The most obvious advantage of remakes (especially remakes of remakes) is finding modern-day applications for well-known stories. Which is fine, as long as you don’t forget to include everything that made the original good in the first place.
This is the issue that Antoine Fuqua’s remake of The Magnificent Seven has. None of the changes that it makes are wrong, per se; some of them are even quite interesting. (The villain in this movie is very intentionally changed from the original’s Mexican gangster to a white union-busting land developer.) But it’s a film devoid of heart, which shifts focus away from its good ideas to its meaner and uglier ones. As a result, it ends up being not much of anything. It’s another shovelful onto the heaping landfill of angry, angsty anti-heroes that currently chokes the cinematic ecosystem.
After her husband is murdered by the robber baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), Emma Cullen (Hayley Bennett) goes out in search of hired gunslingers to help her take back the mining town she lives in from Bogue and his men. She finds warrant officer Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) who takes the job upon hearing of Bogue’s involvement, and begins to assemble a team of gunslingers and outlaws to help. These include a trick-shot gambler (Chris Pratt), a Comanche warrior (Martin Sensmeier), a notorious outlaw (Manuel Garcia-Ruflo) and a squeaky-voiced mountain man (a hilariously physical Vincent D’Onofrio). Ethan Hawke and Byung-hun Lee round out the cast as Goodnight Robichaux, a confederate sharpshooter with a fear of his past, and his best friend Billy Rocks, an expert knife-wielder. (Hawke sort of plays both the Robert Vaughn and the Brad Dexter roles here.) Together, they train the villagers to fight and prepare for war against Bogue’s men.
You may notice that I described most of those characters by their weaponry, but that’s sort of how this movie treats them. They’re characters in a fighting game, mostly distinguishable by their obvious traits and their special moves. This isn’t to say there aren’t some fun character moments. Lee and Hawke’s Butch-and-Sundance style friendship especially shines, and while it’s hard to describe what exactly D’Onofrio is doing, this movie needs a lot more of it. There’s more screen presence in the first frames of D’Onofrio barreling down a hillside than most of the cast has the whole movie. But the problem is that even though this film is 135 minutes long, there’s still somehow not much opportunity to connect with any of the Seven. And when we do… we kind of don’t want to.
If you expected this film to be a charm-off between Pratt and Washington, you will walk away sorely disappointed. In fact, Pratt’s character is hands-down the worst part of the film. Any attempts to make him seem roguish and dashing just come across as sadistic and mean-spirited. His wittiest moments stem from the strange joy he seems to take in hurting people. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the screenplay comes from True Detective auteur Nic Pizzolatto, but it doesn’t play to Pratt’s strengths, nor does it jive well with the attempts at fun that the other cast members, especially D’Onofrio, are trying. Washington makes an unconvincing hero as well, as the movie saddles him with a half-baked revenge story that it alludes to throughout. By the time it actually comes out, you’ll realize this is yet another family-issues unhappy almost-superhero movie.
Last year I wrote about how the cynicism of Jurassic World reflected disturbingly soulless trends in blockbuster films.
I thought Suicide Squad would be that film this year, but it turns out it’s The Magnificent Seven. (This is further evidence that Chris Pratt isn’t cut out for the aggressively macho cool-guy roles studios keep forcing him into. They want him to be Harrison Ford when he’s more of a fit John Candy.)
I compare the two because like Jurassic World, The Magnificent Seven takes the metaphorical and musical themes of the original and essentially laughs in their faces, while still trying to draw from them. Yes, Yul Brenner’s “doing the right thing because it’s the right thing” mentality is a little cheesy, but is that necessarily a bad thing after a summer which reveled in moodiness? Remember, the original film contains a monologue about how carrying a gun doesn’t make a man brave, but this movie revels in its weaponry and pain-causing instead of any sense of heroism and responsibility. But it also wants us to believe in their friendship and brotherhood. If you’re going to decry the hopefulness of the original film with a darker version, don’t try to play both sides of the aisle here. Batman V Superman isn’t good by any means, but at least it commits to its gimmick.
Ordinarily, I believe it’s silly to get upset over a remake of a beloved film. The presence of an updated version of your favorite movie does not invalidate the original or push it out of existence. But when this The Magnificent Seven closes by playing the bright, shiny, brass notes of the 1960 film’s theme song, it’s hard not to feel a little insulted on that movie’s behalf. (The movie does incorporate the familiar tune into its own score, too – as a heavy-percussion Disturbed-esque THUD THUD THUD THUD) This film does work on many levels, including some exciting and thrillingly-shot action pieces, but as a whole, it doesn’t make us care about any of it. There’s nothing special, or magnificent, about this film, which is a damn shame given the mountain of potential it had,Liked This? Share It!