THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016)

I’m ashamed to admit that I have not seen the original 1960 The Magnificent Seven. I’m even more ashamed to admit that I have also not seen Seven Samurai, the 1953 Japanese film the old Western is based off. I understand that they’re both iconic films, each classics in their own right, but you’ll find no emotional attachment here. I don’t really have a huge problem with remakes in the artistic sense. It’s interesting to see modern filmmakers offer their own take on old material. Clearly this modern version was not made by some auteurs, but by a studio to make a quick buck off of name recognition during this weird Western resurgence. That doesn’t always make for a bad film, though. Since I haven’t seen either of the prior films, there won’t be any comparisons here. I wouldn’t be making comparisons anyway, as I believe remakes/reboots/rewhatevers should be critiqued on their own merits.

In 1879, corrupt businessman Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) invades and lays seige to the quaint little town of Rose Creek. Claiming to return in a few weeks to destroy the town, widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) goes to seek help. She comes across warrant officer Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), who reluctantly agrees to assist and defend the citizens. On their journey, he enlists a bunch of other Old West gunslingers to form The Magnificent Seven and save Rose Creek from destruction.

As with every ensemble film, great care must be taken in the characterization department. Each principal character needs a unique voice, distinct motivations, and some moments to shine in order to make their impact. This is where the film falters most. It reminded me a lot of this year’s‘Suicide Squad, where only a few characters were given some depth, while the rest had a combined total of 30 lines of dialogue. The same thing happened here, where the only characters we only cared about were Chris Pratt’s and Ethan Hawke’s. Yes, even Denzel Washington isn’t even that interesting. He does a serviceable job, as always, but his character was pretty flat, until they randomly throw some motivations in at the end. The rest of the cast is completely wasted, playing characters with totally non-existent motivations, no depth, or hardly any lines. It felt like they were just meeting the quota set by the title.

In the film’s defense, I can’t remember the last time I was sufficiently entertained by a big blockbuster film. Although the characters were stock, the actors were great all around (although I’m getting a little tired of Chris Pratt’s constant snark), with great chemistry and snappy dialogue. It’s nice to hear these characters banter around the campfire, but there’s never enough of that. Hardly any of them get to make an impression and I really wanted to know more about them. It’s nice to see Peter Sarsgaard pop up in something again, but it’s a shame that he essentially plays a mustache twirling stock villain for the sake of having an antagonist. I wish the film played with moral ambiguity a bit more. Regardless of the fact that their opponents were murderous thugs, it felt odd watching our “heroes” just remorselessly murder people, too.

Watching these characters remorselessly murder people is actually still a blast, though, due to the excellently staged and well directed action sequences. Director Antoine Fuqua has proven himself as one of the more competent modern action directors, with films such as Shooter and The Equalizer, and he certainly doesn’t disappoint here. The editing and cinematography is ever so fluid, clearly capturing the relentless lead slinging and arrow shooting, with the bombastic soundtrack making every gunshot feel like a punch to the gut. While making this film R-rated would not have technically made it better, it would’ve been nice to have some blood splatter and some gore here and there. It’s just strange to see bullets clearly go through somebody with no blood to follow.

When the dust finally cleared from the somewhat overlong climax, I actually had a lot of fun with The Magnificent Seven. There were a lot of missed opportunities in the character and theme departments, but when you have an entertaining, competent action film that doesn’t insult your intelligence, it’s hard to be upset. Yeah, it’s generic and shallow, but it shows how a good cast and a confident director can elevate mediocre writing. Perhaps The Satisfactory Seven would have been a better title.

6.5/10

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