'The Magnificent Seven'
No one ever asked for a remake of ‘The Magnificent Seven’. Quite apart from the fact that the original movie is a product of its time, the thing was already a remake of ‘Seven Samurai’. Remaking a remake sounds more like a parody of Hollywood unoriginality than a real project. Yet somehow here we are.
Tarantino and the Coen brothers proved that Westerns could still bring in big cash, and someone at Sony realized that the rights to ‘Magnificent Seven’ were still kicking around, so Denzel Washington was hired to replace Yul Brynner, Chris Pratt was put on Steve McQueen duty, and away we go. The results are actually OK, provided that you can get past how deeply unnecessary the whole thing is.
The movie opens strong with Peter Sarsgaard’s impossibly evil baddie murdering several innocent folk in a small town that he’s claimed as his own to steal their riches. From there, Denzel strolls into another town and faces some racism before killing off those hateful folk in the name of bounty hunting. (If that sounds similar to ‘Django Unchained’, the sequence is basically a more polite knockoff.) He’s then propositioned by Haley Bennett’s determined young woman from the town destroyed by Sarsgaard. With their few meager riches, she wants to hire Denzel and a few good men to defend their honor. He agrees and finds his first partner when Chris Pratt shows up as a wiseass with a good shooting eye.
So far so good. Antoine Fuqua nails the right mix of gritty Western atmosphere and blockbuster spectacle (with just a dusting of racial politics thrown in for good measure). After that, things get a little shaky. The title dictates that Denzel must find five more fighters, but the realities of contemporary Hollywood filmmaking demand that the movie still clock in at roughly two hours. Washington finds Ethan Hawke, an old war buddy with killer aim and an excuse to reunite the three major players from ‘Training Day’. Hawke has his own knife-throwing partner in Korean superstar Lee Byung-hun, so he’s on board. The group also finds a lovable Mexican outlaw (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and a badass Native American (Martin Sensmeier) to complete the progressive racial Western trifecta, then tosses in Vincent D’Onofrio for a little extra character.
Unfortunately, none of these characters gets enough screen time to develop beyond clichés, and D’Onofrio is forced to adopt an absurd high-pitched voice just to get noticed in the crowd. It also doesn’t help Fuqua’s attempts at slipping in progressive politics that every non-white character other than Denzel Washington is mere window dressing. It’s tokenism dressed up as inclusion and ultimately frustrating. Why even bother?
The overstuffed nature of ‘The Magnificent Seven’ proves to be the movie’s greatest downfall. So much time is spent setting up the concept and characters that everything else (like, you know, plot, dramatic escalation, characterization and action) feels rushed. Saarsgard gets only two scenes to establish his villainy before the grand finale, and when the epic action bonanza arrives, it comes off as more exhausting than triumphantly climatic. Many guns are fired and stuff blows up really good, but the stakes never feel particularly high and the choreography is so repetitive that it gets dull quickly. Viewers should never wonder when a movie will mercifully end during its climax, but butts will be numbed here.
Ultimately, this ‘Magnificent Seven’ is merely an average bit of Western nostalgia. The cast is great, which goes a long way to make it work, and Fuqua at least handles the imagery and boom-boom action adequately enough for viewers to feel like they got their money’s worth. However, the flick never quite lives up to the sum of its expensive parts or justifies the need to remake a remake. Still, there’s some fun to be had. The movie should do well, but hopefully not well enough to inspire a ‘Magnificent Eight’ or a time travel crossover with ‘Ocean’s Eleven’.