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Review | “47 Ronin” is Big, Dumb and Not at All Fun

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Director Carl Erik Rinsch’s feature debut 47 Ronin is so bad that it’s hard to decide where to start. Let’s begin right there, with the bottom line: It’s bad.

Keanu Reeves stars as Kai, a half-Japanese, half-British outsider who lives for years alongside a samurai clan, despite never being fully accepted by his peers. The clan’s world is turned upside down when their master is bewitched and forced to act dishonorably, leading him to take his own life. The wicked Lord Kira, played by Thor actor Tadanobu Asano, becomes de facto ruler of the land, with the witch Mizuki (Pacific Rim star Rinko Kikuchi) acting as his right hand. Kira punishes the masterless samurai by imprisoning their most respected warrior, the steel-jawed Oishi (The Wolverine’s Hiroyuki Sanada). Kai, meanwhile, is sold into slavery.

After a year, Oishi is released from prison for mysterious reasons — and not mysterious reasons in the Oldboy sense; it’s the “I have no idea why these people released this guy from jail when they really should just (a) execute him or (b) keep him imprisoned forever, and what really grinds my gears is that this movie will never even attempt to explain why he was released” sense of the phrase. Anyway, Oishi is free, for whatever reason, and he sets off to reassemble the 46 other ronin, plus Keanu Reeves, to seek vengeance against Lord Kira and his evil witch.

47 ronin247 Ronin faced an uphill battle from the moment it was announced Keanu Reeves would be the poster boy representing one of Japan’s most treasured tales of honor and sacrifice. That was 2008. Three years later, the movie entered production. It was originally scheduled for release in November 2012, then moved to February 2013, and finally to Christmas 2013. Reshoots and additional visual effects work were the official reasons for the delays, but “our movie is a complete and utter disaster and we don’t want anyone to see it” sounds more accurate.

What’s so bad, you ask? Pretty much everything. The story is straightforward enough, but it’s complicated by Reeves’ involvement. He’s the “star,” but he’s completely superfluous. You could recut 47 Ronin without Reeves, and only need a few reshoots and some adjustments in the edit — and while it still wouldn’t be a good film, it would be a better one. Kai’s arc never leads to anything satisfying, and Reeves’ performance is as bland as expected. There’s no reason for the character to exist, beyond the “need” to have an American actor on posters.

The real star of 47 Ronin is Hiroyuki Sanada as Oishi. He does his best to center the story and imbue the film with some semblance of gravitas, but he’s not successful, due to factors beyond his control. Still, kudos for the effort. Oishi is really the heart of 47 Ronin (as much as it has one), to the extent that he’s the man at the center of the final battle, not Reeves. (In fairness, Reeves has a final battle of his own; it’s, you guessed it, not very good.) The film would benefit from cutting its Keanu losses and going all-in on Sanada.

As for Kai and Oishi’s fellow ronin? Couldn’t say. Look, no one expected significant screen time for all of them, but for a film called 47 Ronin, you might imagine more than two of the title characters would show up. Sure, there’s the fat one, the old one, and the bitter one — but those aren’t characters. Not really.

47 ronin1The characters reveal little about themselves that the viewer can’t already glean from their surface traits. There’s no real explanation for why Lord Kira is such a terror, for example; “because evil” is the film’s answer. “Because evil” sums up all of Mizuki the witch as well. To her credit, Kikuchi is the only actor outside of Sanada who recognizes 47 Ronin for the train wreck it is, and acts accordingly. It’s a grating and over-the-top performance, but it fits in this grating and over-the-top film.

Who’s responsible for this disaster? Universal Pictures brass shouldn’t have handed an untested filmmaker like Rinsch the keys to a nearly $200 million film. But at the end of the day, Rinsch is the man at the helm. He showed tremendous promise with his tense short film The Gift, both as a visual artist, and as someone who can yield big emotional impact from a very small story. The man who made The Gift did not show up to 47 Ronin. The film is an all-you-can-eat visual effects feast, but every option on the table is gross. The action scenes are confusing beyond belief, to the point that they’re virtually impossible to follow; it feels as though Rinsch forgot to shoot certain portions of the film, and didn’t course-correct during reshoots. Perhaps that’s the biggest disappointment of all: Rinsch showed so much potential just a few short years ago, and 47 Ronin eviscerates all of that potential for the world to see.

