Why does Hollywood plague the innocent moviegoing public with endless remakes of beloved films?
“The Magnificent Seven” would have been a decent movie as recently as three years ago. But “Magnificent Seven” finds itself in the unenviable position of being a remake in an age starved of original content with “Ghostbusters,” “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” “Blair Witch,” “Jungle Book,” “Point Break,” “RoboCop,” “Ben-Hur,” and countless other remakes of recent years flooding the film industry.
The original 1960 Western classic was, itself, already a nearly shot-for-shot remake of the Kurosawa masterpiece “Seven Samurai,” but if anything the 1960 original was a remake with charm. Despite the familiarity of many elements and characters, the change in setting breathed new life into the story and gave the film its own identity. The 2016 film does not have that as an asset, as it maintains the Western setting of the original.
That is not to say that 2016’s “Magnificent Seven” is a total ripoff of its source material, as there are a variety of changes that the team behind the film made to differentiate this film from those that came before it. However, these very changes only serve to make the film more cliché and dull. The movie would have been better served just using the script of the 1960 version than going the direction that it did.
It is not fair to judge a remake in comparison to the original, though, as what is important is that a film can stand on its own merits. In this regard, “The Magnificent Seven” stands alone as one of the finest warnings for modern Hollywood: don’t make any more Westerns. Director Antoine Fuqua fails to make the film even moderately interesting, as the action feels rote and the dialogue wooden.
Denzel Washington, being the excellent actor he is, gives an eminently watchable performance in the lead role of Sam Chisolm, the gold-hearted, steely-eyed leader of the titular group. The rest of the team includes an impressive attempt at diversity with the hispanic Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), the Comanche Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), the Chinese Billy Rocks (played by Korean actor Lee Byung-hun), and a few others. This would be progress, had any of these characters gotten development beyond the fact that one is a Mexican, one is a Native American and one is Chinese. None of the other six members of the eponymous Seven are anywhere near as charismatic as Denzel Washington, and the film suffers for it.
Indeed, it seems that the titular Magnificent Seven are anything more than the “Mediocre Seven,” though even that may be lauding them beyond their entertainment value.
Although it is unfair to compare the 2016 version with the vastly superior 1960 version, it does bear mentioning that the story is heavily streamlined. Instead of the morally ambiguous conflict in Mexico that the original film has, this film is very much about America. The Mexican bandit leader who served as the main antagonist of the 1960 version is out, replaced by an American industrialist, named Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who is essentially the villain from “Blazing Saddles” played straight.
He is both laughably evil and pathetically unsubtle, and it is hard not to recall the tact and subtlety that the 1960 version had. Even though it is 133 minutes long, the film fails to convey even an iota of the complexity of the 128 minute original.
The best thing I can say about this movie is that it is technically a complete film. In every other measure, this film is a failure of a remake. It does not stand as an enjoyable film on its own, it does not retell the original story with grace or provide new perspectives on the original tale nor does it change the story in a successful way, and worst of all it has come along after “Lone Ranger,” “True Grit,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Creed” and other action-packed remakes.
There is nothing new or interesting to be seen here. Go see “Deepwater Horizon,” or really anything else in theaters today. Or better yet, just watch the original.
Final score: 33/100