Review: ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (2016) (brother, can you spare a villain?)

Seven heroes vs. half a bad guy; guess who’ll win.

The small Midwest mining town of Rose Creek is under the thumb of Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), a thin-skinned businessman who enjoys purchasing the loyalty of men… and destroying any who refuse him. After her husband Matthew (Matt Bomer) is murdered as an example of slighting Bogue, his widow Emma (Haley Bennet) sets out to buy her revenge. Coincidentally all in close proximity yet blissfully unaware of the goings on, the widow hires seven mercenaries — Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt), Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) — outlaws, gamblers, and bounty hunters all. Will these inexplicably random folk be able to come together into a battle-hardened force to mount a counter-offensive against an inconvenienced Bogue and his small army of hired goons? Hint: the title’s a big clue.

The premise here is more than just contrived; it’s absurd. It’s also a remake, but so was the original — based upon Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 film Seven Samurai. The trailers gloss over the recruitment to cut straight to the gunfighting, explosions, and stunt work. It’s looks interesting but not particularly exceptional; sure it’s a money grab, but does the story have anything more to say in 2016 than it did in 1960? Is this really a timeless tale or just a tired retread?

Say what you will about the reasons this movie exists — more than anything probably due to a couple of Oscar nominated and winning films last year set upon the Western frontier — but you can’t deny it’s the most culturally diverse version to date. The one significant woman in the cast steps up but is thankfully not the object of any ridiculous romantic entanglements; the story stays focused on pushing back against their one-dimensional tyrannical foe. Having no villain to speak of hurts the movie, plus a fair chunk of time is spent recruiting our seven anti-heroes in the first place. With so many personalities and characters, there’s little time for any standout performances… or a standout film.

That said: it isn’t bad, either. Antoine Fuqua, who directed both Washington and Hawke together in the tense crime drama Training Day, has assembled a slick production that gives each character their shining moment whether earned or fated. You’ll probably think less of this remake if you’ve seen the original or even the original-original, but it’s worthwhile if you just need a Western flick fix or are a fan of any or all of these actors.

The Magnificent Seven 2016 is rated PG-13. While this may no longer be the golden age of Hollywood westerns, is it too much to ask to stop remaking the classics and come up with something new? No, it doesn’t have to be Cowboys and Aliens either (although it is a guilty pleasure). Come on, now — if Quentin Tarantino can figure this out…

3 Skull Recommendation Out of Four

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