Hooray! It’s another remake! Director Antoine Fuqua brings audiences a more multicultural take on The Magnificent Seven. Does it live up to the original classic or fall woefully short?
In the 1870’s, the town of Rose Creek is being terrorized by industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) as he tries to exploit it for its gold mine. When the townspeople try to challenge him, Bogue kills one of them in cold blood. The dead man’s wife, Emma (Haley Bennett), and her friend, Teddy (Luke Grimes), leave the town in search of men who can help them rid themselves of Bogue and his army of mercenaries. The pair come across bounty hunter/lawman Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), who agrees to help once he discovers Bogue is involved. Chisolm then sets to recruiting other skilled gunslingers to join his cause: drunken gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt); legendary sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheux (Ethan Hawke) and his traveling companion Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee), who’s handy with both guns and knives; hunter and known Indian-killer Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio); wanted man Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo); and Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). Once the team is assembled, they set to defending the town in a very cool gunfight, which leads to a much, much longer gunfight later in the film. Eventually, you find out why Chisolm got involved in the first place.
The new Magnificent Seven is a fun movie that uses its charismatic cast well enough. There are several callbacks to the 1960 original, which was itself a reimagining of the Akira Kurosawa film Seven Samurai, but is it any better than the original? Well, on a technical level, yes, the new film is clearly superior in that movie-making technology far surpasses what was available in the late 1950’s. Also, it is nice that Fuqua updates the diversity of the cast with his version. In the original, all the members of the Seven are mainly white dudes. However, beyond the technical and multicultural aspects, the original is superior in every way. I just recently watched the original for the first time and was surprised at how similar the two were throughout the first hour. In some cases, the Magnificent Seven come together through completely random ways – more so in the new one – and, of course, some of the dialogue is the same. But, it’s in the second hour where the original blows the remake away. There isn’t a ton of character development in either film, but the original has stronger “quiet moments” and more of them, while the new one is mainly a relentless action film. Also in the original, the Magnificent Seven have a much stronger connection with the townspeople than they do in the remake. That’s important, because it gives all the men something more to fight for. Aside from Chisolm, that element is missing from the remake and we don’t even get his reasoning until the very end of the film. I’m not saying I was expecting Oscar-worthy character work from this film, but with a cast this loaded, I was at least expecting more than we got. What we get here are more caricatures than characters. Fuqua and Screenwriters Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto try to give some depth to characters like Chisolm and Goodnight, but how they passed up the opportunity to wring drama from the conflict that should have developed between Horne and Red Harvest is beyond me.
Beyond remaking a superior film that really didn’t need a remake, The Magnificent Seven also suffers from the fact that certain scenes feel like they’ve been pulled from other recent films. Chisolm’s introduction is very similar to Christoph Waltz‘s first bounty hunting scene in Django Unchained and Red Harvest’s meeting with the group recalls a scene from The Revenant. It was pretty obvious. The other problem is that this film is a remake of a reimagining – essentially a copy of a copy – and the best the filmmakers can come up with is doing another western? Why not update the story to modern times or even better, make it a sci-fi setting? In that regard, this film smacked of Ocean’s Twelve, a film that was made simply for the cast to hang out and have fun. Not to say that actors shouldn’t have fun making movies, but that does mean there’s really no reason for this movie to exist.
The cast does fairly well with what they’re given and it is obvious they had a ball making this movie. Washington is great as Chisolm, but honestly, he’s so good, he doesn’t need all these other guys around. His performance made me want that Equalizer sequel just a little bit more. I like Pratt a lot, but I’m beginning to wonder if he’s able to lead a drama at all. He’s clearly part of the comic relief here, but I’d like to see him play a role straight for once. Hawke is good as Goodnight, but like with most of these characters, I wanted more time with him. The same is true for Lee, who plays the deadly Billy. He’s a pretty cool character, based on James Coburn‘s character from the original, but he doesn’t get enough development. I wouldn’t mind a Goodnight and Billy film sometime. D’Onofrio and Sarsgaard feel like they’re playing cartoon characters. Horne comes across as D’Onofrio’s impression of Dan Aykroyd‘s character from Caddyshack II, while Sarsgaard is so ridiculously evil, it’s laughable. Bennett does well here and they even give her a useful talent as opposed to making her a generic damsel in distress as is usually the case in these films. Garcia-Rulfo and Sensmeier are fine in their roles, even though Sensmeier’s introduction to the group is beyond ridiculous and easy. It recalls a similar situation in the original film, but in that one, the scene is earned. Here, it’s just comically coincidental.
Overall, while The Magnificent Seven is a fun time at the theater, it won’t be replacing the original any time soon. There’s a modicum of substance here, but mostly it’s just gunfights. Very entertaining, but ultimately not a great movie.