Yup. Gotta get it out of the way. The Magnificent Seven – for all its genuine positives – is the latest example of the modern remake trend. Remaking a classic 1960s western that in of itself is a remake of one of the greatest films ever made. Then again, this plot has been done in so many other films, from Three Amigos to A Bug’s Life. So, director Antoine Fuqua has an uphill battle to prove he could pull something different. Something interesting. Something that took the context of a western and added something truly memorable or innovative to justify its existence. Does it succeed? … Eh.
That’s the trouble with the new The Magnificent Seven. It’s a pretty by the numbers remake of the original structurally. The same plot line of a village that’s in trouble, seeks out help, seven men of varying backgrounds come together to teach them how to defend themselves, everyone bonds, many die. It’s a time honored story, but there’s little new life in any of this. The things that feel somewhat new work. Lee Byung-hun in particular is the newest element in the form of an Asian man trying to make a life for himself via dueling competition alongside Ethan Hawke. Their relationship is one of the few subtle aspects of this adaptation, reworking aspects of James Coburn’s character while feeling enough like his own man. Plus, his knife work is far more engaging visually than much of anything Coburn does. Same goes for the soft spoken Native American member played by Martin Sensemeier and the serial killer crazy scalp collector played by Vincent D’Onofrio. Their issues recall moments from the original film, but never enough to feel slavish while add their own moments of impact.
But everything else? Most of it is just… serviceable. Antoine Fuqua as a director continues to show his competence, with the occasional fun action moment or well constructed western horse wrangling. But there’s nothing here that feels unfamiliar to the western genre. No sort of step up with any moment that makes this remake stand out. The Magnificent Seven tries a few things in casting to differentiate itself, mainly in terms of casting Denzel Washington as our sort of Yul Brynner stand in, which only achieves about medium level Denzel quality. Not bad, just nothing that stands out. A few engaging dramatic moments, one or two badass action turns and his deliberate delivery that shows off his charm. Yet, it’s constantly contrasted with Chris Pratt pulling a Clint Eastwood style stoic badass approach that feels wrong for him. He has a few funny moments, but nothing to take full advantage of his comedic range. If this proved anything, it’s that Pratt isn’t someone who can save underwritten material. It’s sadly too similar to Pratt’s bland hero performance from Jurassic World, no matter how much the film tries to light him like he’s The Man With No Name.
As for the rest of The Magnificent Seven, it’s slim pickings. Ethan Hawke plays a passable western drunk with a predictable character arc. Oh, and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo plays a Mexican who’s only real role is… to be the Mexican. Nothing that interesting or memorable there. Haley Bennett pals around with our main group as a sort of unofficial 8th, one who wants to be a part of the fight yet is constantly doubted, leading to obvious point markers to her inevitable arc that we can all see coming. There’s also Peter Sarsgaard as the remorseless villain, who’s the only one to completely fail, especially when compared to the amazing performance of Eli Wallach in the original version. Instead of being a cold calculated vindictive bastard that wants this town to lose even its core beliefs so he can break them down, Sarsgaard is a one dimensional evil character that lacks any authentic menace.
The Magnificent Seven is ultimately an extremely faded out reworking of what worked before, much like a copy of a copy would naturally be. Back in the 1950s-1960s, westerns were a dime a dozen. The cheapest type of film to put together and make a buck off of. Now, it’s an uphill battle to get a western made or seen at all by modern audiences. While the original managed to stand out by taking a solid formula and making it its own, our modern The Magnificent Seven takes the road more traveled with a few pinches of modern blockbuster spectacle added in. The former – while not a great film – managed to stand out amongst a crowded heap of others. The latter barely bothers to distinguish itself amongst a sea of mediocre remakes and reboots beyond its high profile ensemble cast & a glossier tint to the typical gritty western aesthetic.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Lonesome Trails