Review: ’47 Ronin’ has dragons, giants, alien monks and sad Keanu

Keanu Reeves and Hiroyuki Sanada seek vengeance in "47 Ronin." Credit: Frank Connor
Keanu Reeves and Hiroyuki Sanada seek vengeance in “47 Ronin.”
Credit: Frank Connor

’47 Ronin’
Director: Carl Rinsch
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada
Rating: PG-13
2 (out of 5) Globes

None of the previous film adaptations — nor the real-life version, for that matter — of Japan’s beloved “forty-seven ronin” story have included shape-shifting henchwomen, giant, horned rampaging beasts with eight eyes or sad Keanu. That the new “47 Ronin” includes all these plus more is not in itself a bad thing. Tales are made to be pummeled into shapes that please and entertain each era. If anything, this American-shepherded but Japan-set monstrosity ought to be more insane. Like this summer’s “The Wolverine,” it boasts a towering samurai. But the film doesn’t do anything with him other than have him stand around and show that, yes, there’s an enormous samurai dude. He’s armored up with nowhere to go.

The basic story remains roughly the same. A feudal lord assaults another lord, Kira (Tadanabu Asano); though he only grazes Kira, he is forced to commit seppuku. Disgraced and leaderless, the lord’s 47 ex-samurai — of whom we get to know about four — seek to right their master’s name and avenge his death. Added is the rampant fantasy element. Kira isn’t just evil but also has a vamping sorceress (Rinko Kikuchi) who turns into a preening fox and later a dragon. Rather than debate the merits of vengeance — which will inevitably result in their own group seppuku — our heroes wander off into muddled, under-explained adventures, including getting magic swords from a cadre of monks who look like rejects from “Babylon 5.”

The most egregious, to some, addition is Keanu Reeves, as an English-Japanese “half-breed” who worms his way into the ronin (because he wants to die?). He incurs a spate of racism from the Japanese cast; his revenge is that his presence forces everyone to speak usually belabored, stilted English. To his credit, Reeves and the Western filmmakers try their best to assimilate and adopt to the brooding, ritualistic rites of the culture and the story. This is a tale of honor, and even with fighting giants and suddenly materializing superpowers, it sticks closer to the tale — in particular its ending — than one would think from a Hollywood co-option of foreign product.

Thing is, the story actually runs on nuance, not action. The most famous film version is Kenji Mizogichi’s brilliant take from 1941, which ran two parts over four hours and spent most of its time with its characters brooding and debating what to do, as though it was populated by 47 Hamlets. (Even with gobs of time, most of its action is purposefully kept off-screen, related through ancillary characters.) This one tries to distract us with pretty images and fighting and creatures. But aside from a quiet, sneak attack leading up to a flaccid big battle, it’s all for naught.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Memorial held for Sean Collier, MIT police officer…

More than 1,600 people gathered at MIT on Friday for a memorial service for Sean Collier, the police officer shot to death a year ago in the aftermath of the…

National

Florida man charged with murdering son to play…

A Florida man annoyed that his 16-month-old crying son was preventing him from playing video games suffocated the toddler, police said on Friday.

International

Powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake rattles Mexico

A powerful earthquake struck Mexico Friday, shaking buildings and sending people running into the street, although there were no reports of major damage.

News

OMG! Exercise can make skin (and butt) look…

A moderate exercise regime can turn back time and actually reverse the skin's aging process, according to new research. The study showed that a minimum…

Entertainment

Whoopi Goldberg makes her debut as marijuana columnist

"It helps my head stop hurting, and with glaucoma your eyes ache, and she takes the ache out. It's wonderful," she said.

The Word

Kate Middleton made fun of Prince William's bald…

Kate Middleton and Prince William are in Sydney, Australia, right now, and it sounds like that brash Aussie sense of humor might be rubbing off.

The Word

Is Tom Cruise dating Laura Prepon?

"Mission: Impossible" star Cruise is said to be dating Laura Prepon, star of "Orange is the New Black."

Television

'Scandal' recap: Season 3, Episode 18, 'The Price…

Sally is Jesus, Olivia caused global warming, and Mellie's still drunk. Let's recap the Scandal finale. A church full of Washington insiders is about to…

MLB

MLB video highlights: Red Sox score two in…

Lester shines in Red Sox win over White Sox

Sports

2014 Boston Marathon preview: Elite American, International runners…

2014 Boston Marathon: Elite American, International runners to watch

NBA

2014 NBA Finals odds: Ranking which playoff teams…

2014 NBA Finals odds: Ranking which playoff teams have the best shot at a championship. The Thunder, Clippers, Heat and Rockets lead the way.

NFL

2014 Patriots, full NFL schedule release date announced

2014 Patriots, full NFL schedule release date announced

Tech

VIDEO: 'Vein-scanning' may become the future of paying

Designed to make transactions quicker and easier, the technology works by scanning the unique vein patterns in each person's palm.

Tech

#FollowFriday: 10 of the smartest Twitter accounts

Spending lots of time on Twitter? You might as well learn something. Here are some of the smartest accounts to follow.

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.

Wellbeing

Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.