The Magnificent Seven

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Chris Pratt in The Magnificent Seven. (AP)
Chris Pratt in The Magnificent Seven. (AP)


The Magnificent Seven


4/5 Stars


A remake of the classic western (which itself was a remake of the even more classic Seven Samurai), seven gunslingers are called to protect a town from a vicious crime boss who is trying to bully them out of their homes.


Remaking classic films always strikes me as a rather stupid idea because, no matter how good the remake, it always struggles to escape the shadow of its predecessor. This, incidentally, is why it always makes much more sense to remake mediocre or highly flawed movies, as that way you can rely on an existing property but you might actually have a chance of transcending your source. See horror classics like The Fly or The Thing to view first hand just how well this works when done properly.

When it comes to remaking The Magnificent Seven, though, things are rather more complicated. Not only was the original itself a remake (though this is actually one of the rare cases when it can actually be called a “reimagining”) but it was one that, though still a quality piece of work, is very much a product of its time and does, dare I say it, look quite dated to modern eyes.   

This perhaps might explain why the new Magnificent Seven, though seriously flawed in one or two aspects, is actually a very successful remake and a really solid film in its own right.

Its flaws mostly have to do with the usual modern-blockbuster problem of the final act being essentially a very, very long action scene that can't help but become somewhat monotonous as it goes along. In this case, it's not as well handled as the first Avengers film but is much, much better than something like any one of those interminable Transformers movies. More unforgivable, though, is that it only it only uses Elmer Bernstein's unforgettable theme right at the end of the film. I mean, the late James Horner's (sadly final) score is pretty terrific in its own right but the wait for those classic notes to start playing was cruel torture.

What's really interesting, though, isn't why the film fails when it does but how and why it succeeds. Part of it, unquestionably, has to do with just how timeless and archetypal the basic Seven Samurai story is so, to be fair, Antoine Fuqua and screenwriters Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto would have had to work pretty hard to screw it up. 

What sets this version of The Magnificent Seven apart, though, is its mix of a really old-fashioned aesthetic with the more modern idea of “diversity”. It's a trick that worked for the new Ghostbusters and it's a trick that arguably works even better here. 

To lay all my cards on the table, though I admire what the current diversity movement is trying to do, I often find that it adds up to little more than heavy handed tokenism that's more about appeasing so-called “social justice warriors” than truly trying to reflect the world around them. The Magnificent Seven, however, uses its multicultural cast not just to make a statement but as something that adds several new layers to the story that simply wasn't there in the all straight, white, alpha-male cast of the original – though, admittedly, no one is quite as peculiar a screen presence as Yul Brynner.

The fact that The Magnificent Seven is comprised of a black man, an Asian and, most pertinently, a Native American adds a whole new dimension to it when you consider its setting. The film already does plenty to diversify the utterly wonderful cast in terms of their personalities and backgrounds (I don't really need to spell out just how great people like Ethan Hawke, Chris Pratt, Vincent D'Noffrio and the always brilliant Denzel Washington but the lesser known actors are just as good) and even adds a prominent female role into the mix (Haley Bennet, very good as a sort of mix between Jennifer Lawrence and Brit Marling) but their racial and ethnic differences really does give it an extra push.

Interestingly, though, for all that this does add a more modern flavour to the film and the general quippiness of the dialogue clearly owes at least something to Marvel's superhero movies (indeed, The Magnificent Seven is hardly a million miles away from a superhero movie in the first place) but there's also something refreshingly old fashioned about it.

The western has had a real renaissance in recent years but whether it's the Coen Brothers Coens-ing the hell out of True Grit or the upcoming and utterly brilliant Hell or High Water deconstructing everything we take for granted about the Western, it also hasn't really been allowed to kick back and just revel in its own generic trappings. The Magnificent Seven, though perhaps more stylish than many a classic Western thanks to Fuqua's more distinctive directorial voice, clearly has tremendous fun playing with all those old Western trappings and ends up feeling like it could have come from any time in the past thirty years (albeit not from the last sixty).

Ultimately, for all that it's gotten a serious kicking from many a critic, The Magnificent Seven is easily one of the most satisfying blockbusters of the year. It's way fresher than it has any right to be and features a cast that easily rivals and often surpasses the originals but it's worth seeing first and foremost simply because it is a tremendously good time at the cinema. And considering just how boring and dour many of this year biggest films have been (hello Suicide Squad and BvS!) that's no small thing.


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