The Magnificent Seven and all the images you see in this review are owned by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Columbia Pictures
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
The original Magnificent Seven is a movie that’s on my depressingly large list of movies that I really should see at some point and unfortunately I didn’t get around to it before this remake came out. That said, the premise isn’t all that hard to grasp and it’s definitely trying to reach a new young audience if the advertisements are anything to go on. That and the addition of Chris Pratt doesn’t hurt either as the guy couldn’t be hotter with the younger demographics after star turning roles in Guardians of the Galaxy as well as Jurassic World. Does this reinterpretation of one of the most classic stories of all time turn out to be a modern day classic, or is it doomed to live in the shadow of its predecessor? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins with the town of Rock Ridge… I mean Rose Creek, being under siege from the EVIL rich guy Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) who wants to drive everyone out of there so he can mine the shit out of the place for gold and other valuable resources. After burning down the local church and killing a few of the locals, they realize they can’t handle this on their own and they need some help. After all, they worked too damn hard killing off all the Native Americans to build this town on their land for some rich asshole to take it all away from them! Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) who is the widow of one of the dead guys goes to a nearby town with her friend Teddy (Luke Grimes) to find some tough guys to chase Bart’s friends out of town! For their efforts, they find the bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) who then helps them gather the rest of the crew which includes the Chris Pratt archetype Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), an old-timey sniper Goodnight Robicheux (Ethan Hawke), his best buddy with the kick ass name Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), a wild mountain man Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), some random outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Ruflo), and a Comache hunter Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). Now all of them have their own reason for taking on such an impossible task (some less plausible than others as I still have no idea what Red Harvest is after), but it’s not going to be an easy fight as they’ve got an army to go up against and they have maybe a few dozen farmers to train up and give them support once the shit hits the fan. Can this town be saved from the onslaught of Bart’s men? Why exactly did Sam accept this job in the first place, and could he have ulterior motives? Who thinks they’re gonna accurately predict which ones will die? Think you can do better than me!?
This is another example of a movie accomplishing its goals with flying colors, but what it was ultimately striving for was something we’ve seen so many times before that it’s hard to get too excited about it. There are some weak points here and there, mostly in terms of writing and characters, but the seven heroes are well cast and have great chemistry that makes it easy to ignore those issues; not to mention the damn fine cinematography and the exciting gunfights that keep the movie from feeling even close to two hours. If you want a really good Western, then this movie delivers. I can’t help feeling that they could have done more with it, but you can’t argue that they succeeded in what they were trying to deliver.
Now not having seen the original, I couldn’t tell you how much of a remake this movie is and whether it succeeds on that front. I’m gonna take a stab at it and guess the music and character names are the same, but beyond that I don’t have much to go on and can only give my opinion of this as its own original film. Well… not ENTIRELY because I have seen Seven Samurai which was the OG Magnificent Seven and as far as that movie goes, this feels faithful enough to the original premise. The story of a group of people standing up to bad guys with the help of some reluctant good guys is one of those premises that’s so essentially epic as to be a cornerstone of pretty much all forms of storytelling; even before Kurosawa made the definitive film version of it in 1954, so it’s no wonder that we not only got a westernized version not long after (both in terms of the audience they were aiming for and the funny hats the actors were wearing), but a remake as well. However, I feel that might be the root cause of my own less than excited feelings towards this, because even without seeing the original it certainly feels like a remake of a lot of stuff that’s come before, only I don’t have any nostalgia for seeing iconic images or hearing the classic score. Maybe that has as much to do with this simply being a traditional Western (a genre so overdone that it’s become a parody of itself) due to this being a remake of one, but then the original film managed to be a completely original remake with a whole new setting, so what’s the point in not updating this the same way and giving this an original twist on the material rather than cling to the iconography of something that was clearly a product of its time?
