Keanu Reeves gets a lot of crap I definitely do not believe is deserved. He is an actor that is clearly successful, well wanted in Hollywood, and decently well liked. But among my theatre and actor friends, associates, or just generally, the consensus seems to be that he couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag. I couldn’t agree less. I find Reeves to be a nuanced and internal actor, capable of playing a lot of different styles, though all with that same internalized emotion. Don Jon from Much Ado About Nothing is incredibly different from Falco from The Replacements is incredibly different from Neo from the Matrix is incredibly different from Johnny Utah from Point Break is incredibly different from Bill from Bill and Ted is incredibly different from the character he plays in this film, Kai.
"Whoa! That's a lot of proof that'll get ignored by someone who disagrees with that guy!"
Plot, quickly: A half-breed is brought into a feudal Japanese lordship as a servant. He falls in love with the Lord’s daughter. Later on, the Lord is dishonored through treachery and an evil neighboring Lord gets the girl in one year. The disgraced samurai of the disgraced Lord come together to bring honor to themselves, their Lord, and their families. Now take all that, add a dragon, an ogre, a Kirin, and some Tengu.
The problem with the movie is that it is trying to do two different things at once, but it doesn’t truly succeed in either. It wants to be this big fantasy film with dragons, witches, demons, and half-breeds. But it also wants to be this historical recounting of the legend of the 47 Ronin, a very real thing that happened in feudal Japan. The film fights between its Fantasy and Historical narratives, going so far as having two different protagonists, one for each genre. In the end, this is truly a historical epic with some fantasy stuff peppered in. And both versions of the film would have been stronger without the other. This is no Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of films. It reminds me of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves or Pirates of the Caribbean, which had the tug of war between its more fantastical bits and its more realistic bits. But both those films are far superior to this one.
Watching the movie, there are other small issues. A couple of terrible CGI establishing shots, a bunch of actors who all have the same basic mannerisms, some overused Jackson-ian style swooping “epic” landscape shots, a few tropes that are a little too old to be interesting, Act 1 pacing that is a little hard to sit through. But really, they all don’t add up to much problem. And most if not all could certainly be forgivable by some viewers. I know my wife loved this film, love love loved it. Me, I thought it was good, but I’m not sure I feel like watching it ever again. I liked it fine watching it the first time, though. There is just something missing, some extra step to take it to a level of really great.