On a cold Saturday night in December, with my end-of-the-year vacation nearly half over, I met up with my good friend Doug in Morristown for appetizers and drinks at The Grasshopper Off the Green, then to see 47 Ronin, a recent samurai action film that looked somewhat interesting. We see these types of films often, but not with a lot of hope for quality. Sadly, they’re often cheesy and dumb, but we go to support the genre. And you hope the next one will be better. And we like getting together for drinks, and then mocking bad films. 47 Roni didn’t disappoint, because it’s a bad film.
The film is based on a 300 year old legend about a band of 47 samurai who go out to avenge the dishonor and death of their shogun at the hands of a neighboring rival shogun. You see, the Japanese emperor shows up, sees something questionable happen, and declares that the key shogun in this tale to kill himself to restore honor. So the shogun kills himself, and the aforementioned samurai are now masterless and honorless. The film embellishes the tale, in order to sell more tickets, by adding and promoting the following elements to the story: [Please feel free to use the movie poster below for reference.] [Slight spoilers ahead]
- Keanu Reeves as a Caucasian with nothing important to do, but bring in a section of American audience members who still have some appreciation for his work in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and The Matrix (first film only.)
- A big mysterious samurai in all silver armor (reminiscent of Marvel Comic’s Silver Samurai baddie) who works for the evil shogun.
- An ominous fellow with a lot of tattoos, a skull mask, and a large musket-type handgun, who is prominently displayed on the poster.
- A Japanese woman with a sultry look who is actually a witch aiding the evil shogun.
So what’s bad about this film? Beware the heavy spoilers ahead.
- The shogun who the samurai work for? Who loses his honor and dies, leaving the samurai honorless and masterless? He’s a gruff man without any redeeming qualities that would make you care if he lived or died. He’s got a daughter, but so what? He is gruff and grumpy, and shows no aspect that the audience can connect with. He kills himself, and you go, “Uh, that sucks. So what?”
- Keanu is not the hero of this film. He’s the sidekick. The band of 47 samurai have a Japanese leader who is not featured anywhere in the marketing of this film. Keanu has nothing much to do except be mysterious, have some mysterious abilities that are hinted at, but really to lead the band around. He has some sort of romantic connection to the old shogun’s daughter, but honestly, you won’t really care.
- That big mysterious evil silver samurai guy? He says nothing, appears twice in the film, and then dies a very anticlimactic death at the hands of 47 no-name samurai background filler guys. Seriously, you will ask, “Wait, he’s dead?”
- That ominous guy with the tattoos? He’s in the film for all of five seconds as the camera pans along some wharves and piers where Dutch ships are docked. He doesn’t do anything except make you think these docks are filled with dangerous people. Seriously, five seconds. He’s scenery.
- The big bad shogun guy? Do you see him on the poster? Nope. How interesting a villain could he be, if he isn’t ever shown? His job in the film is to be evil, but he’s a one-note character.
- So who’s the real villain? The woman in green below. She’s a witch who is working for the evil shogun, using her magical powers to help him run both provinces. Why? I don’t know. She is basically there for the producers of the film and the director to show off CGI effects. Yup, they basically spent the entire special effects budget on her scenes. She has more lines and scenes than the villain. It doesn’t make any sense.
Are you ready for the biggest travesty about this film? More spoilers ahead.
I think for a film to be successful, you need at least one of three legs to stand on. The more legs, the better the film:
- Good character development. You should be invested in the characters — what happens to them, what they do, and why they do things. Maybe it’s not a great tale, but at least you like the characters. Kind of like a decent romantic comedy. The actors and actresses are interesting, the jokes are good, and it’s an easy way to pass the time.
- Good action. Okay, the characters are one dimensional, but the action is fun to watch. This is like Pacific Rim or kung fu or something else in the genre. Yes, the writing may be bad, but OMG, that giant robot is wrestling with Godzilla.
- A good story with a good conclusion. The story is engaging, and the conclusion is satisfying. Alright, not a lot of action, and the characters may be a little boring or cliched, but hey, an original ending. Good enough for me.
This film didn’t have interesting characters, the action was bland, and the conclusion? Bad. How bad?
At the end, the 47 samurai avenge their shogun. They rescue his daughter, and return home, with only a few casualties. The Japanese emperor, who likes to come onto the scene and be a jerk by telling you to kill yourself, tells the 47 samurai that they disobeyed his direct orders to not avenge their shogun’s death. For that transgression, they must also kill themselves. So what happens? After sitting through this film, trying to find a connection to this tale of 47 masterless samurai trying to avenge his death, and save the girl, they kill themselves at the end. And that’s the film. Good times.
Do yourself a favor. Don’t watch this film.