47 Ronin is what I like to call a sensational mess. It’s clear that the folks involved in the film wanted to create an epic fantasy adventure, but it’s also clear that things got muddled along the way. When you take a revered historical event and combine it with fantasy elements like dragons, witches and whatever the heck this is,
things are bound to get a bit out of hand. Which is too bad because the movie could have actually been pretty decent. The creature CGI and special effects were surprisingly well done, and I enjoyed a lot of the cinematography which tried to imitate the superior work we’ve seen displayed in films like Hero and House of Flying Daggers. I would have loved to have seen this film directed by a filmmaker like Zhang Yimou, in fact. The fantasy/mythological elements of the film were very watchable, making for outstanding visuals.
Unfortunately the film tries to be about the 47 Ronin, which is where things go a bit awry. For the uninformed, the historical tale is considered a national legend, the very definition of honor and bushido. The grave site of the samurai is still received countless visitors to this day.
It’s kind of a big thing. Certainly worthy of an epic film (and has been) , but not turned into a CGI fantasy event. Hollywood is a weird place. You can certainly get away with embellishing a historical tale, but apparently the studio bigwigs didn’t think an all-Japanese cast could sell a film set in Japan dealing with a Japanese legend, so they added Keanu Reeves. Because you know… Hollywood.
Not that I dislike Keanu. But there’s not denying that his character existed simply as a studio move, kind of like giving the impressive Japanese legend the ‘blockbuster’ treatment instead of taking it seriously. The result is a mixed bag and a missed opportunity, because as a fantasy film it might have actually worked. Bottom line: forgettable entertainment.