Saturday, 28 December 2013

47 Ronin (Film Review)

Huh. Well that happened.

The thing which will likely come to mind about 47 Ronin is that the film just seems to get very little right. It's that odd occurrence where not too much seems to be being done horribly wrong, but there's nothing really outstanding which appears on screen. For every second of "ooah!" and "aah!" there's a good ten or twenty minutes of the plot dragging its feet.

Set in feudal Japan, the film follows the conflict between a group of disgraced Samurai out to get retribution for their lord. Having witnessed him be framed and suspicions of witchcraft at play, their leader Oishi seeks to kill Yoshinaka Kira before he can marry their dead master's daughter Mika. With both a ticking clock and Kira's servants shadowing their every move, they must seek to perform one last task in their master's name, no matter the cost to themselves...

Oh, and Keanu Reeves is in this with some connections to the supernatural forces of the land.

Yeah, this is the real problem here. Ignoring the obvious supernatural elements, the story has been written to include someone more recognisable in the Western world. This would be fine, film adaptations can have new characters if they're handled well, but Reeves just sticks out like a sore thumb, with Oishi obviously supposed to be the actual hero. Even with the film continually veering away to give Reeves' character his own sub-plots and major fights, it's so obvious he's been tacked on. It's almost as if there are two separate stories here occasionally connecting. Hell, before the film even hits its halfway mark you're more than likely to be getting Big Trouble In Little China vibes.

As a result of this addition, the plot often feels as if it's meandering about. While it goes out of its way more than once to give the audience some fights, too many times events either feel superfluous or that opportunities have been skipped. While the film does at least take the time to explain things, there's no denying that at many points the film has been crafted to have eye candy and flash over substance. On some levels this actually works out okay. Most of the special effects come across well, the designs look fantastic and the environments are (usually) colourful and vibrant. Furthermore, the armour and outfits look great. Not entirely genuine, but they still stand out extremely well and provide something interesting to watch. Furthermore, while the cinematography is nothing great, even dropping the ball more than a few times, the fights themselves will hold your attention.

Now, all of the above would be fine were it not for one thing: The film is too afraid to crack a smile. While not entirely joyless, 47 Ronin was playing itself far too seriously. It had high ambitions, but the way it was presenting itself was far beyond the skills of the creators. While it hardly needed to turn into The Mummy, it doesn't take the time to characterise more than one or two of the Ronin. Even then, most of them are presented as unsmiling, and there are no moments of humour or real happiness to differ from the serious moments. As a result it just plays out as being dull.

The actors themselves seem to be trying to do the best with what they are given, but it's clear they've all been told to play unsmiling, stoic figures who will not change their expressions. There are a few who do break this mold, but they are either given very little screen time, are quickly killed off, or are just shoved into the background. The only two who really stand out are the villains. Kira is played in as oily a way as humanly possible, to the point where he looks as if he's about to break out in evil laughter every scene. His ally, an unnamed witch, is played by Kikuchi Rinko who is hamming up every scene like Sam Rami's behind the camera. It's just unfortunate they don't have more to work with.

Top all of this off with several disappointments (including the fate of Kira's champion) and a few questionable plot elements, and the film just isn't that great. You might have some fun with this one and sit all the way through it, but more likely you'll forget you ever watched it within moments of leaving the theater.
Supposed to have been released in November last year, the film underwent significant re-shoots to capitalise upon Keanu Reeves' character. Adding in a romance angle for him, more scenes and re-doing a lot of the final battle to make it more in-line with the stuff from the Hobbit apparently. As such, expect a second review if we ever get a director's cut. As for the one on at the cinema at the moment? It's worth a rental at most. If there's something else on you want to see, go watch that instead.

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