The Magnificent Seven (2016) Review
THE SEVEN RIDE AGAIN
Back in 1960s, the western genre was flourishing with Hollywood producing several iconic films such as The Alamo, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and The Good, Bad, and the Ugly. At the time of the decade (1960), director John Sturges presented his feature The Magnificent Seven, a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 Japanese-language film Seven Samurai, but that’s styled in the popular western aesthetic of its time. The film, which starred such famous actors as Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, and many others, followed a group of seven western gunfighters that were hired to protect a Mexican village from band of marauding bandits and their leader. The film didn’t win any filmmaking awards (the score by Elmer Bernstein was nominated at the 33rd Academy Awards, but lost), but, in the years that followed, The Magnificent Seven’s popularity grew, becoming an iconic western feature. The movie was even selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2013 (pretty incredible!). Now, almost 56 years from when it was original release, Columbia Pictures (Sony Pictures) and director Antoine Fuqua revive the western classic for a new generation of moviegoers with the 2016 remake The Magnificent Seven. Does this remake breathe new life into this Western picture or does fall prey to Hollywood’s current problem with rebooting films?
In the remote town of Rose Creek, set shortly after the Civil War, Emma Cullen witnesses the menacing wrath of industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who comes to town with the intention of stripping the land of its gold and terrorizing those who won’t sell their property to him. Seeking vengeance for Bogue’s action, Emma comes across Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), a bounty hunter with prolithic gunfighter skills. Offering the man a small fortune to stand up against Bogue and his marauding army of enforcers, Chisolm elects to gather and build his own team, calling upon the scamp-ish rogue Joshua Faraday (Chris Pratt), the Mexican Outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), the feral tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), ex-sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), and his assassin partner, Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), and a Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). Cleaning out the town of Bogue’s thugs, the gang prepares for the real fight ahead, working to train the remaining residents on how to fight, with some members of Chisolm’s group battling their own demons in the process.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Of course, I do like movies, so I’ve seeing plenty of them. The western genre has always eluded me as I’ve seeing several of them (The Alamo, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and The Good, Bad, and the Ugly and a few other ones), but that’s pretty much it. I do like the genre and plan to see more of it (when I do have the time). Anyway, I remember hearing about Hollywood remaking The Magnificent Seven last year (I’m a huge Chris Pratt so of course I knew I was going to see it). Then when I saw the film’s trailer, it just reconfirmed my anticipation to go and see this movie. Not just for Chris Pratt, but because seeing a western movie in today’s movie world is a “rare gem”, for an average viewer can get bored seeing the usual films these past years (i.e. comedies, horrors, superhero flicks, and “book to film” adaptations). Well, after seeing the movie, I felt that 2016’s The Magnificent Seven, while having its own fair share of problems, is still entertaining with a solid cast and western frivolities.
Anyway, I never saw the original movie that all of this is based on (Seven Samurai), but I just saw the 1960 version of The Magnificent Seven right after I saw the new 2016 version of the same name. Suffice to say that the story is primarily the same, but “tweaked” to present a different story (you definitely can see the parallels of the two). Still, in comparing “apples to apples”, the 2016 version is slightly better, granted that filmmaking has advance since 1960 as well as theatrical acting. So, between the two, I for one like 2016 version of Mag Seven over the 1960 version, but I would never discredit that version. It was (and still is) good for its time.
Directing this 2016 remake of Mag Seven (my abbreviation for The Magnificent Seven) is director Antoine Fuqua, who has directed such films as Training Day, Shooter, The Equalizer, and Southpaw. Mag Seven represents Fuqua first venture into the foray of the western genre and (for the most part) he succeeds in “romancing” the genre, playing the common threads for a new audience. As I said above, the western genre is super-popular in today’s Hollywood’s mainstream movies, so it’s quite refreshing to see one show up like Mag Seven. Because of this, it feels good to reminisce and return to the world of the western genre of bandits, outlaws, gunslingers, and shootouts. It’s also interesting to see that this film as a popcorn flick (a big budgeted studio venture feature). Thus, if you still have the “summer blockbuster blues” then Mag Seven is the movie for you, with large scope in its setting, characters, and action.
