Thursday, May 1, 2014

"47 Ronin (2013)": An Unexpected Not-Disaster

Now Available on DVD and Blu-Ray

I had been dreading watching this movie, and I had hoped to get out of the month of April without having to do so.  But there’s a bit of a dry spell coming up in notable DVD releases, so I sat myself down and gave this one a watch.  And you know what?  It’s really not that bad.  Actually, it’s kinda good.  Not great by any standard, but for as dumb as the premise makes this one sound, I found the film engaging and entertaining.  I certainly don’t regret watching it, and while I completely understand why fans of the original 47 Ronin could hate this, as a standalone film, I don’t find it to be too offensive.

The original 47 Ronin is a classic Japanese film depicting the dishonor of 47 samurai after the death of their lord, who then take revenge on the one responsible for their lord’s death and reclaim the honor of their clan.  This 47 Ronin follows the same basic plot, but changes the setting to a more mythologically based Japan where demons and witches exist, and features a sideplot wherein Keanu Reeves plays a half-Japanese, half-European man raised by demons.  As terrible as this sounds on paper, the film doesn’t really make Reeves the focus for extended periods of time, but really uses him as more of an excuse to tie mythological elements into the ronin’s quest.  It transforms the film into a fantasy adventure story, and while some may view this as desecration of a classic, I found the world-building and creature designs to be rather inspired.

Furthermore, I found myself really enjoying the effects-driven action sequences.  In general, they do an excellent job of communicating the flow of a complicated battle scene without relying on exposition or devolving into mindless brawls.  The choreography is smooth, and while I found a couple of the 300-style slo-mo effects to be a bit jarring, the film’s action as a whole is quite well-executed, particularly with regards to some of the CG fantasy fights.  The costuming as well was gorgeous to look upon, making this film a visual treat if nothing else.

Unfortunately, as I said, this film isn’t great, particularly in the acting department.  Keanu Reeves has never been a very good actor, but at least this movie doesn’t let him open his mouth all that much.  The true offenders are almost everyone else in this film, speaking in jilted sentences that seem to have punctuation in all the wrong places.  I suspect that many of the Japanese actors in this film were not fluent enough in English syntax to make their dialogue sound natural.  Either that, or the director wanted this to sound like a poorly dubbed anime.  Either way, the poor acting in the more conversation-heavy scenes can grow almost comical in its absurdity.  There were also a few scenes that seemed really bizarrely edited, either through lack of scene establishment or lack of relevance to the overarching narrative.  It’s nothing that breaks the film, but there were a few moments where I had to ask myself what the hell I just saw, like a random flashback to how the two main villains first met that goes by so fast you could almost miss it by blinking.

Overall, though, 47 Ronin isn’t a huge cinematic sin of a film.  If you can take it for what it is, it’s a competently fun fantasy action flick with a few forgivable missteps.  I honestly think that this film’s biggest sin was calling itself 47 Ronin.  The legacy of the original masterpiece is going to be almost impossible to live up to, but then to add fantasy elements to a story originally grounded in reality is not going to endear this movie in the eyes of the original film’s fans.  If the movie had rebranded itself as something other than 47 Ronin and differentiated the details of the story enough from its inspiration, I don’t think this movie would have been panned nearly as hard by its critics.  I, on the other hand, can appreciate this movie for what it is, and not what I expected it to be.

Ever see a film you thought you would hate and came away pleasantly surprised?  Let me know about it in the comments below.

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