MV5BMTc0MjE2NzE0OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTU5MjE1MDE@._V1_SX214_Our friends at IMDb tell us that 47 Ronin is all about this:

A band of samurai set out to avenge the death and dishonour of their master at the hands of a ruthless shogun.

Which I think is only partly correct because (1) Keanu isn’t a samurai as is made clear consistently through the first half of the film and (2) implies the Shogun is the Big Bad when he is only as ruthless as all other Shoguns we have ever seen and the real baddies are Lord Kira and his Witch (who doesn’t even get a name which seems unfair and therefore requires to be capitalised).

I was quite looking forward to this but oh dear it turned out to be something of a disappointment. And that’s a real shame as the legend is really dramatic and stirring and this could have been an epic tale of bravery and honour in the hands of the right director.

But the question you are asking is why the disappointment? Well, I’ll tell you.

  • Keanu Reeves. If you must have a (partially) Western character dropped into what is essentially one of the great Japanese historical tales then you really need someone with a bit of oomph. Keanu was, I think, trying to be stoic and inscrutable but just came across as dull and wooden. I kept on comparing him unfavourably with Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai which I know is a very different film but at least there was a bit of charisma there;
  • Pantomime villains. Lord Kira spends a lot of time standing legs akimbo sneering at everyone; if he’d been British he would have been twirling a moustache. The Witch was creepy and looked stunning (I do like Rinko Kikuchi very much, she was great in Pacific Rim) but overacting a bit here, though her transformations were always impressive;
  • I had to see it in 3D and yes, I know I don’t like 3D but I am now willing to accept that it works in films like Gravity. However it had no place in this film at all, adding absolutely nothing  IMHO;
  • The poster tells fibs. OK the Witch is significant but the guy with the tattoos is in the film for less than 5 minutes (I wonder if they cut his role), the big bloke in the impressive armour less than 15 minutes, and Keanu isn’t even the real proper hero in this; the chap who is chief avenger and regainer of honour is Oishi and he doesn’t seem to feature at all in the PR;
  • The Lady Mika is undoubtedly beautiful and appears to offer promise as a proper heroine but her character is involved in a soppy and unconvincing romance with Keanu and is whisked away to be married to give Keanu a reason to join the samurai in obtaining their revenge. And Mika spends a lot of time crying prettily.

It wasn’t terrible. I didn’t want to get up and walk out (my benchmark for that is The Road to Wellville which I loathed with a passion – nearly 20 years later and I still seethe at a wasted afternoon) though it took absolutely ages to get going and I wondered if I might start to get fidgety (always a bad sign). When the 3D isn’t interfering it looks beautiful, many of the effects are stunning but it just seemed to me to be another so-so film which had the potential to be brilliant. If only they had stuck to the original story; I may have to seek out the 1941 version, though at nearly four hours that may be pushing things a bit.

A real shame for my last cinema visit of 2013.