During the film’s third act, Fuqua drives the film towards a big battle sequence, using the whole town of Rose Creek (and its surrounding vicinity) as a western battlefield shootout. It’s big, bold, bloody, and brutal, with quite a lot of gun shooting, and deaths (those of cannon fodder and some main characters). Lastly, the film’s looks beautifully. From the costume pieces by designer Sharen Davis, to the “old west” production style by Derek R. Hill (and art direction Sean Ryan Jennings and Leslie McDonald), and to cinematographer Mauro Fiore, these “key” players help bring a very pleasing-looking cinematic world of the “old west”.
I should also like to point out the film’s score, which is composed by James Horner, who recently passed away last year. Prior to his death, Horner started to work on the score and was completed by his friend and sound producer Simon Franglen. While isn’t as palpable as some of his other works (i.e. Braveheart, Titanic, or Avatar), Horner’s music still helps the film with some heroic sounding / western style music, especially during the film’s third act. In addition, at the beginning of the film’s ending credits, you do hear the remastered version of Elmer Bernstein’s theme from the 1960’s The Magnificent Seven. It’s pretty sweet to hear!
Unfortunately, 2016’s Mag Seven isn’t without its faults, some that might deter a viewer from liking the movie. For starters, while presented as a western, the movie speaks to its “modern audience”, with plenty of action violence. As I said, Mag Seven builds to a climactic battle, but feels overlong and overstuffed, making a viewer feel a bit numb and exhausted by the time it finally comes to an end (it did for me). While this may be good thing for some (action / blockbuster movie junkies), it might be a “turn off” for other, citing that Fuqua is trying present a grandiose finale that comes off as just being “big, loud, and noisy”. In addition, while it’s a popcorn flick, Mag Seven doesn’t bring anything to the western film genre. Yes, it’s western flick, with plenty of delightful nuances that go with it, but Fuqua lays out the standard tropes that are commonplace with mostly everyone is familiar with (just now with a large scope and current popular actors). Thus, it becomes apparently by the start of the second act on where the film is heading, following a predictable path of sorts (from plot points to character moments to staging shootouts). To those looking to for “movie escapism”, it may not bother you, but, to those looking for something like an art-house cinematic or something completely new / innovated for the western genre, then the up-to-date remake of The Magnificent Seven isn’t for you.
Another complaint I have is more of personal nitpick with Hollywood. Yes, 2016’s Mag Seven is a remake of a remake, but it is still a remake. In truth, I do like western films, but I rather see something new come out of the genre from today’s Hollywood studios. I mean, if you think about it, several more recent western movies are all remakes of classic westerns films from 2007’s 3:10 to Yuma (originally created in 1957), to 2010’s True Grit (originally created in 1969), and now the same goes with 2016’s The Magnificent Seven. I know these remakes sort of give the narration a “facelift” with the usage of modern Hollywood filmmaking and acting, but I rather see a brand western tale come out from Hollywood rather than an another repurposed remake, especially since the western genre isn’t as popular now as it was then.
The cast in Mag Seven is a solid one, with several big name / recognizable stars from today’s Hollywood. Leading the charge (and probably the two big “ticketed” stars of the film) in the movie are actors Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt. Reuniting with Fuqua (both were in Training Day and The Equalizer), Washington, who has always good at playing a strong lead role, does great in his role of Sam Chisolm. Just as he is a seasoned actor, Washington’s Chisolm is veteran bounty hunter, becoming a defacto leader of the group and showcasing his gun-blazing prowess. Behind Washington is Pratt as the scrappy “gambler” rapscallion Joshua Faraday. While his role Jurassic World was more bit more serious, his role in Mag Seven is a good fit for Pratt, pouring his likable charm and charisma into Faraday, while getting a chance to continue his expansion into more action oriented movies and to have a stronger presence as an actor. As I said above, I’m a huge fan of Pratt, so I loved him in this movie.
