Remakes largely fall into one of two categories: they’re either insipid, lackluster attempts at cashing in on the original, or they’re capably made, inoffensive retreads of the same material. Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven (itself a remake of a remake) falls squarely in the second category. That in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing , but it does hinder the film from ever breaking free of being just another remake.
Much like in the 1960 classic, this re-telling of The Magnificent Seven begins with a frontier town besieged – except instead of bandits, it’s robber baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). His company has come to Rose Creek to mine for gold, offering the townsfolk a mere pittance in return for surrendering their land. After her husband is killed trying to stand up to Bogue, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennet) leaves town to find help, coming upon Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), a duly sworn warrant officer. An impeccable gunslinger, Chisolm shares Cullen’s righteous outlook and agrees to help win back her town – he just needs the men.
So he assembles his merry band: a drinker and gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), Confederate veteran and sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), his right hand man and deadly assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), fur trader and tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), and Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). It’s an impressive group of exceptionally talented killers, each with their own reasons for seeing the fight through.
The Magnificent Seven is very much a paint-by-numbers western, with frenetic shootouts, fancy gunslinging, and saloons brimming with booze and bosoms. Its central conflict is a straightforward tale of good versus evil, of doing what’s right as opposed to what’s easy. That was clearly the safer route to take with this remake (written by Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk), but it does rob the film of delving into what could have been a richer conversation about what really makes someone “good” or “evil”.
Then again, a more complicated plot may have only detracted from what is an immensely enjoyable ensemble piece. With seven leads, The Magnificent Seven manages to mostly give each a handful of moments to shine and prove their worth, as well as build a believable camaraderie between them. Chisolm and Robicheaux, for instance, share a unique friendship. One a black man the other a former Confederate, but their bond is one forged in a post-Civil War America and representative of people yearning to move past… well, the past. There’s even a great line which sums this up beautifully (and which Washington eloquently delivers): “What we lost in the fire, we’ll find in the ashes.”
The whole cast delivers fantastic performances, from established stars Washington and D’Onofrio (doing a really weird, but also wonderful voice), to relative newcomers Garcia-Rulfo and Sensmeier – who in particular does much with very little. Hawke and Lee make a great pairing as a veteran clearly suffering from PTSD and his close confident helping him through it, playing off each other so well that even glances between them speak volumes. And if you’ve enjoyed Pratt’s work in his recent films, you’ll love his Faraday – not quite Star Lord as a cowboy, but not so far from it either.
There’s also been a lot of attention drawn to the diversity of the film’s title seven, and it’s true that the ensemble is far more diverse than your typical American western. However, the film itself doesn’t really bother to draw much attention to this, which is certainly refreshing. In fact, I’d wager that our impression of the Old West – an impression that definitely comes more from Hollywood than anything else – has been incorrect in its representation. The ethnicities of the lead characters – white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American – are simply the people who would have actually populated much of the American West in the late 19th century. Fuqua’s Magnificent Seven understands this, it understands the importance of representation without feeling like it needs to make a statement about it – it just is.
The action is really spectacular, especially throughout what is a lengthy finale as the seven lead the town in a grand scale defense against Bogue and his men. The horseback riding is really top notch, too, so major props to the stunt team – in particular, whoever doubled for Denzel, because he does some real fancy riding. The gunslinging is also pretty remarkable and you can tell everyone passed their cowboy boot camp with flying colors.
The Magnificent Seven is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. Its stakes feel real and earned, its characters endearing, and though the pace may slow at times, its final act will more than make up for it. The story is simplistic and doesn’t do enough to differentiate from the original, but this is a movie practically anyone could, and likely will, enjoy.