I’m pretty easy to please. I mean, I gave Homefront a pass. I can dig big and dumb, as long as big and dumb comes served with fun. 47 Ronin serves up big and dumb without any pleasure whatsoever. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

47 Ronin is in theaters now.


  • Johnny.Blaze

    This is sad. i was hoping to go see this tomorrow. I think i will with my friend Mary Jane

  • Mikey Wood

    Not surprising, really. Keanu Reeves isn’t exactly a sign of quality.

  • Mikey Wood

    I GET IT! You smoke WEED!

    Your subtle clues didn’t fool me, sir.

  • Darrell Taylor

    I think I will go see it and decide for myself.

  • Thun3r

    You are so cool!

  • David Fullam

    I was pretty disgusted when I read that Reeves was going to be in the film, a quintessential tale of Samurai honor and Japanese spirit. Then I sat through the horror that was the trailer when I went to see the Thor sequel. Sure didn’t remember, demons, dragons and crap like that in the story as I knew it. America, please cease and desist in adapting Japanese stories.

  • tapwaterisbetter

    This is sad. I wanted to see it, I might still, but won’t expect anything if I do.

  • ron fett

    I was going to wait until it hits Redbox anyway.

  • Other Chris

    Do you post the same thing on every review ever?

  • That Guy

    I think it should be taken in consideration that Carl Rinsch was fired halfway through the production process and originally it seems like the main character indeed was meant to be Sanada instead of Reeves, which would explain how you felt that way. From what I hear, it seems that there were artistic conflicts with the higher execs at Universal that led to the film’s state as it is now.

  • Johnny Sarcastic

    Oh man! Johnny BLAZE, amirite?

  • Mikey Wood

    YES! And I’m thinking his “friend Mary Jane” isn’t ACTUALLY a person but is REALLY a thinly-veiled reference to marijuana!

    Unless it IS a person, in which case, I apologize for jumping to conclusions and I hope Mary enjoys the film.

  • James Barnes

    That’s bull! I saw the movie last night. It was pretty good. Don’t go there expecting to see the Matrix or a Ninja movie. Most movie critics like movies that have not one ounce of testosterone and are giving thumbs up to candy ass movies. If a person knows anything about the Bushido and the romance/tragedy profile of stories from the East, then they’ll have a better understanding of what the movie is about. It’s inspired by actual events and dramatized with special effects for contemporary society. I thought it was a high speed movie and displayed the core values and superb discipline of the old ways of the Samurai and Ronin (Masterless Samurai). Although I didn’t know that the movie was inspired by true events until the end when credits rolled.

  • James Barnes

    So Mr. Wigler when was the last time you picked up a real sword?
    I pick my Sword up every morning!

  • Pham Tho Hong Duong

    I just went watched the movie, it was better than what I expected. Sure, the main C should have been better. But I’ll give this movie a solid 8 out of 10. The movie is not biased in the way many movie nowadays are. And don’t listen to those who cry out that “don’t suicide”, you should put the story in perspective and will learn a lot of things about human history. And no, the movie is not boring, it’s fits perfectly in our (2013-2014) time, adresses issues that we could learn from, today.

  • Happily LS

    Ouch. That’s a painful read. That poor guy’s career is probably over, at least for big budget films.

  • mikesang13

    I just finished the book it was based on. I generally try to separate book versions from movies, judge them on their own merit, but this is so different from the book it might as well been a different movie. The book was logical, very emotional, and there was no sorcery. It was a profound, very sad, story about honor taken to the extreme. I have not seen the movie and don’t intend to, but I recommend the book.

  • max

    fucked up director- spoilt it at te end. titanic or what. why cant he copy peter jackson. why sad endings ? nice movie but spoilt it all

  • EndlessMikeJr

    From what I heard the movie was taken from Rinch and Keanu Reeves was added more to be the main character and the normal whiteman/Asian woman romance was a part of the reshoots and final battle.

