his wedding has a nice build-up, but ultimately becomes a generic resolution in the final act. The story itself is a classic and has received many successful movie adaptations, but this interpretation certainly isn’t one of them.