47 Ronin by Carl Erik Rinsch

47 Ronin by Carl Erik Rinsch

A band of samurai set out to avenge the death and dishonor of their master at the hands of a ruthless shogun.

47 Ronin is a film reimagining of a popular Japanese folktale that is stuck inside its mythic contraptions. Everybody is an archetype, as opposed to a character. Love, hate or brotherhood between characters is assumed rather than shown through character development. The story starts and ends with an unknown narrator, who tells the story as if we were all listening to an old tale by a campfire. The end result is that it places a distance between the story and the audience. It is as if the story itself is matted on a frame, and we are just looking at it in a gallery with a curator recounting the story as opposed to the viewer experiencing the story from a first-person perspective.

Keanu Reeves is not the problem here. There is no room here to critique about woodiness as there wasn’t enough for him to do. He is casted here for marketing reasons and it really shows. Reeves’ character is sidelined by Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays the leader of the Ronin. Sanada carries the film with his powerful presence; you really do believe he can really hurt someone with a sword. He has long been the go-to guy for American-Japanese co-productions and it’s finally nice to see him in a central role. Tadanobu Asano also shows up to chew some scenery as the villain and adds a depth that wasn’t on the page. My fingers are still crossed he will play Genghis Khan again in a sequel to Mongul.

Hearing the film opened poorly in Japan is unfortunate. Perhaps it is uncomfortable for the Japanese to see their own folktale retold in a foreign production. I have bulked at my fair share of Hollywood misrepresentations of Chinese culture, and evidently there is a sufficient amount of Orientalism in the film. Though the fantasy elements and the production design are so extreme it plays closer to a graphic novel. The more I think about why the fantasy elements were added, the more it seems like it is there to justify the casting of Keanu Reeves as a half-Caucasian half-Japanese outsider amongst an entire cast of Japanese actors. I can’t help but imagine what a more realistic telling of this story would have been like as the Japanese cultural elements and Samurai politics were more interesting than the magic and mythic beasts.

To sum it all up, 47 Ronin is a fantasy graphic novel style adaptation of a Japanese folktale released in December. Perhaps it is not exactly the most festive way to start the new year with all the beheadings and Samurai ritual suicide. The story also takes a long time to get set up, which asks for a lot of patience on the viewer’s part. The ideal crowd would have been overseas anime geeks who are fascinated with Japanese pop culture, and perhaps for that, the film may have fared better if it was released in the March-April slot. That all said, even with its flaws and supposed qualifiers, 47 Ronin accomplishes what it sets out to do. It’s just not for everybody.
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Thor: The Dark World by Alan Taylor

Thor: The Dark World by Alan Taylor

Faced with an enemy that even Odin and Asgard cannot withstand, Thor must embark on his most perilous and personal journey yet, one that will reunite him with Jane Foster and force him to sacrifice everything to save the universe.

The Avengers aside, the first Thor was my favorite single hero film out of Marvel Phase One. Before Thor, all the Marvel superheroes established were all real world and based in scientific reality. There was a lot of uncertainty to whether Thor would work cinematically. It carried the most risk and was Marvel’s quintessential make-or-break point of expanding its cinematic universe into the realm of magic and aliens. Thankfully director Kenneth Branagh delivered. He balanced the ridiculousness of the Norse Gods with light comedy, done fantastic world creation with Asgard and provided the most interesting villain out of the Marvel cinematic universe.

Thor: The Dark World properly continues the story after The Avengers (sorry, Iron Man 3) and Thor. It retains the things that I liked about the first installment without repeating them. The plot moves fast and it’s intense. Things never gets too grim and has a genuine sense of adventure and awe. Dry witty humor is used again effectively to balance out the ridiculousness of Norse gods walking amongst humans. The fights look tough and grueling, more so than in The Avengers. Partly because everybody’s physically melee fighting and the Dark Elves are actually physically challenging to Thor and the Asgardians.

The Nine Realms are explored more thoroughly and the audience gets to spend more time on Asgard, which is a much more interesting place to be than Earth. The designs and world creation are impressive, particularly in the disaster sequences. It shows how brilliant an idea it was in the first film to imply that magic is unexplainable science, thereby combining and justifying both.

Chris Hemsworth owns the role of Thor with his presence. Thor is a character whose depths are only shown when interacting with other characters, which served as a disadvantage in The Avengers. In his own movie, there’s an immense cast to give him that depth. I liked his arc in this story. Natalie Portman gets to be the fish out of water this time around and it’s an entertaining reversal.

Tom Hiddleston again oozes charm as Loki. It’s a great actor relishing a great part.  He plays the audience like an instrument as we intermittently love and hate him. The writers put a lot of work in designing the twists and turns in Loki’s infinite mind games, truly earning the character the title of “God of Mischief”. Loki fooled me again and again throughout and I kept wanting to trust him.

The Warriors Three gets wrecked a bit. It seemed like there was some scheduling problem in which Tabanobu Asano’s Hogun had to be reduced. Also, I prefer the Joshua Dallas as Fandral, who had to be replaced by Zachary Levi from Chuck. Levi by comparison seems to struggle channeling Errol Flynn. Both cases are unfortunate.

The new villain Malekith played by Christopher Eccleston is buried under a lot of Dark Elf make-up and speaking an alien language in his own scenes, which removes any chance of proper scenery chewing. His presence as a villain is ultimately functional on par with Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull. Malekith exists for the main characters to grow and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it is noteworthy. Marvel seems to be ensuring that their villains never are more interesting than their heroes. The heart of the story is still the central relationship between Thor and Loki. In fact, it’s probably the most interesting relationship in the current Marvel cinematic universe. Director Alan Taylor knows this and competently moves their story forward.

The numerous Stan Lee cameos is starting to get creepy because it means there are a growing amount of Stan Lee lookalike clones in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And is it me or has Anthony Hopkins been playing the majority of his roles like a Norse god all this time? I am just kidding.

Depending where Captain America: Winter Soldier goes with Captain America’s story, I wonder how many more solo movies Marvel actually needs to plan out. It doesn’t look like they’re planning any solo Hulk films and Iron Man seems to be up in the air right now. Who knows how Guardians of the Galaxy is going to turn out. But they can really just start doing more Avengers movies at this point. That said, I do want to see what happens with Thor and Loki in a third installment. Actually, a third Thor is very necessary.

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