The trailer for "47 Ronin" has been released, and it's what the film itself has been reported to be for almost the past year: a misguided, derivative, very expensive mess.
The samurai epic marks Keanu Reeves' first big-budget genre film in eight years, following 2003's one-two punch of "The Matrix Reloaded" and "The Matrix Revolutions," and 2005's so-so graphic novel adaptation, "Constantine."
While the prospect of seeing the man who was once The One starring in a fantastical adaptation of one of Japan's most famous samurai tales certainly sounds ... well, interesting, anyway, "47 Ronin" has unfortunately gained a reputation as a "troubled production." And one that cost a lot of money. There were rumors last fall that the film was almost $50 million over budget, though Universal — which has become even more cost-conscious following the financial disaster of last summer's "Battleship" — insists that it's been holding steady with its original $175 million price tag. However, even if the movie isn't technically breaking the bank, it's certainly suffering from some internal creative differences.
Watch the '47 Ronin' Theatrical Trailer:
First-time feature director Carl Rinsch, whose claim to fame is being the unofficial protege of "Alien" and "Blade Runner" maestro Ridley Scott, was pulled from the post-production process, according to The Wrap. The final product was apparently seen through by Universal's co-chairwoman, Donna Langley, and — if the trailer is any indication — seizing control from the perhaps too-inexperienced director didn't really help matters much.
"47 Ronin" tells the tale of a banished half-breed named Kai (Keanu Reeves) who teams up with a group of 47 leaderless samurai ('ronin') seeking vengeance against the evil warlord who killed their master, a quest that pits them against "mythic beasts, shape-shifting witchcraft and wondrous terrors." The trailer more or less gets that across, though it also showcases a film that looks to have one heck of an identity crisis — and one that might be too hopelessly derivative of several stellar and even less-than-stellar genre movies.
Here is a list of gripes, based on our first look at the film:
1. It Looks Like 'The Matrix'
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In "47 Ronin," Keanu Reeves plays a software programmer, er, half-breed outcast who is freed from slavery to lead a revolution against oppressive forces. He even at one point says "If we do this, there is no coming back," which means we guess they all take the red pill. There's also at least two scenes in which Reeves and his opponent counter-circle each other, facing off like he and Agent Smith did before engaging in epic battle. "Your life belongs to us," says one of those opponents. Um, any sign of the good ship Nebuchadnezzar anywhere?
2. It Looks Like 'Star Wars'
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True, a lot of epic fantastical action-adventures look and sound a lot like "Star Wars." But Kai in particular has a lot of Luke Skywalker going on, especially in the early part of his hero's journey when he perhaps was a bit too cocky and green before taking on such an enemy as Darth Vader. "I'm not afraid of you," says Kai to one of his opponents, to which she responds "You should be" (ugh) before transforming into a giant CGI snake-dragon thing. Is she going to bite off his hand and reveal that she's really his mother?
3. It Looks Like 'The Last Samurai'
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"The Last Samurai" is that samurai movie with Tom Cruise, in case you had forgotten (and some of you probably had). Like Cruise's Nathan Algen, Reeves's Kai is a white man in Japan, an A-list (well, A-list-ish, anyway) Hollywood movie star amongst a mostly Asian cast. Cruise and Reeves even kinda-sorta have the same hair style — long and unkempt and perfect for dramatic swooshing about during fight scenes.
4. It Looks Like 'The Magnificent Seven,' er, 'Seven Samurai,' er, 'The Magnificent Seven' ...
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Who's zoomin' who, here, exactly? "47 Ronin" brings a fantasy element to the 18th century legend it's based on as Kai joins a group of wandering ronin in their quest for revenge against marauding forces that have enslaved their lands ... "The Magnificent Forty-Seven," if you will. "The Magnificent Seven" (1960) was a western about a group of ragtag gunslingers hired to protect a small town from marauding forces ... which was inspired by Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" (1954), the story of a group of ragtag ronin hired to protect a village from marauding forces. The circle of life!
5. It Looks Like 'John Carter'
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Okay, admittedly, this writer kinda liked "John Carter." But "I liked this movie" and "It's a good movie" can be two very different things. "47 Ronin" looks like it could be Universal's "John Carter," with lots of random CGI beasties traversing a fantastical landscape as some hero embarks on some hero's journey. And, like Disney's would-be blockbuster, it's crazy expensive ... and getting it to break even at the box office might be quite the daunting task.
6. It Looks Like 'Mortal Kombat'
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The CGI beasties in "John Carter" at least looked good. The CGI beasties in "47 Ronin" look baaaaad. Really, the various creatures look like they belong in a Syfy movie, and without the sense of endearment that usually comes with anything that airs on that effortlessly likable, B-movie-celebrating network. The special effects recall the really, really awful CG work in Paul W.S. Anderson's big-screen adaptation of "Mortal Kombat," and that had the excuse of being made in 1995 (and for, like, ten bucks).
7. It Looks (Sounds) Like 'Dungeons & Dragons'
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Yes, the 2000 version of "Dungeons & Dragons" had bad special effects as well, but it was more distinctive for its truly horrendous dialogue, filled with bizarre histrionics and groan-inducing cliches. In "47 Ronin," a villainous lady exclaims "Mountains of corpses will not stand in our way!" ... which might remind one of Jeremy Irons's "I could use every ounce of your rage!" Oh boy.
8. It Looks Like 'The Man With the Iron Fists'
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RZA's recent martial arts film attempted to blend a mishmash of genre styles with a cool modern-day sensibility, which resulted in pretty much visual and thematic chaos. "47 Ronin" looks to be attempting to bring a slick, contemporary-minded aesthetic (and "attitude") to an age-old chestnut, and the result is a film that appears to be ... well, kind of uncomfortable with itself. Did Rinsch really drop the ball when it came to steering the course of this ambitious project, or is it a result of just too many cooks in the kitchen?
9. It Looks Like 'Constantine'
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You could argue that "47 Ronin" looks like "The Matrix," with its epic-sized battle scenes and Keanu Reeves kind of playing a variation on the idea of "The One." Unfortunately, the Reeves film it looks even more like is "Constantine," which definitely had some good things going for it but ultimately didn't quite work ... perhaps because of Reeves. We buy Reeves as Neo (boy do we ever), but something didn't ring true with his portrayal of a man who's been to hell and back. And as much as you want to like him in the role, Reeves just seems oddly out of place in "47 Ronin," even though the film is so obviously designed to be a star vehicle for him. Maybe he should just do "Bill and Ted 3" and call it a day?
"47 Ronin" hits theaters on December 25. Heck, even the tagline is confused: "This Christmas, Seize Eternity." Huh? Uh ... why?