This Christmas, Keanu Reeves stars in a big budget 3-D adaptation of the tale of the 47 Ronin. Reeves is Kai, a disgraced swordsman man who joins Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada) on his quest to lead 47 outcast warriors seeking vengeance over an evil overload.
At the very least, it's the best Hollywood-version of Japanese tale opening this holiday season. So is Reeves speaking softly and carry a big blade enough?
Here are five things to know about Keanu and the rest of the masterless samurai:
1. Epic Tale Becomes Ho-Hum: The story of the 47 Ronin is one of Japan's most popular and beloved legends. Based loosely on events from the 18th century, the main plot follows the loyal samurai who become masterless ("ronin") when their leader Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) is tricked and forced to commit ritual seppuku (suicide by sword). The 47 waited a year, planning their vengeance. The new version includes an unneeded damsel (Kô Shibasaki) in distress sub plot, underdeveloped CGI creatures,and lots of 300-style slow-motion. Lost among the pizzazz is the most captivating aspect of the story: the 47's code of honor, one that was unflinching.
2. The Real Leader of the 47: Oishi leads his charge into battle and we're rooting for him the whole time. Keanu's Kai is probably the easiest to identify with, yet Oishi has the most layers. We wish the film had been more focused on him.
3. 3-D Meh: The production value of Ronin is spectacular. The colorful costumes, the huge set pieces, everything has a beautiful sheen to it. Sad then that the 3-D version suffers from the all too normal dark haze that plagues viewers wearing shades. If possible stick with 2-D presentation.
4. Watch the Witch: Credited as witch, Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim) is the shape-shifting henchwoman of overlord Kira (Tadanobu Asano). Her twisty satin-draped entrances are like some beguiling fashionista tornado. The character is pretty darn silly, but as least Kikuchi doesn't look like she's going to tear up in every scene like she did in Guillermo Del Toro's monsters vs. robots mash.
5. Only the Second Best Keanu Pic of the Season: Last month, Reeves starred and directed Man of Tai Chi. Set in modern Beijing with the help of his former Matrix fight choreographer Woo-ping Yuen, Chi was loose, fun, and had energy to spare. See it on VOD!
(E! and Universal Pictures are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)