‘The Magnificent Seven,” which is a remake of a remake — Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” being the original — definitely shows that it’s just that.
There is nothing exceptionally new about the movie, as the common trope of a gathering of a select number of special warriors to fight for the innocent is the well-known plot line, so the best possible way to keep the story fresh is to make the movie character-driven, which is what director Antoine Fuqua and company have, well, mostly done.
The familiar story is set in motion by mining baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgard), who is stealing land from a small village that is located near his mining operation. He quickly proves he is greedy enough for it to do anything, including pay off an army of hired guns to threaten and shoot up the innocent citizens of the little town. Bogue’s character seems to be a not-so-subtle metaphor for corporate greed stepping all over the little guy and, although a particularly unlikable villain that you will hate, he has about the depth of murky pond water at best.
Haley Bennett plays Emma Cullen, a beautiful resident of the little town who’s husband is gunned down by Bogue, and seeks to hire someone to avenge the town. Bennett is quite good here, bringing an authentic and sympathetic performance, and she isn’t quite relegated to the typical damsel-in-distress cliché, proving she is quite deadly with a rifle. It would have been better, in fact, if her character had been included as one of the Magnificent Seven, rather than just necessary plot propellant.
Since the story is kind of a go-through-the-motions sort of deal, the writers and actors definitely knew what they were when trying to bring each one to life. Denzel Washington’s Sam Chisolm is Denzel at the top of his game as always, bringing a streak of vengeance to a haunted and noble character who is good at what he does, and that is shooting people really fast. Chris Pratt plays Josh Faraday the gambler, further solidifying that he may just be the next Steve McQueen. Faraday is, well, good at shooting things, too. So is Mexican bandit Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and crazy mountain man Jack Horne (played by scene-chewing professional Vincent D’Onofrio), as well as Ethan Hawke’s Goodnight Robicheaux, a former Confederate sharpshooter. Byung-hun Lee’s Billy Rocks and Martin Sensmeier’s Red Harvest are good at shooting things too, but Rocks can use knives really well, and Red Harvest uses a bow rather than firearms. See the pattern here?
Maybe they couldn’t make each character that unique in their abilities, but they do flesh out the characters at least, right? Sort of.
All of the nitpicks here lead up to the movie’s single biggest problem — it’s a great polish job and acting on a whole lot of not much else. The actors are all bringing their best stuff, they are convincing and they deliver their lines with as much individuality to their characters as they can bring. The problem is, that even with excellent dialogue, the characters just aren’t very fleshed-out, with the exception of Chisolm, Emma Cullen and Ethan Hawke’s Goodnight. Pratt’s character, although likable, isn’t given much backstory at all, completely relying on Pratt’s charisma, which he always delivers with loads of success — lucky for the film. Red Harvest pretty much just shows up, and Vasquez is just a wanted bandit, and I’m still trying to figure out what was so magnificent about his character — aside from the two pistols — which it seems every character has. D’Onofrio’s character is wild and entertaining as a crazed and violent mountain man spouting scripture and prayer, but his backstory is relegated to maybe four lines of dialogue, and the rest of his character is just spewing religious nonsense while viciously stabbing or shooting bad guys (which is actually kind of funny in a twisted, ironic sort of way). Billy Rocks’ backstory is also relegated to a few lines of dialogue.
The audience sees movies like “The Magnificent Seven” for fun rather than depth however, and fun it is. Even then, there isn’t anything particularly exemplary or very memorable about it — even the finale is just one long, typical Western shootout with a Gatling gun thrown in a particularly cool Hail Mary-pass moment. Where the old Magnificent Seven movie was at least a different take on the trope, it was modeled after by making a samurai movie a Western. And the iconic theme music from the 1960 version is even relegated to the credits and never used in the actual film.
This version just seems like more of modern Hollywood’s unending obsession with pumping remakes and sequels to our favorite movies, and the 2016 version of “Magnificent Seven” is a reflection of that. It’s cool and fun, but nothing we haven’t seen before. Catch a matinee at Riverside Cinemas.
“The Magnificent Seven” is currently playing at the Riverside Cinemas, 1017 S. Boone St. in Aberdeen.
George Haerle is a 2008 graduate of Aberdeen High and holds a bachelor’s degree in creative writing for media and lives in Cosmopolis.