Magnificent Seven (2016)

Checked out an early showing of the remake of The Magnificent Seven. I won’t spend time comparing this to the 1960s version (itself a remake of an Akira Kurosawa movie) since I don’t have any emotional attachment to that old western. I wills say that I was shocked how much I liked this new film. It’s fun, it’s exciting, its full of iconic imagery, and it has an epic score. It’s well acted and the action scenes are amazing.
Which isn’t to say it’s perfect since, if there’s any one complaint, it’s that the characters are a often a little underwritten. In most of these types of movies, you have X number of characters but only really Y number are the big stars and that’s true here. Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt are clearly the stars and get the lion’s share of the best scenes and dialog. But the rest of the actors do what they can with their parts and, frankly, they all bring more to the movie than what’s written. I can’t tell if it’s deliberately underwritten, or if back-story was cut, or if it’s just sloppy in that regard. But, that said, there is clearly more back-story and hints of characterization than are provided and it doesn’t feel like it’s been chopped up for time.
But all that barely matters since this movie just wants to be an iconic western. It’s not doing anything original or inventive – it’s kind of an old school western with a little modern humor thrown in (hello, Chris Pratt). You’ve seen this plot a dozen times before – small town is being harassed by villains, they send out a small group to recruit some help, the heroes come to town and a fight ensues. That’s the original Magnificent Seven, that’s the Kurosawa Seven Samurai, that’s Battle Beyond the Stars (with John Boy and the boob ship), and that’s even The Three Amigos.
But the thing is, the director (Antoine Fuqua) clearly knows and loves westerns. To say he trades in cliches would be unfair since we don’t get many traditional westerns any more. More likely he’s made a popcorn western that isn’t emotionally nostalgic about the Old West and isn’t cynical and hateful about it either (looking at you, pointless Lone Ranger remake). This both feels refreshingly modern in its pacing and action but very old fashioned at the same time.
There are two fantastic action set pieces in the movie and both have a great suspenseful leadup (the first with a classic stare-down between the heroes and villains). The action all makes sense, it’s shot well, and there’s always a chance our Magnificent Seven may not remain seven (and that some townsfolk we might like could buy the farm too). So it was well filmed but also full of uncertainty and that’s kind of rare.
So, yeah, this is a pretty great action film. It’s not very deep and it could have offered more back-story and characterization but for what it’s trying to do, it knocks it out of the park. I highly recommend this movie for what it is.
Score: 90

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