Keanu Reeves stars in this shambolic and derivative samurai adventure
First-time director Carl Rinsch’s mega-budget take on one of Japan’s most enduring legends feels like a folly that should never have been indulged. 47 Ronin is a messy and uninvolving tale of revenge that no amount of embellishment can save. If anything, it only makes matters worse.
In stripped back, original form, the tale of the 47 ronin involves a group of samurai who, two years after their master is disgraced and forced to commit suicide and they are stripped of their status, reunite to take revenge before taking their own lives according to Japanese custom. Hollywood’s re-imagined version finds Keanu Reeves thrown into the mix as a half-breed named Kai who watches as events unfold and helps with their revenge. There’s also a fantasy element involving witches and dragons, as well as a forbidden romance involving Kai.
Yet no matter how much spectacle Rinsch throws at the screen, there’s no escaping the feeling that this is a complete shambles. The film lacks any emotional investment, especially bad given the themes of honour, nobility and redemption inherent in the legend, while the fantasy elements struggle to impress or generate much excitement.
Worse, 47 Ronin feels derivative of countless other movies, from Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai (remade as John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven) to the Tom Cruise-starring Last Samurai or even HBO’s Game of Thrones, minus any of their invention.
Reeves even feels like a passenger in his own star vehicle, although in fairness, none of the cast are given anything to work with given the lacklustre nature of Chris Morgan and Hossein Amini’s script.
In Japan, the original tale continues to be celebrated to this day, where a festival is held each December. Rinsch’s film will hold no such legacy and deserves to be quickly forgotten, if it’s even seen at all.