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
National

US military tried, but failed to rescue journalist…

The U.S. military earlier this year tried to rescue journalist James Foley and other American hostages held in Syria ,but failed to find the captives.

National

Fate of captured beluga whales in hands of…

A Georgia aquarium went to court on Wednesday seeking federal permission to bring 18 captured beluga whales to the United States from Russia.

Local

After Eric Garner death, religious leaders meet to…

Interfaith leaders convened with city officials to discuss what the community can do to help dial down heightened tensions after Eric Garner's death.

Local

'Suspicious' Hamilton Heights fire caused by power strip:…

An extension cord overload caused the deadly fire in Hamilton Heights late Monday that killed a 15-year-old girl and injured at least 12 others.

Television

'Doctor Who' personality profile: the 4 Doctors

When the time comes for a new Doctor, there's always some anxiety over the big question: Who will he be? The series owes its longevity…

Television

Billy Crystal to commemorate late actor Robin Williams…

  Comedian Billy Crystal will pay tribute to late actor Robin Williams at television's Primetime Emmy Awards on Aug. 25, the show's organizers said on…

Going Out

Things to do this week in NYC, Aug.…

GAMES Hudson Common Open Aug. 21, 7 p.m. Hudson Common 356 W. 58 St. Free, www.hudsoncommonnyc.com The U.S. Open begins on Monday, but most of…

Movies

Review: Sadly, Matthew Weiner's 'Are You Here' is…

"Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner tries his hand at movies with "Are You Here," a misjudged Owen Wilson-Zach Galifianakis comedy that turns into a drama.

NFL

2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL…

2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL defense (DEF)

NFL

2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL…

2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL quarterbacks (QB)

MLB

Shane Greene travels unlikely road to Yankees stardom

Shane Greene was throwing a bullpen session on a quiet field at Daytona Beach Community College one day when the ball started moving.

NFL

2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL…

2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL tight ends (TE)

Sex

Online dating for every generation

Frank Jackson and his mother Maggie are like lots of modern families: They have dinner together regularly, keep each other updated on their lives —…

Wellbeing

Going green could be the key to getting…

If we could just pursue the things that would actually make us happy, we could help the environment too, according to a New York researcher.…

Wellbeing

Metabolic syndrome could have a sugar link

Scientists in St. Louis may have found another culprit in metabolic syndrome, which can lead to heart disease and type 2 diabetes.  Uric acid is…

Wellbeing

Another way stress hurts your unborn baby

Mothers know to try staying calm during pregnancy, as stress has been linked to behavioral and developmental problems for their babies. But now, a new…