Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends gets refreshingly in-your-face following the unfortunately expository first half of this two-part conclusion to the Kenshin story (see our first-part review here). When it’s not unfurling innovative one-on-one brawls, however, the film plummets directly into the Dragonball abyss of story stagnation.
Makoto Shishio (Tatsuya Fujiwara) has assembled an army—and a massive ironclad battleship—to overthrow the new Meiji government. The only thing standing in his way is a bunch of screenwriters who’ve realized they’ve let the villain win in the first act, and he must be stalled at all costs.
Enter the Pause Zone. For some characters, it’s literal. Kaoru Kamiya’s (Emi Takei) entire contribution to the film is to be asleep and then wake up. Sanosuke Sagara’s (Munetaka Aoki) job is to watch her be asleep and then wake up. Meanwhile, the titular Kenshin Himura (Takeru Sato) retreats to the Japanese version of Dagobah to up his game under the tutelage of his former master, Hiko Seijuro (an effective Masaharu Fukuyama). This extended, artfully choreographed stick-vs-sword pummeling leads to some well-earned character development, and could have formed a strong core for the story—if the filmmakers had only been able to restrict themselves to a single central character. Instead, they introduce a hodgepodge of goodies and baddies with implied depth that we have to divine as much from their fashion sense as from the handful of lines they’re allowed.
After making much hay in the first half of this two-parter of Shishio’s terrifying intellect and brutality, the setup for the final act unfolds like a bad punchline. The scenario involves so many implausibilities that a boatload of cops rowing up to a battleship unnoticed—in broad daylight, over open water—is the least of the sins committed.
And then, at the height of this logic-free lunacy, the final ten minutes of The Legend Ends unleash the most dynamic four-on-one fight ever to grace the silver screen. An expanding cast of psychos, heroes and hellraisers piles on, not one after another in clichéd actioner fashion, but in fully choreographed five-directional fury. It’s brutal, gripping and hilarious—almost enough to excuse the awkward, semi-stagnant experience that got us there. Almost.
Japanese title: Rurouni Kenshin: Densetsu no Saigo-hen
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