Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Case for Roninja

The press for Keanu Reeve’s latest flick, 47 Ronin, has been brutal, with many expecting it to be the box office bomb of the year even though the year has barely begun. 

Still, the promise of a Japanese tale mixed with martial arts and samurai and magic did have an appeal, and the vehement exhortations of a few people that this would be an awesome film convinced me that I should at least give it a go.  And so, give it a go I did. 

And it was not that bad.  Well, not bad in that it was not painful and not laugh out loud terrible.  It started off moody and atmospheric, with Keanu’s bland expressionless acting as Kai mixing well with the tone of feudal Japan and its strict hierarchy and social mores.  A bit of confusing and rather dull backstory brought us through to today where a hunting party meets a wild and mythical creature on the rampage.  An exciting fight led to a slow return to town, the introduction of the love interest, and a whole lot of tedium… 

Yeah, it got very, very slow.  The bad people are introduced with no real flair or motive, the respected Shogun comes around and proves he is an idiot, samurai go rogue and very eventually get pointlessly mystical weapons, and then there are a few big fight scenes with the big baddies which end surprisingly quickly, and then there is an ending which drags on and on for what seems like even longer than the ending to Return of the King. 

There are nowhere near as many dragons as the trailer seemed to imply there was; some characters are clairvoyant at times and criminally stupid the next; and emotions appear to be only for women, and even then, it is just being mostly pathetic.   

But even though it is mostly flat, even if the jokes are mainly about fat people and are telegraphed a mile away, even if the martial arts and swordfighting is fairly minimal, still it has the atmosphere of a mythical Japan that probably never existed except in the minds of Japanese scribes.  The 47 Ronin of the title are more or less redundant in their own story (I can barely picture the faces of more than five…), but the Japanese atmosphere and the structure of the story are intriguing, even if the execution is fairly ordinary.  And then there is the bizarre 3D which looks okay but appears to put long red lines across the face of the main love interest – not a good look for Kai’s love interest. 

Considering how wonderful films like Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were (even if the latter is not the quickest film either), its even more disappointing that 47 Ronin, with all the promise of fighting and adventure the title implies, is so relentlessly dull.  More fighting, less scenery should have been the battle cry, but instead the cry is a whimper, and the battle is mainly against sleep – and annoying people talking incessantly behind me.  Again.

Verdict: It wasn’t as bad as I was anticipating, but 47 Ronin was definitely not great.  White man comes to save Japan again, and does, though with a d!ck for a Shogun, I am not sure it really deserved it.  The film looks good but feels empty – an opportunity missed.  23 Ronin out of 47.

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