Behind Washington and Pratt is actor Ethan Hawke as the ex-sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux. He has several character moments to shine, showing the inner turmoil to his former days of being legendary gunslinger and all the killings he did that which made him famous. Because of these three (Washington, Pratt, and Hawke) are more big name stars than the rest, the three are more pushed to the front of the camera more, while the other four that make up the “seven” don’t get nearly as much as the other three, but still prove effective in the roles (or at least convey enough of what the film wants them to be). Byung-hun Lee is effective as the silent and dangerous assassin individual Billy Rocks, who’s always pair up with Hawke’s Goodnight. Vincent D’Onfrio plays the seasoned tracker Jack Horne, a bear of man, but he seems a bit goofy with a high-pitched voice (I guess Fuqua wanted to create a humorous tone, juxtapose Horne’s voice with his physical stature). However, it’s something that D’Onofrio seems comfortable with and commits to it from onset to conclusion. While barely talking in the movie (a little bit more than Billy) is Martin Sensmeier as the intimidating and lethal Comanche warrior Red Harvest. Lastly, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo is the only character of the “seven” that doesn’t really come into his own (probably the most under-utilized) as the Mexican outlaw Vasquez as he never gets a chance to show any of his charm (he have a few scenes with Pratt’s Faraday) or power “standout” moment”. Regardless, you can tell all the member of the “seven” are having a great and fun working on this movie.
The rest of the cast is played by good actors, but, like other four members out of the seven, are gear towards serving the narration as plot devices to the film. This can be seeing with actor Peter Sarsgaard as the villainous Bartholomew Bogue. The role is well-acted by Sarsgaard, showing off his “evil” side, but the character itself is nothing truly great and nothing new that we’ve seen before as stereotypical rich / power hungry villain archetype. The same goes for actress Haley Bennett as the ex-widower Emma Cullen. Bennett looks pretty (can’t wait to see her the upcoming movie The Girl on the Train) and does prove her Emma’s worth by fighting alongside with the “Seven” in the big battle finale, but her character is more of a catalyst to the movie. Other notable supporting players in Mag Seven include Luke Grimes as Teddy Q, a somewhat friendly companion to the “Seven” and to Emma, Cam Gigandlet as McCann, an enforcer to Bogue, and Matt Bomer’s brief appearance as Emma’s husband Matthew Cullen.
The seven western gunslingers ride again in the 2016 remake of The Magnificent Seven. Director Antoine Fuqua newest film does indeed have its cinematic charm that’s shot (and presented) beautifully along with an impressive cast and western genre nuances. However, the movie does it flaws, especially with its predictable plot, overdrawn third act showdown, and lack of character development for certain roles. Personally, I thought the movie was good. Yes, it wasn’t perfect (wasn’t completely blown away by it) and didn’t bring anything new (per-say) to the western genre (and yes it was another current Hollywood remake), but it was a tried and true popcorn flick that deliver on entertaining with some western-action thrills. I will say that I do “recommend” this movie for multiple reasons (whether you’re a fan of the cast, big budgeted films or westerns), but I will also say that it’s an “iffy choice” as some might not like it, especially those who had high hopes for the movie or who still hold the 1960 version close to their heart. Whatever your stance on the movie is, the 2016 version The Magnificent Seven is still a western movie, a sort of a “refresher” in changing the pace of Hollywood’s current movie lineup of superhero blockbusters, horror flicks, and “page to screen” films.
3.9 Out 5 (Recommended / Iffy Choice)
Released On: September 23rd, 2016
Reviewed On: September 24th, 2016
The Magnificent Seven is rated PG-13 for extended and intense sequences of Western violence, and for historical smoking, some language and suggestive material