  • rideforever

    Spoiler Alert !!!
    Stupid story anyway. Dying with honour … at some point is just stupid.

  • KB

    You have lost your damn mind!! Do you even have an ounce of artistic creativity in your blood? This movie was absolutely incredible. Im not a movie reviewer, but I do catch alot of the classics. I feel my own judgement is fairly good when it comes to films, and this movie, gets a solid 10/10. It’s one of those movies you could watch every day and never get bored. Of course you could assume this is coming from a biased opinion. I do love samurai and Japanese folklore. K Reeves is also my favorite actor. I just don’t know why people don’t like his emotional, slow style of mono acting. The person he is in real life show’s in his films, and this movie is easily one of his best. How could you expect a colorful full of life acting job in this movie, when the character had a hard life growing up. I would be quiet like that too. The characters are well thought out, especially if you have good imagination. As for graphics, they are breath taking. The acting is superb by every character, save for some scenes of the witch. This has become one of my all time favorite movies, maybe even number 1 all time. I STRONGLY URGE you to not listen to this bonehead review, and watch for yourself. You will not be disappointed if you love movies like this.

  • Gsxr Superbike

    welp, really weird I guess, I should use just one big run on like the author of this article, talk about pointless, his glint is that characters reveal little about themselves? um little is known about the REAL RONIN!!! as they were very private!!!

    as far as Lord Kira goes can you explain why Evil is Evil? I didn’t think so!!!

    also if this movie is so bad why isn’t or wasn’t it playing on HBO every other hour as a cheap filler for about a year??????

    I NEVER read what critics have to say cuz some are so lame my cat can tell me more about a movie based on whether he walks out of the room or not, to me they are much like a lot of the agencies here in America, always fabricating BS to justify their existence so they can ask for their budget again, job security

    I like how they will say its “horrible horrible horrible” and not really say why, it wouldn’t be the first movie where the American actor isn’t the main character, its a movie about Ronin’s little is known and they weren’t SEEN VERY OFTEN!!!

    El even I know that and I’m not a wanna be movie critic, the movie very well may be a flop I remember seeing it being pushed in 08 thinking COOL, Reeve’s in a Ronin movie FINALLY we get to see more about these mythical beasts and it must be authentic being Japanese based unlike the movie Ronin which had nothing to do with REAL Ronin’s besides a couple Army men and an obscure character who fixes friends wounds in the SMASH hit by Dinero?

    hmm, that one wasn’t “criticized” for having an obscure title?

    my guess is the only thing this guy is right about is that Reeves is SOOOO bland in this movies simply because he is the only one WITHOUT a Japanese accent or dialect that it just doesn’t work so that 5 or so years they spent was removing his scenes INSTEAD of doing the TRADITIONAL video now matching the audio transposition of Japanese tongue..

    I haven’t seen the movie it was being advertised then it never came, I was searching the other Ronin flick and 47 popped up as a 2013 release so I was like, hmm? wtf.. that cant be right as I remember seeing the MASSIVE house sized poster at the outside of the Alderwood Mall movie theater which I haven’t seen it 5 years..

    anywho this is how movies are KILLED, IDIOTS who don’t like the way they are directed or written so like an infant they go out of their on a tirade way to write RIDICULOUS articles like this one here in an attempt to destroy the movie because they didn’t get their fill which is HILARIOUS because he even ADMITS the movie is a VISUAL filler just like most action movies, c,mon Iron man is for deep thinkers? Transformers? and the rest of the comic book “thrillers”

    movies lose their way at times, its why there have only ever been about 20 real good movies ever filmed and just cuz you don’t like it doesn’t mean someone else wont?

    I’ll reserve that for myself in the meantime maybe you should work on your DESCRIPTIVE skills and give an accurate or accountable reason why someone shouldn’t go see a certain movie cuz after reading this I have NO CLUE why I shouldn’t????????????????????????????????????