Now that’s not to say this doesn’t feel modern in a lot of really good ways; particularly in terms of its technical chops. The movie looks great, not only in the way it’s shot but also in terms of sets and costuming. I thought the town looked kind of fake, but they’ve ALWAYS looked fake in westerns, and for all I know the Old West really DID look like a bunch of single streets with boxes lined up against it that are supposedly store fronts and banks. There’s a saloon early on in the movie that is so quintessentially classic western (wood paneling everywhere with Pian-E music playing from somewhere) that it definitely got me excited for the rest of the movie. Just watching Denzel Washington go through those saloon doors causing the music to cut out and everyone’s heads to turn has the right amount of self-awareness charm that makes the tropes feel endearing rather than old hat. Unfortunately that sense of minor campiness doesn’t really carry through the entire film and we fall into the predictable patterns without even a wink and nod to keep things interesting. Still, the early scenes where they do have that sense of irony and even some of the funnier moments like Chris Pratt doing a card trick are definitely highlights here.
The action is impressive even if it’s not all that original. There wasn’t a lot of trick photography or weird camera movements; rather it was very straight forward and to the point with just a TINY bit of the CLOSE UPS! QUICK CUTS! SHAKY CAM! bullshit, but there’s hardly enough of it to be even mildly distracting. It’s just some REALLY fantastically choreographed gunslinger action that gets so ridiculously awesome at points that it resembles an HD remake of Mad Dog McCree more than anything else. Of the seven, I’d say that Denzel Washington has the advantage as far as AMAZING gunfights (he also gets the scene where he’s hanging on the side of a horse while shooting) while Byung-hun Lee gets all the great hand to hand combat moments. Everyone has great scenes in here, but those two take the cake and the movie is firing on all cylinders whenever they’re kicking ass.
So if you look past this being a very traditional western without much new to offer (and not much in terms of self-aware fun after the first act), it’s probably one of the best examples you’ll find simply because of how great it looks, how charismatic the leads are, and polished the action is. However, outside of that one issue, there are problems that shouldn’t be overlooked. Unfortunately, Haley Bennett as THE female character in this (I don’t think another woman in here even gets a name) is very poorly written and has next to nothing to do in the movie. Now it’d be one thing if her role ended with her being the one to get the ball rolling on hiring the gunslingers to protect the town, but the movie keeps putting her in scenes after that and giving her responsibilities that the film doesn’t have enough time to flesh out in a satisfying way. Despite the numerous scenes she’s in, she only does one thing towards the end of the movie that’s of any consequence, and it’s a GIGANTIC cliché for female characters in these kinds of MANLY MEN action films. I probably wouldn’t have been TOO happy if there were no female characters in here at all, but this halfhearted attempt isn’t exactly a better alternative.
The other big dead weight here is the villain who starts out pretty menacing (and a little bit funny considering how blatantly evil he is), but it doesn’t last after the opening scene where he burns down a church, and all of his power as a villain after that comes from what people say about him rather than what he does. He may have a lot of men to throw at our heroes, but cowboys follow the Ninja formula, i.e. the strength of an individual cowboy drops exponentially the more cowboys there are on their team. He’s got like ONE Native American dude who’s SUPPOSED to be the bad ass henchman, but he never really amounts to much. As an ambiguous overarching force (shit load of bad guys wielding guns) it works in building the tension and makes the final battle that much more exciting, but if you’re looking for a compelling antagonist or someone who can pose a legitimate threat to our heroes, well you’re not gonna find that here.
I should probably go back and see the original Magnificent Seven at some point, but even without knowing if that is the superior version, I can tell you that this remake is a lot of fun. It’s not that deep and it can’t hold a candle to Seven Samurai, but it’s easily one of the most exciting straightforward action films we’ve gotten this summer (if this even still counts as a summer film) which honestly could have used a few more of them. It’s probably worth checking out in the theater because of the bombast and larger than life scale, but don’t go in expecting the next greatest western or the runaway hit of the post summer season. There may not be enough meat on its bones to leave a lasting impression, but that’s not what you’ll be worrying about while sitting in the theater.
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