With expensive reshoots, more than a year’s delay and having been written off as a financial loss by Universal before it was released, this $200 million fantasy version of the classic Japanese story emerged under a fog of bad publicity so thick that even Keanu Reeves’ shining star power couldn’t break through.
47 Ronin bears all the signs of a film that had no single strong hand on the helm, being muddled, lacking focus and, most unforgivably, dull.
Reeves is Kai, a ‘half-breed’ who is found as a boy escaping from the mythical woods in the kingdom of kindly Lord Asano (Min Tanaka). Asano takes him in, but he’s never accepted by his samurai; only his daughter Mika (Battle Royale‘s Kô Shibasaki).
When evil Lord Kira (Ichi The Killer‘s Tadanobu Asano) orchestrates the disgrace and execution of Asano, Oishi (The Wolverine‘s Hiroyuki Sanada) and the masterless samurai must take revenge before he takes Mika for his bride. Oishi knows they need Kai, but will he be a match for Kira’s witch, Mizuki (Pacific Rim‘s Rinko Kikuchi)?
47 Ronin wants to be a blend of samurai drama and action fantasy. One of the film’s fatal flaws is that it knows what these two things look like, but can’t find a way to successfully blend its influences. Instead, director Carl Rinsch delivers an awkward patchwork of clunkily edited sequences that are clearly designed to remind its audience of The Lord Of The Rings or Pirates Of The Caribbean.
The reshoots placed more focus on Reeves’ Kai, but his character development sits at an uncomfortable distance from the main thrust of the story. The po-faced tone also means that he’s not really given the chance to develop any chemistry with Sanada.
On the plus side, the excellent Japanese cast are on good form. Sanada oozes gravitas and provides the real anchor for the story. Asano gives good evil smirking, but he’s outshone by Kikuchi as the shape-shifting Mizuki, whose gleeful scenery chewing is the most fun that the film provides.
Despite beautiful work from the costume and art department and good turns from Sanada and Kikuchi, 47 Ronin rarely sparks into life. This confused tale is a waste of a promising opportunity.