When Hollywood is not busy making remakes of old movies, it is busy pandering to demands for diversity by making tokenist gestures that sometimes end up either making sense or just flat out overkill to the point of …well, pointlessness. In The Magnificent Seven, it kind of did both.
TM7 is a remake of the John Sturges directed 1960 remake of legendary Japanese Director, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. That bit satisfies Hollywood’s ongoing penchant for remakes arising mainly out of a bankruptcy of original ideas for movies.
The pandering to demands for diversity comes in the form of Antoine Fuqua helming the remake with Denzel Washington (looking more like Fred Williamson from a 70s blaxploitation movie ) filling the Yul Brynner role from the original American remake and the trio of Martin Sensmeier, Byung-hun Lee and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo rounding up the diversity-bow coalition of inclusiveness that the conventional wisdom of today’s political correctness demands.
As with all western movies, the storyline is simple and straightforward even if formulaic. A ruthless industrialist (partial to the philosophical dichotomy between capitalism and democracy) overruns and takes over a mining town with his goons. A woman widowed in the wake enlists the help of a bounty hunter and his merry band (sorry, diversified band) of renegade do-gooder heroes to take back the town.
Antoine Fuqua brought nothing new or any twist to this well-worn formula for making western movies. If anything, he played it out like he was handed the recipe book and he followed it by exact measurement of ingredients as prescribed.
There was the opening take over, the engagement of the lead hero (after some initial reluctance), the obligatory recruitment of the diversified band of heroes, the prepping of the scaredy cat town folk for the impending showdown with the bad guys (complete with the frontier version of the Braveheart pep talk ), the showdown and the eventual ride off into the sunset.
Even with a 2 hour plus running time, the characters and their backstories seemed too hurriedly and conveniently put together. Like a hurried processing of wine from grape harvest to serving of the wine, the final product wasn’t allowed to properly ferment in order to imbue it with all the nuances to make it vintage.
Perhaps, flashbacks could have provided some much needed perspective to our protagonists’ backgrounds and back stories. Even the hint at a history between lead protagonist, Denzel Washington’s Sam Chisolm and antagonist, Peter Sarsgaard’s Bartholomew Bogue seemed a little too convenient, contrived and almost beggars belief. Ethan Hawke’s Goodnight Robicheaux’s and Byung-Lee’s Billy Rock’s frontier bromance needed more than just a passing explanation to secure believability.
This was Washington’s first western. His performance was safe, predictable and devoid of the stiff-lipped and menancing angry black man shtick that have characterised the roles that have endeared him to most fans of his work. His southern drawl and twang did not come off as natural and in some scenes, they seemed to disappear.
Chris Pratt, perhaps, got the best lines in the script and drew the most laughs. However, he couldn’t shake off reminiscences of his characters, Owen Grady in Jurassic world and Star Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy as he seems cursed to reprise them (or at least hints at shades of them) in every movie he is in.
The ever brilliant Vincent D’Onofrio was arguably the standout performance in this remake but too little screen time and lines deprived him of the chance to deliver a more impressive performance. He has continued to show range and abilities in his performances that are as impressive as his physical size.
As the sole female lead in the cast, Haley Bennett’s Emma Cullen was as pivotal to the movie as the stand upon which the bad guys’ gaitling gun was mounted. After facilitating the recruitment of the protagonist rescuer heroes, she pretty much faded into irrelevance.
As designated villain, Sarsgaard showed promises of being an utterly vile and cold-hearted antagonist from his opening scene in the church but this quickly fizzled to the point of ridiculous cowardice ironically in the final church scene. But come on; a man who had no qualms having his goons set a church ablaze in the opening scene suddenly pleads with his adversary not to dare kill him in God’s house?
M7 was set in a landscape that is sure to set off those fond of western/cowboy movies on a nostalgic trip to the days when such movies were the rage. The sweeping shots of the frontier plains and mountainous landscape brought a striking realism that heightened the viewing experience.
The fight scenes were impressive, well choreographed and edited but the gunshots seemed to lack the twanging echoes of such western classics as The Good, The Bad and and The Ugly. The acoustic effects of the Gatling machine gun rapid fire left you wanting more but sadly; the two instances it was used were insufficient to satisfy that craving.
TM7 did not justify why a remake of the original remake had to be made. The diversification of its cast was as pointless as the remake itself. But it will leave you entertained and nostalgic for the glory days of western movies. It was an enjoyable but most certainly not a magnificent seven.