Published Apr 01, 2014Sometimes bad things happen at the box office to good movies (looking at you, John Carter), but it's hard to mourn too much for the flop of a mediocre one like 47 Ronin. Ticking off all of the steps of the classic hero's journey as if it were a joyless screenwriting exercise, it's a prime example of how using a large budget to tell a story on a grand scale can sometimes cause any real connection with the characters to be lost along the way.
In an Eastern world from the past that also includes fantastical creatures and magic, the half-breed Kai (Keanu Reeves) is given refuge by Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) and the Japanese province of Ako despite much skepticism among its people. He grows up to become an outcast who is habitually mistreated, taking solace in the rare visits he receives from Lord Asano's daughter, Mika (Kou Shibasaki), with whom he fell in love when they were both children.
When the leader of a rival province, Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) and his treacherous witch concubine Mizuki (Rinko Kikuchi) enact a plot to oust Lord Asano and take over the land, many in Ako (or approximately 47) become ronin, or samurai without a master. The leader of these samurai, Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), hatches a plan targeting Kira that requires him to track down and utilize the impressive combat skills of Kai.
There are some impressive sights along the way in this somnambulant tale of good versus evil, and Reeves uses his trademark mastery of the stoic expression (some would call it vacuous) to good effect, but there's little suspense or emotion to be found amidst this hollow spectacle. The love story on which Kai's entire motivation hinges fails to make much of an impression, and the bad guys spend the little screen time they have basking in their own wickedness. It's worth noting that while the film was a colossal financial disappointment domestically, making only $38 million back of its $175 million budget, it did go on to earn another $100 million overseas.
The several featurettes included in the supplemental material are too short to provide much insight into the production, honing in on various aspects like production design and the choreography of the fight scenes. One of the few pleasures here is seeing how they transformed a 7'7" agile athlete into a hideous giant swinging a lead ball at the end of a chain. Other than that, it quickly becomes tedious listening to the mutual love-fest between Reeves and his cast and crew.