Keanu Reeves has an interesting relationship with Hollywood. Once the poster boy for many action films and comedies, due in large part to his success with “The Matrix” and the “Bill and Ted” movies, Reeves has now decided to follow the route of Ben Affleck and become a director.
Unfortunately, unlike Affleck, Reeves only seems to understand how to make one type of movie: Asian action pieces. Not even very good ones at that.
His first attempt was “The Man of Tai Chi.” If you’ve never heard of it, then count yourself lucky. A bland and forgettable kung-fu film that has maybe one or two lines of laughable dialogue that becomes what you remember the most about the film.
Which brings us to Reeves’ newest film, “47 Ronin.” A film that tries so hard to be taken seriously, yet never seems to get past its laughable premise and in the end becomes an unremembered work directed by the “Constantine” guy.
In Feudal Japan, a young boy by the name of Kai (Reeves) appears out of the mysterious forest where the magical and deadly Tengu dwell. Kai is taken in by the shogun leader of the nearby town, but is shunned by everyone but the shogun and his daughter for not being full Japanese.
One day though, the emperor comes to visit the village, when the leader is possessed and attempts to assassinate a visiting Lord Kira. The shogun is killed shortly after by his own hand, but his replacement suspects that witchcraft was behind it all. The emperor then orders that Lord Kira become the new ruler of this village, and that the replacement shogun be sent to prison and Kai sold into slavery. Now it is up to the new shogun, Kai and 45 others to take back their land and defeat the evil Lord Kira and his magic wielders.
The main problem of this film comes from there not being enough attention on that which deserves attention. For example, in films like “Seven Samurai” and “13 Assassins,” both of which are Japanese and focus on a struggle to take back land from a warring faction, you get to know every one of the samurais and assassins. You know their quirks, strengths and why they’re on this mission. “47 Ronin” however never takes the time to tell us the names of each of the ronins, let alone their personalities.
How are we supposed to care about this brave and courageous group of misfits fighting to take back their homeland and their pride, when I have no idea who even five of them are?
On top of that, it falls into a trap of explaining everything instead of letting the characters develop personalities. Many characters speak only in exposition, relaying information on the plot to the audience, rather than telling us how they feel. Entire scene will go by between Lord Kira and his magic wielders where they talk about the enemy advancing, but not what they think about any of that.
Is it really too much to ask for Kai to say, “I feel like this is a bad idea?”
An interesting note that I was unaware of until the films’ end was that this film is based on true events. Not that there were actual magic Tengu warriors or shapeshifters that could turn into dragons, but that there were 47 warriors that stood up to an actual Lord Kira. There is even a graveyard of these warriors which still stands today in Sengaku-Ji, Japan.
In that respect, I feel like “47 Ronin” is a watered-down “300.” Supposedly based on true events, but have taken artistic and thematic liberties to add elements of fantasy and make-believe to their work.
The difference between the two films though is that “300” embraced its silliness and never attempted to be serious and was kind of fun to watch in that regard. “47 Ronin” on the other hand takes itself far too seriously, and is so bogged down in explaining events and exposition that it doesn’t have time to enjoy the situation that it presents.
Overall, “47 Ronin” attempts to be like many films, including “300,” “The Matrix,” “Princess Mononoke” and “Seven Samurai” but is never able to get off the ground from its own premise. Keanu just can’t catch a break, can he?
Final Grade: D
Categories: Movie Reviews