The genesis of Universal's 47 Ronin is almost as tragic as the actual history that the movie is culling from. As the story goes, Universal saw the sprigs of talent sprouting from fresh faced director Carl Rinsch, whose previous experience was limited to just a couple of commercials and a nifty short film. The studio decided to ease the new director into feature filmmaking by cutting him what amounts to virtually a blank check, and giving him charge over a multi-national samurai fantasy epic. Almost impossibly, the film isn't a complete disaster. It's just a minor one.
47 Ronin follows the classic story of the titular team of warriors, a group of disgraced samurai who band together to seek revenge against a merciless warlord that betrayed and killed their master. But this isn't your grandfather's version of the story. 47 Ronin is an international affair, and it's covered with a veneer of Japanese mysticism and a thick coating of Hollywood lacquer, but east meets west rather uncomfortably, and it's mostly due to Keanu Reeves. Reeves' character is clearly crowbarred into the story that has no room for him, and it's plainly obvious where the seams of the story were stretched in order to patch him into the narrative. Reeves plays Kai, a half Japanese, half English orphan who is adopted by the samurai clan. His character serves no real purpose beyond being white, slicing things until they die, and playing the male lead of the most superfluous love story of the year. Rinsch simply can't make the inclusion of the character feel organic in any way, and "Kai" ends up feeling like a calculated studio move. It's a shame that the film spends so much time on Reeves when the real star is clearly Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays off the stoic samurai most believably among the rest of the cast.
It's also shame that with all the mysticism pumped into the story, there's no magic in the actual center of the film, the ronin themselves. The only personality trait a samurai is allowed to possess seems to be unerring stoicism, and between all 47 ronin, there are probably only three distinct samurai with any discernible character traits beyond an intense need to brood, and you'll probably only remember those three by the time the credits roll, only to promptly forget about them only a few hours later. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi's slinky and treacherous witch adds some much needed camp and personality to the mostly forgettable human characters.
And that's the issue with 47 Ronin. It's largely forgettable. When your film takes on a historical legend like the tale of the 47 ronin, a story that has been told and told again ad nauseum over the years, you really need to justify your own version. There are reels and reels of film dedicated to this story, and 47 Ronin doesn't manage to add anything significant to the canon. It promises to weld myth and history together, but does so clumsily, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, especially a particularly inspired set piece that involves the ronin noiselessly breaking into a heavily guarded fortress, the film is a bore when it's not clanking swords together.
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47 Ronin is a film with many stories. As much as it is a tale about the revenge of four dozen masterless samurai, it's also the tale of an inexperienced filmmaker swallowed up by the enormity of blockbuster filmmaking. Most of all though, It's proof that you shouldn't cram Keanu Reeves into a movie that doesn't really need Keanu Reeves. What you're left with is a dull and bloated samurai epic that has its moments, but feels largely unnecessary.
What happens when a supervillain loses his superhero? The peculiar mutual dependence of the comic book protagonist/antagonist relationship and the strange emptiness that arises upon its dissolution forms the basis of Dreamworks’ Megamind an exuberant new animated comedy from director Tom McGrath (The Madagascar films) and writers Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons.
Funnyman Will Ferrell lends his voice to the title character a blue-skinned green-eyed alien whose mammoth hairless cranium has over the course of his career as a supervillain given life to an endless array of exotic inventions and elaborate schemes all in the service of his lifelong dream of conquering his adopted hometown of Metro City. Despite his creativity and obvious intelligence he’s been continually thwarted in his efforts by the city’s champion Metro Man (Brad Pitt) a preening show-off whose otherworldly physical gifts seem destined to forever trump Megamind’s cerebral ones.
Accustomed as he is to defeat Megamind is as surprised as anyone when he learns that his latest attempt at vanquishing his arch-rival has met with success. At a press conference convened to celebrate his newfound dominion over Metro City he is utterly flummoxed when the town’s ace reporter Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey) presses him to reveal what sinister plans he has in store for the panicked populace. So focused was Megamind on his rivalry with Metro Man that he hadn’t bothered to ponder what he’d do in the unlikely event that he won.
Together with his sidekick a fish-headed cyborg named Minion (David Cross) Megamind rampages unhindered through Metro City terrorizing its citizenry and amassing untold riches. But these pursuits don’t yield nearly the joy he’d anticipated they would and having belatedly discovered that the evil journey is more important than the evil destination he begins pining for his old nemesis Metro Man.
I found myself missing him as well. From Dr. Evil to Despicable Me humanizing supervillains for comedic effect has been an exceedingly popular pastime in Hollywood in recent years. Less common is the examination of insufferably pompous “heroes” like Metro Man whose massive egos and diva antics are made tolerable only by their immense contributions to society. (Think Steve Jobs or Eliot Spitzer or Bono ...) Megamind opts to take the road more traveled and at times its story can’t help but feel like a bit of a re-hash despite how artfully rendered it is.
What it lacks in inventiveness Megamind makes up in wit intelligence and customarily gorgeous animation. After a truly dazzling opening act it wanders through a mid-point malaise before gradually gaining momentum as Megamind recognizing how hollow and meaningless his existence is without a worthy adversary with which to spar decides to literally manufacture one. But he is appalled to find that his new creation Titan (Jonah Hill) is far more interested in playing video games and acquiring shiny new toys than re-igniting the age-old battle between good and evil. When Titan's increasing nihilism imperils Metro City it's Megamind who emerges to defend it completing his unlikely journey from villain to hero to finally superhero.