Critics weren’t overly kind to “Mag 7”, the remake of A Bug’s Life which was the remake of Battle Beyond The Stars which was the remake of Magnificent Seven which was a remake of Seven Samurai… (you get the point), but I guess trying to catch lightning in a bottle by duplicating the perennial bank holiday favorite was as smart as trying to remake The Great Escape. But as you may or may not have noticed from my semi-cynical list of movies above that creates a sort of disjointed family tree that sprung out of Kurosawa’s original Samurai classic, maybe we shouldn’t be overly precious about such things…
Antoine (Training Day, Olympus Has Fallen) Fuqua’s do-over, starring frequent collaborator Denzel Washington, seemed good on paper, especially when taking into consideration the embarrassment of riches that is the cast list, but did the movie score a magnificent seven or above?
Psychotic land baron Bartholomew Bogue offers the townsfolk of Rose Creek a pittance for their properties and then ups his sales pitch by burning their church and shooting a bunch of people when he doesn’t get the response he wanted. Wanting vengeance, justice, or something inbetween, the recently widowed Emma Cullen heads out to search for bounty hunters to help liberate the town and stumbles upon the notoriously sharply dressed U.S. Marshall, Sam Chisholm who agrees after hearing of Bogue’s involvement.
Chisholm switches to recruitment mode in order to find men willing to stand up to a army and starts with boozy sharpshooter Joshua Faraday, who fires out quips faster than he can bullets and Vasquez, a redemption seeking outlaw. Next on the list is fragile Confederate sniper Goodnight Robicheaux, his knife twirling buddy Billy Rocks and Jack Horne, a hulking specimen who puts the big into big game hunter. Rounding out the group is Comanche warrior Red Harvest and the seven men follow Emna back to Rose Creek in order to first rout Bogue’s men stationed there and then train the townsfolk how to fight before the inevitable retaliation comes.
With only a week to get these tenderfoots ready for battle, the seven bond thanks to vast amounts of manly banter and mutual respect – but underneath everyone’s confident expressions cracks are beginning to show. The townsfolk are, to be fair, awful at picking up the required skills needed to not become bullet ridden corpses and worse yet, Goodnight is suffering from severe trauma from his time at war and can’t even put his rifle to his shoulder without having a panic attack.
Which of the seven, if any, will survive Bogue’s violent push back and what will the ultimate fate of the people of Rose Creek be?
Like I said earlier, critics had their revolvers out for this remake and for the suprisingly awkward first half they aren’t far wrong; you see, this attempt to put a highly diverse spin on a legendary classic is very much a game of two halves, one disappointingly slapdash, the other chock full of rootin’, tootin’ giddy glee.
The assembling of the group is the weak part which is weird as the introducing of such a disparate group of oddballs should be where the film gallops, however, characters literally just wander in and sign up to this proposed suicide mission without batting much of an eyelid. Even weirder, the cast is crazy strong but oddly underutilised; Denzel Washington, featuring in his first out and out western, looks fucking resplendent in his jet black waistcoat, rogueish sideburns and obsidian stallion but sleepwalks his enigmatic gunslinger through proceedings much like his role in The Equaliser. Chris Pratt brings a huge likeability factor to his swaggering card shark, saddled with a drinking problem that isn’t exactly adressed as a problem but freed of anything even remotely resembling an arc. Ethan Hawke’s PTSD plagued war legend on the other hand crackles with gallows humor and fragile masculinity while Byung-Hung Lee twirls a mean knife as his sidekick and Vincent D’Onofrio, once given space, is fun as his child-like mountain of a mountain man; but the the Legolas-style arrow flinging Native American and the smooth talking outlaw mexican all but disappear in the huddle which sort of makes a slight mockery of the diversity angle somewhat… There’s the distinct whiff in the air of scenes mercilessly pruned for pacing that would have benefited every single one of the seven, not to mention Peter Sarsgaard’s dead eyed villain whose appropriately verbose yet doesn’t seem to have anything new to say – and as for the townsfolk… only Haley Bennett’s vengeful wife manages to make an impact but thankfully it’s a sizable one.
And then… Then the second half kicks in, or should I say more accurately, the truly rambunctious finale. I’m an utter sucker for morally lost scumbags turning over new leaves and hurling themselves in front of the bullets of bad men for the greater good while soaking up lead like they all have magnetic ribcages (wait, is lead magnetic? Screw it, don’t care) and this is something this Magnificent Seven has in spades – newly righteous men sacrificing themselves for the honor of a most excellent death. Just think of the last 20 minutes of carnage that Saving Private Ryan blessed us with during its climax and then transport it to the old West while swapping commandos for cowpokes and you’re not too far off.
While the barn bursting climax may not elevate the stodgy beginning to the status of The Good, The Bad And The Ugly or the original movie, it does admittedly slot in nicely to the fun, throwaway Westerns of the ninties like Sam Raimi’s deliriously fun The Quick And The Dead or the gruff toughness of Tombstone.
Magnificent? Not quite, no, but with a director’s cut this could be more than passable – and although that wouldn’t exactly make a good title, it would bring us slightly closer to seventh heaven. At least they had the common sense to keep the theme tune…