The Magnificent Seven (2016)
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In this compelling remake, the Old West film genre lives on exactly how it’s supposed to be.
Written by Alex Kruse
Before I begin this review, I’m going to point out that The Magnificent Seven, as a whole, is one of my favorite stories ever to have been told in all its forms. I loved the original Seven Samurai, I loved the anime version, I loved the classic Western films, and I especially loved the short-lived television series that was fashioned after the classic Yul Brenner movie. I love it so much that the first thing I did when I moved to Los Angeles was to set up and run a Mag 7 convention, a fan convention that successfully ran for three years. So, yeah, major fangirl over here.
Needless to say, I was equal parts excited, equal parts skeptical when I first learned that a remake was being done. As always with content that you love, you get a little nervous when you see someone “touching your things” because there’s always the risk of them screwing it up in your eyes. However, considering how many times I’ve seen this particular plot get made, I was mostly on the excited end. It’s kind of hard to mess up the simple concept of seven guys getting hired to save a lowly village from a villain. Hard, but not impossible.
Lucky for me, this newest iteration of the story did not do the impossible. It was, in fact, everything that I could’ve wanted. The filmmakers didn’t try to retell the story using the same iconic characters, but rather made new versions of them with different pasts and personalities, but still carrying traits that were recognizable to the hardcore fans of all the remakes.
Our leading man, this time played by Denzel Washington, was still the mysterious “man in black” in search of revenge for his lost family, while everyone else was sort of a mashup of the characters as have been portrayed in the various mediums over entertainment history. Chris Pratt, the right-hand-man in this particular retelling, was a delight as the token wily gambler of the bunch, but bringing to the role a sense of loyalty to the cause that the previous rogues often struggled with. Joining those two were Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Lee Byung-hun, and Martin Sensmeier, nicely rounding out the rest of the seven and presenting themselves as the perfect band of misfits who in no way should’ve been able to function together, but who somehow excelled at making it work.
Aside from the guys, it was also fantastic to see that our leading lady, portrayed by Haley Bennett, was neither intended to be used as the film’s love interest nor as a damsel in need of saving. There were certainly moments when the men attempted flirtation with her, but as a recent widow and a strong survivor of the perils that the Old West often presented, she was having none of that from anyone. As Sam Chisolm (Denzel’s character) said in the film, the boys worked for her, and she was shown the proper respect as their employer and not as just some woman who needed saving.
The other aspect I liked about the film was that they didn’t dwell too much on the racial messages they were subtly trying to get across. The filmmakers chose to cast a black man as the lead in this retelling in a time period where people of color were still very much looked down upon. That fact, however, was only addressed briefly in Chisolm’s introduction, and not something that became a shoved-down-your-throat PR message throughout the rest of the film. It was the same with the other relationships that formed throughout the movie--the Asian man (Lee) loyally bonded to an ex-Confederate soldier (Hawke), who was also easily capable of forming friendships with Vasquez (a man of Mexican descent) and Chisolm, both of whom were enemies he fought against in the Civil War; the indian headhunter (D’Onofrio) poking fun at but ultimately palling around with the young Comanche warrior (Sensmeier); the hot-blooded man of original Irish descent (Pratt) at first at odds with and then ultimately close friends with Vasquez--all of them ultimately coming together for nothing more than the sake of a simple town of farmers who just wanted to survive in a home they built up with their own hands and free will. The hidden message of looking past differences for a higher cause was neatly tucked into the actions the characters portrayed in a touching way, which made it come through far louder than it would’ve had it been dragged through the proverbial dust every second of the film.
Then, of course, we have the Western movie camp. Were the accents great? No. Pratt may as well have been pulling a Kevin Costner from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves with how all over the place he was with his speech patterns. Vasquez is actually Mexican and somehow his Mexican accent still seemed fake a few times, as if he was trying to lay it on a little thicker than was necessary. Red Harvest’s entire introduction scene was so Native American movie cliche I could’ve rolled my eyes, and D’Onofrio’s character had a sort of roly poly air about him that had me laughing every time he was onscreen despite how violent and dangerous he could become. The gunplay was completely unrealistic, the stunts on horseback were only done for pure flash, and the villain (played by Peter Sarsgaard) was so villainy I was waiting for a curly mustache to suddenly sprout on his face just so he could twirl it.
And I loved every freakin’ second of all of that! It was classic Western movie-making at its finest.
All in all, this remake had everything I could’ve hoped for in not only a Western film that was made to emulate my favorites of the past, but also as another respectful nod to the telling of the original Magnificent Seven story. The cast was brilliant, the pacing was superb, the plot was kept appropriately simple, and the soundtrack was on point. Not gonna lie, when the token Mag 7 theme song played at the end (after having been very subtly interjected into the soundtrack throughout the film), I felt tears well up in my eyes.
It was nothing short of perfection in this fan’s eyes, and as soon as the DVD comes out I’ll be more than thrilled to add it to my Magnificent Seven Shrine.