Less entertaining than its trailers, 47 Ronin doesn’t quite fail, but it comes close.
Editing is simultaneously one of the least discussed and most important elements of filmmaking, and here it is outright bad. During fight scenes, cuts come so rapidly that it is often difficult to track the action. Outside of combat, still rapid cutaways prevent actors from showing any emotion.
The lighting is just as bad. 47 Ronin is so dark that seeing faces and details becomes onerous. The darkness is supposed to set an oppressive tone, but instead makes the movie hard to see.
Director Carl Rinsch regrettably employs over-indulgent camera angles and movements, as well as ineffectual slow motion.
The script is equally flawed, as it tells us about a central romance it never bothers to show, two early scenes (one of them expository) notwithstanding. In fact, telling not showing is true of every relationship in this film, which means all of the would-be emotional moments fall flat.
Kai (Keanu Reeves), the protagonist, is so underdeveloped that its difficult to name a single character trait. The other characters do not fare much better, with the possible exception of Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada).
Even the plot is flimsy, relying on equally heavy doses of convenience and coincidence.
Bad story, bad characters, bad technical qualities. This has it all.
Yet two ingredients prevent it from being an outright failure. First, the cast. Keanu Reeves gives a steady performance as a skilled killer who speaks few words. Hiroyuki Sanada is terrific as Oishi, and Rinko Kikuchi is suitably over-the-top as Witch.
Second, the effects. Watching Witch shapechange is fascinating each time she does it. So are the demons and Kai’s magic.
Sadly, however, neither the cast nor the effects save 47 Ronin from being bad.