Part fantasy, part legend of the 47 Ronin, part medieval sword slash fest, Last Knights gives us Clive Owen (Sin City, Children of Men), and Morgan Freeman (Seven, The Shawshank Redemption) on the big screen in this pseudo-medieval-fantasy-western-samurai-steampunk mish-mash.
Commander Raiden (Owen) of the Seventh Rank protects the nobleman, Bartok (Freeman), and his clan. He is Bartok’s retainer, and he and his knights follow a strict warrior’s code. The Empire is corrupt, and Bartok tells Raiden that he has no heir, his son is dead, and he would like to bestow his title to Raiden. Bartok and Raiden are summoned to the capital by the evil minister Geza Mott, played by Askel Hennie (The Martian, Hercules). Geza Mott is insulted with the bribe gift given to him by Bartok, and attacks him. When Bartok fights back, he is accused of treason against the crown. He stands trial where he speaks out against Mott and the empire, which further seals his doom. He is sentenced to death, his clan is dispersed and disbanded, and his family name is dishonoured.
“I urge you to consider what you are doing. For we are helping this man, to forge the very chains that bind us…My crime is that I only failed to kill Geza Mott when I had the chance.” ~ Bartok
Raider speaks out against the sentence and angers the Emperor. As punishment for his breach, Raider is forced to mete out Bartok’s execution. If he refuses, Bartok’s entire family will be executed.
Of course, this is just the beginning of the movie, the rest of the flick focuses on Raiden’s quest for revenge. Mott beefs up his protection and Raiden initially disbands his knights. Raider spirals downwards and becomes a drunk, much to the disgust of his former knights. It’s all a ruse of course, in the end, Raiden and his men decide to exact their revenge against Geza Mott. Enter sword fights, swashbuckling, cornball speeches about honour and duty, then roll end credits.
Owen is miscast here. He’s the hero of the film, but he’s the most bored looking hero I’ve ever laid eyes on. He delivers his lines with little to no feeling. I get that he’s playing the typical aloof, tough knight but he still doesn’t evoke any emotion from his audience, certainly not enough to care about him or his knights. I wasn’t sitting there rooting for him, and wasn’t bothered if he lost.
Freeman, who I love dearly, sadly can’t save this movie. I thought to myself, ‘Morgan Freeman is in this, it can’t be that bad, surely he can save it from mediocrity’. Alas, not even Freeman had that power. If you can’t get the audience interested in your main characters, the rest of the movie is just costumes and scenery.
As for the scenery – it’s depressing and grey throughout the entire film. I’m not expecting sunshine, unicorns, and lollipops but if you’re going for a dark movie, there has to be something interesting, scary or exciting against the bleak backdrop. At the very least, the acting should be solid. Freeman, and Owen look bored to tears, and I think Freeman was relieved to be killed off relatively early in the film.
Another massive issue I have with this movie is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be; it has no discernible genre. The trailer reads like a fantasy/medieval movie, but it is a story loosely based on the 47 Ronin, an eighteenth century Japanese legend where a band of samurai avenged their master. Then mix in the wild west, meets steampunk, meets video game. You don’t really know what’s going on here, and I don’t think the director did either. It’s Sci-Fi/medieval costuming, and action, with no substance.
Even with all these mixed elements, the film manages to deliver no excitement, no energy, no interest, no magic and no emotion. Nothing. It’s dull, dull, dull. It’s trying to be a serious epic but it just becomes seriously boring. I didn’t care one iota about any of the characters. The only good part of this movie was that I saw it on Netflix and didn’t shell money out to watch it in a theatre. It’s just a boring, bland, and lifeless, grey movie with a few big names thrown in to distract from a bad plot, poor dialogue and lack of direction. I can’t recommend this one, unless you enjoy being bored or are a huge Clive Owen and Morgan Freeman fan and can stomach two hours of snoozefest acting.