So, I know that this movie got a lot of bad reviews, but this isn’t one of them. I love Samurai movies and have seen a fair number of them. I also love fantasy movies/books and have seen/read a lot of those, too. 47 Ronin is a combination of the two and does a good job of it. The acting was well done, the fight scenes were awesome, and the special effects were really cool.
The basic story is of a half-demon child who gets taken in by a feudal lord and raised alongside the lord’s daughter and they fall in love. Due to their respective stations, it’s a forbidden love. Enter in the bad guy, who covets the lord’s lands and position and contrives the lord’s disgrace via witchcraft and all the lord’s guards become ronin, outcast samurai without a master because they won’t submit to the new (evil) lord. The whole story is about honor and what the cost to maintain and avenge it is.
I honestly found the main problem with this film to be the first 30 minutes because it was all backstory. It’s very pretty and very sweet and completely unnecessary. It didn’t detract from the movie, per se, but without it, the film would have started at a point with a lot more impact. All of the backstory could have been either implied through dialogue or shown with selective flashbacks. And believe me, it pains me to use/see flashbacks so I don’t say that lightly.
Along the same lines, the movie had a bit of an identity problem in that it told the story of the 47 Ronin, but emphasized the love story between Kai and Mika (the lord’s daughter) almost more than the legend itself.
And that, of course, leads to the problem with the marketing. While Keanu’s character is a lead, he’s not the lead. Very much sharing the spotlight is Hiroyuki Sanada who plays the lead Samurai/Ronin, Oishi, and the one actually in charge of the whole vengeance plot. I’ve loved Hiroyuki in every single thing I’ve seen him in and he doesn’t disappoint here, either. But he’s not a well known American actor, so of course they downplayed that aspect in the marketing, at least the previews that I saw.
An oddity about this film is that it’s in English. I honestly think it would have been better served in Japanese with subtitles.
Lastly, I think people had a problem with the ending. I didn’t, simply because I have an understanding about how the whole honor/vengeance thing was likely to play out. I found it very in keeping with how things like that go down and don’t forget, it’s based on an actual legend so the ending’s already been written. Well, not that that’s stopped H’wood from taking ‘creative license’ in the past, but still.
Overall, if you’re looking for a well choreographed Samurai movie with lots of heart, this is one to see. If you’re looking for straight-up martial arts action, give it a pass because while it has action, but it’s not an action flick.