Arriving 56 years after the original movie, 2016’s “The Magnificent Seven” is, of course, a grandchild remake, the second generation descended from the iconic “Seven Samurai”. An earnest and lavish reimagining, it hues closer to its forefather than its genre-spanning cousins such as “Battle Beyond The Stars” or “A Bugs Life”.
When ruthless and unscrupulous goldmine baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) sets his sights on the town of Rose Creek and savagely quells a brief moment of defiance, a widow (Haley Bennett) strikes out on a quest to find someone to defend the peaceful farming town from the brutality of Bogue’s control. She finds Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), a bounty hunter who has a personal score to settle with Bogue. Together they recruit a small band of gunslingers to mount a desperate last stand to save Rose Creek.
There’s a great deal less interaction with the townsfolk in this new iteration of the classic western: the Seven keep themselves slightly aloof from those they seek to defend. Rather than the simple motivation of Eli Wallach’s 1956 bandit, Sarsgaard’s Bogue is a much more modern analogue, the ruthless corporate entity seeking to exploit and crush the honest working folk of Rose Creek. It’s in the beginning moments that the film wobbles the most precariously, thanks to the scale of Bogue’s malevolence. A whisker shy of moustache-twirling, his casual cruelty and flagrant disregard for any kind of law teeters on the brink of cartoonish villainy, casting the drama as a savagely dark comedy as “The Magnificent Seven” comes uncomfortably close to feeling like a humourlessly brutal remake of “Blazing Saddles”.
Things improve once our focus shifts to the formation of the Seven, with Denzel Washington providing the necessary gravitas to steady the film and keep it on track. He’s very quickly joined by Chris Pratt who adds actual cowboy to his already impressive resume of space cowboy and dinosaur cowboy. Sure, he’s not the most versatile of actors but, like Harrison Ford before him, he does what he does so well and so likeably it feels churlish to complain. It’s actually Vincent D’Onofrio who sneakily steals the picture as burley frontiersman/ ‘bear wearing people clothes’ Jack Horne, one of the many characters who hint at tantalising backstories which remain sadly unexplored.
Admirably – and arguably more accurate historically – this magnificent seven are a notably diverse bunch and not just in ethnicity. There’s a definite subtext to the relationship of Ethan Hawke’s Goodnight Robicheaux and Byung-hun Lee’s skilled knifeman Billy Rocks if you’re disposed to see it and even Haley Bennett’s wronged and vengeful widow gets more to do than simply be a damsel in distress.
Director Antoine Fuqua is a self-confessed lifelong fan of Westerns and it shows as he makes sure he crams in as many iconic/ clichéd Western camera shots as he can in this slick and good looking movie. The score is excellent too, the last (unfinished) work of the great James Horner and finished off by his friend and fellow composer Simon Franglen. If only the character development had been as polished as the music cinematography, this could have been a triumphant reimagining rather than an ever-so-slightly superficial remake. Each of the Seven are fascinating in their own right and while I’m not advocating for a slew of seven prequels or a Marvel-style ‘Magnificent Cinematic Universe’ but it would have been nice to delve into the characters’ pasts a bit more.
Surprisingly brutal, but staying just the right side of bloody to earn its 12A certificate, it was 10-year old Mertmas’ introduction to the Western genre. He enjoyed it a lot but it was probably at the very edge of what I’m happy letting him watch in terms of screen violence (and way past the limit that Mrs Craggus would have been happy with) but it hasn’t done him any harm.
Polished and punchy, 2016’s “The Magnificent Seven” delivers on the action and iconography at the expense of character but should just about satisfy fans of action movies and Westerns alike.