Universal // 2013 // 119 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // April 1st, 2014
Keanu Reeves's Excellent Asian Adventure.
Kai (Keanu Reeves, The Matrix) is a half-Japanese, half-British outcast taken in as a young boy by a forgiving Lord Asano Naganori (Min Tanaka, The Twilight Samurai) when he was found lost and wandering the forests. Although Kai is rejected as a true samurai, he has trained all his life to become a warrior of considerable skill and talent. When Kai falls in love with Asano's daughter, Mika (Ko Shibasaki, Suspect X), he finds a rival in Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano, Tokyo Zombie), who eventually orchestrates the murder of the Ronin's leader. Now leaderless, the 47 Ronin (samurai without a master) seek out Kai for his help -- after originally rejecting him -- to gain redemption in a dangerous world filled with deadly swords, magical beasts, and lost honor.
It's obvious from the beginning why 47 Ronin failed at the box office. The film jumps right into the action, without spending much time letting the viewer get to know these characters. While the first sequence is well-executed -- including a forest chase with a giant otherworldly beast -- it's quick cut action for action's sake, with little-to-no context. In fact, the whole movie feels like one long adventure scene with a few random moments of clarity thrown in to let us know what's going on. First-time director Carl Rinsch does an okay job with the effects sequences, but they aren't nearly enough to overcome a painfully boring screenplay by Chris Morgan (Fast and Furious 6) and Hossein Amini (Snow White and the Huntsman), laden with pretentious dialogue like, "I will search for you through one thousand worlds and ten thousand lifetimes!" Yeah, it's that kinda movie.
Loosely based on the legendary story of the 47 Ronin (which apparently actually happened), the movie features dragons and sparkly magic so the filmmakers didn't feel the need to ground themselves in reality. I'm not exactly sure what sort of movie everyone involved was trying to make. This is one of those weird hybrids that's part kung fu movie, part monster movie, striving to be an epic adventure though a tad bit philosophical. There are far too many elements culled from The Last Samurai, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Peter Jackson's Middle Earth. There's even hints of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End thrown in, making 47 Ronin feel like a Frankenstein-esque paint-by-numbers experience.
Keanu Reeves leads the charge, but feels completely out of his element here. I know people rag on Reeves for his surfer persona, but it's not that his performance is bad as much as he's just woefully miscast. A nearly 50 year old Reeves as a halfbreed samurai is about as convincing as Alex Winter playing Barack Obama. I could see Jason Statham being a better choice for Kai, someone with a tougher exterior than Reeve's thoughtful meandering. In fact, just about anyone would have been a better choice.
If you're looking for stock characters fighting against a green screen, 47 Ronin fits the bill. The problem is there are already hundreds of movies like this clogging up retail stores and rental outlets everywhere. As CGI continues to become the norm for every movie, filmmakers need to raise the stakes on story development. We've already seen dozens of drooling, computer fabricated beasts running amuck, so give us characters we can believe in, or give us death...preferably not at the hands of a samurai sword.
Universal's 47 Ronin 3D (Blu-ray) is presented in 2.40:1/1080p HD widescreen in both 2D and 3D. Not surprisingly, the visual fidelity is excellent, with crystal clear imagery and vibrant colors that are about as close to reference quality as you can possibly get. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is great, dropping us right into the action with swooping swords and thunderous explosions. Also included are French and Spanish language tracks, as well as English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles. Extras include four brief featurettes ("Keanu & Kai," "Steel Fury: The Fights of 47 Ronin," "Myths, Magic, & Monsters: The FX of 47 Ronin," "Re-forging a Legend"), deleted scenes, and a theatrical trailer, as well as standard def DVD and HD digital copies.
This one doesn't really work on any level, except as a sizzle reel for the film's VFX designers. I wanted to like the movie, but found myself mentally drifting away every fifteen minutes or so. To be fair, I have the attention span of gnat, but still an army of katana wielding samurai should have no problem maintaining my interest. 47 Ronin should have been a success on some level, but it fails at every turn.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (French)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 119 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* 2D Version
* Deleted Scenes
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy
* UltraViolet Download
* Facebook Page