There are some classic films that should never be remade, like, for instance, The Wizard of Oz and Jaws. Then there are films that should never have been remade, but some genius decided to do it anyway, like Psycho and the recent Ghostbusters redux. And then there is director Antoine Fuqua’s new film, The Magnificent Seven, which is a remake of the 1960 western, which is, in turn, a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.
Kurosawa’s timeless concept of unlikely anti-heroes teaming together to do something good has been utilized in everything from the Justice League to Guardians of the Galaxy; so as iconic as the sixties’ Magnificent Seven film is – and it’s a film that I’m very fond of – I’m perfectly okay with this extremely entertaining new version. After all, old western heroes never die, they just get re-booted.
Even if you’ve never seen Seven Samurai or the original Magnificent Seven, through pop culture osmosis you are undoubtedly familiar with the story. A veteran gunfighter is hired by a small, put-upon community of farmers to help them go up against villains who are making their lives miserable. The gunfighter then enlists the help of like-minded do-gooders to defeat the bad guys.
Director Fuqua once again teams up with Denzel Washington (see Training Day and The Equalizer), who plays bounty hunter, Sam Chisolm, who is enlisted by Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) to bring justice to her town after the mining baron, Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), shoots her husband down in the street.
Chisolm then enlists the help of Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), a wise-cracking gambling man; Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a smart-alecky Hispanic outlaw with a bounty on his head; a confederate Civil War general, Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), and his Asian, knife-wielding buddy, Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee); an awkward and goofy trapper, Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), and a Native-American loner, Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier.) Is that seven? Yes? Okay, we’re good.
For such a diverse cast of characters, thrown into a nineteenth century story set in the old west, the narrative of the new Magnificent Seven is very mellow in terms of addressing ugly issues regarding race and ethnicity, issues that would have existed in the real world. For the most part the white townspeople get along fine with these heroes of color and the filmmakers inexplicitly paint a very PC picture of that era.
I get that, maybe, Fuqua and his fellow producers wanted to avoid the controversy that would surely follow any in-your-face effort to make a political statement on race with their film, or maybe they sincerely just wanted to make a fun and diverse action flick and forget any heavy messaging; either way the lack of message feels like a missed opportunity. Nevertheless, without getting into spoilery details, if you think about the movie afterwards you might realize that the filmmakers do, in fact, make a subtle statement on the matter.
Chris Pratt’s humorous performance stands out, but the acting across the board here is very good; and I thought the script by Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective) did a pretty good job of fleshing out the myriad of characters in this movie, and it has some great lines in it as well.
The original Magnificent Seven is known almost as well for its incredible score by Elmer Bernstein as it is for its iconic actors, and although the new film’s music can’t begin to match Bernstein’s, it fits well with the film – and die-hard fans do get to hear Bernstein fix of the Magnificent Seven theme as the end credits roll.
I had a lot of reservations going into this movie, and it’s definitely not perfect, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this film. In fact, if I was pressed to re-watch this version or director John Sturges’ sixties version, I’d most likely choose this new one. I know, heresy, right? The bottom line is that neither western version lives up to Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (see it if you haven’t already) but Fuqua’s take on the western classic is simply more fun to watch – and I’m ready for the sequel. Grade: 8/10