Apparently Hollywood was overrun by demands that someone remake The Magnificent Seven. I’m not 100% sure who these people were or if they even exist, but I am certain that it was an odd choice to remake a movie that was already a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai. However, I’m not consulted about these decisions. Someone at Sony worth far more money and with far more influence than me insisted that it happen, so now we have a new Magnificent Seven for a new generation and it’s pretty “meh” all around.
The Magnificent Seven start off darkly with Peter Sarsgaard’s super evil villain killing random members of a small community and letting them know that he now owns the town and the riches therein. One plucky young local (Haley Bennett) decides she’s not going to stand for that, so she takes collection from every willing member of the town and sets out to find a group of killers-for-hire to stop Sarsgaard in his tracks.
First, she finds Denzel Washington’s bitter gunslinger-for-hire and he decides to sign up as one of the few noble acts in his life. The pair then spot Chris Pratt’s wiseass cowboy and decide he should definitely come aboard to provide one-liners and a killer shooting-eye. The next guy they seek out is Ethan Hawke’s wary old outlaw (and a former partner of Washington both fictionally and in Training Day). He signs on and brings his new partner (Korean superstar Byung-hun Lee) with him. They then find a Mexican outlaw (Manuel Garcia Rulfo) and a vengeful Native American (Martin Sensmeier) in an attempt to break genre-based racial stereotypes that feels half-hearted since they are the least developed characters in The Magnificent Seven. Finally, Vincent D’Onofrio comes on board and since he has so much competition to steal scenes, he adopts a ridiculous squeaky voice to stand out in the crowd.
The set up is easily the best part of this newfangled Magnificent Seven. For the first hour director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Olympus Has Fallen) creates a nice gritty Western vibe and delights in introducing his eccentric gang of antihero misfits. Unfortunately the flick spends too much time luxuriating in set up, so everything else in the flick feels overly rushed. The three biggest stars are the only actors who get much screen time after the team is assembled, with everyone else falling into the background. Granted, Washington, Pratt, and Hawke are all strong screen presences, but the movie feels more like The Magnificent Three after a while and you start to wonder why they even bothered assembling such a large cast beyond fulfilling the requirements of the famous title.
Eventually, the whole thing builds to a massive shoot out that essentially comprises the entire third act of The Magnificent Seven. Fuqua has grown into quite a strong action director over his last few movies like Olympus Has Fallen and The Equalizer, so the sequence packs a punch and it’s nice to see so much physical action with pyrotechnics and explosions in a big ol’ blockbuster again. However, John Woo he ain’t, so after a while the whole thing becomes a bit repetitive and exhausting. There’s only so much shoot-out the brain can take before a movie enters into sensory overload and unfortunately, Fuqua crosses that line and never returns. It gets a bit dull eventually and you’ll find yourself wishing that the movie would just end (Not exactly a thought that should enter your mind during an action-centric climax. There should be no thoughts at that point.).
There’s no denying that the new Magnificent Seven is disappointing. However, it’s impossible to say that the movie is bad. This premise is damn strong, that’s why the remake exists in the first place. Denzel and Pratt replace Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen surprisingly well. The tone is gritty, yet fun. Entertainment value runs high. The cast is great even though many talents feel wasted. Even the overblown finale works for the most part. As far as empty-headed entertainment goes, The Magnificent Seven works just fine. It’s a perfectly entertaining contemporary Western. It’s a shame that this same cast and crew couldn’t have made their own original story, but that’s just the sad reality of contemporary blockbusters. The movie needed the brand to justify its existence and at least the reputation of a Hollywood classic isn’t sullied. In fact, it may even lead some viewers back to the original and then back again to Seven Samurai. Not many folks will do that, yet if even a few kids dip into film history thanks to this decidedly decent Western, then maybe this whole thing was worthwhile.