The other day I did a review on a movie where the trailer made the movie look so good and compelling that I had no choice really but to see it. This one, the trailer actually made it look fairly horrible. It told you truly nothing about the tonal quality of the film and focused on a 300-esque glitz and “Oh Shiny” factor. It focused on creatures and magic that left me confused as to what I was going to get aside from Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan in Japan. Now that I have seen the film I have this to say.
The trailer failed spectacularly.
Even the After Earth trailer made that film look more interesting until the directors name showed up. The last time (I recall) a trailer completely misrepresenting a movie this horrifically was the movie Lord Of War with Nicholas “Not the Bees” Cage. That movie was sold as a high comedic center piece with crazy eyes. Instead it was a twisted black/dark drama. with 47 Ronin we were offered as a I mentioned magic and monsters, bad CG work and oversaturated color palettes starring Keanu Reeves as an oddly white samurai. What I got was something else.
First time director, Carl Rinsch, with writers Chris Morgan (Fast & Furious 5 and 6, Wanted), Hossein Amini (Drive), and Walter Hamada (producer on the Conjuring) bring us a high concept mythological retelling of the story of 47 Ronin in the Tokugawa Era Japan. While the visuals are close in many respects (too many) to 300, the style of the story is closer to Clash of the Titans or and hear me out here, Dracula.
They took an event from Japanese history, which is legend and hazy at best to the true events, and elevated it to a truly legendary quality. I cannot say they were successful 100% of the time, but they should not be asked to commit seppuku for the attempt. Thats the comparison. When taking a true event and adding a twist to it, inserting a world where witch craft, Tengu and dragons not only exist but are believed in by the people. While the trailers showed those elements they failed in letting us know they were but backdrop to a far more interesting film about Bushido and Revenge.
For his part Reeves as a half breed named Kai, does well. He is not a nail in the coffin and the personality (or lack of) that he is often criticized for is a strength in this movie. He is reserved is his emotions and when he acts it is with commitment and intention, as a Samurai should. While I try to remain spoiler free I feel the need to throw a trivial one. Kai is not Samurai. As is appropriate for the period a half-breed like him is considerably lesser and is treated as such.
That is one of the truly major successes of the film. It captured as much as it could of what western historians have let us know of “true” feudal japan. I am not an expert by any respects. I have read the Book of Five Rings, and played some relatively well respected games around it. That’s really it, but from that I did observe some things that I have found to be culturally appropriate throughout the film, including Reeves portrayal of what he is. Granted the mystic elements throw some of it out the window and the dialogue isn’t always great but there is a lot of attention to detail.
The costuming and make up are amazingly well done and appear to be period appropriate from hair and make up to the shoes. The fight sequences while cut a little quickly are at least watchable through a lack of noticeable shaky cam. When the production team decided to go practical with the effects they looked rather good with the Tengu monk being one of the most nuanced make up of its kind. I do find that the computer enhancements were a bit much for it and took away some of the beauty of the application.
The movie is not however flawless. It is quite good, better than I thought so that might be why I am able to keep talking about it, but far from flawless. The Hollywood need to oversaturate the colors is getting nearly old as Shaky cam and I will not miss it if it goes tomorrow. The script at times and the lines some are forced to read is painful and comes off ridiculous or awkward when heard. It makes sense for what they are doing, it just doesn’t sound right is all. There are elements in the graphics that of course do take away and the CG while detailed still isn’t clean against a real set and real actors.
The acting is either appropriately reserved or so far over the top to nearly be comical. If it was intended this way then it succeeded, if not well….had they given Tadanobu Asano (Hogun in Thor) a mustache to twirl as Lord Kira I wouldn’t have blinked. Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim) as the Witch is nearly delightful in how over the top she is. I wish they had done more with her as it feels some of her screen time or plotlines were cut from the film. All of the Samurai themselves are fine, if not a bit of a stereo type, nothing to really write home about. They met expectations.
Time for yours? TL:DR
47 Ronin is better than it has rights to be. It’s not a great film but it was an entertaining one and certainly in the good category. It fails in marketing end to end so you can’t judge this by what you’ve seen so far. A little Japanese education does go a long way in appreciating some of the nuances of the film and the details that went into it.
Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this one for most people.
It’s good enough just not most folks cup of tea. If you do see it, I’d recommend matinee at best and avoid the extra cost of 3D, the animation will make your eyes bleed. It can safely be Cheap Seated, Netflixed or Redboxed without much in the way of disappointment.
As a very geeky aside, I now want to play Legend of the Five Rings again as this movie fits perfectly in that world.