Remakes get a pretty bad rap in our world. They’re basically blamed as one of the key pieces of evidence of Hollywood’s creative bankruptcy, and one of the sure signs of a cinematic apocalypse. And hey, I’m not going to be the guy who tries to convince you that remakes are a good idea, because generally I don’t think they are, but they aren’t necessarily going to be terrible. By and large they tend to be pretty useless, and end up being nowhere near as good as the original, often begging the question of why they exist. And yeah, that’s a good question most times. At best most remakes tend to just be okay, and not actively bad and damaging to the legacy of the original. I suppose most time the studios decide that there’s some name-recognition in a property, so they remake the movie to avoid coming up with a new property in the hopes that people will pay to watch a new version of a movie that they like. Which seems weird to me, but I’m a guy who thinks that the studios should just re-release movies that they notice are in the zeitgeist again instead of remaking it. I guess people just don’t want to watch an “old” movie and want to see the exact same story with some new actors that they recognize. And look what we have here? A movie exactly like that!
Now, I’m not overly familiar with the original Magnificent Seven, I’ve seen it once, and while I liked it quite a bit it didn’t really some indelible mark on me. I know it’s considered one of the best Westerns of all time, and while I did enjoy it I don’t know if I’d go that far. It’s fun, and lends on the classic Seven Samurai premise that’s a pretty sure-fire formula for a fun genre story. So I wasn’t really that concerned when they announced a remake was coming. It didn’t sound any more or less necessary than any other remake. Honestly it kind of seemed like the right kind of thing to remake. It’s a classic premise, from a movie that’s almost fifty years old, and that could be handled in a new and fresh way while not resorting purely to nostalgia. And, well, that’s not exactly what we got. There was potential to do something new with the movie, to take the Seven Samurai formula and the Western setting and do something fresh with it. But instead we got a perfectly serviceable Western action movie that barely deviated from the plot of the original movie.
Really the only difference between this version of the Magnificent Seven and the original comes right at the beginning, with the central premise. The classic plot revolved around a small farming community being held hostage by a group of Mexican bandits who threaten to come back to the village later and steal all of their food, causing the villagers to request the help of the Magnificent Seven. This time however the threat doesn’t come from bandits, it’s from big business. The town for Rose Creek is being held hostage by an evil robber baron named Batholomew Bogue who wants the townsfolk to basically become his slaves and dig gold for him. So he kills a bunch of villagers, and tells them he’ll be back in a couple months, and if they aren’t ready to dig gold for him, he’ll kill them. But when Bogue and his men leave one of the women widowed by Bogue’s show of force, Emma Cullen, heads out to find someone to stand up for the town. And the man she finds to do that is a black bounty hunter named Sam Chisolm. She manages to convince Chisolm to stand up to Bogue for the town’s sake, and after picking up drunken gambler named Faraday, they get to work forming a team of badasses that can defeat Bogue and his army. So they wander the state, getting all the famous gunslingers that they know. They end up with ‘Goodnight’ Robichaeux the Cajun ex-Confederate, Billy Rocks his Asian knife-wielding assistant, Vasques the Mexican outlaw, Jack Horne a talking bear, and Red Harvest an exiled Comanche hunter.
So once the team is assembled they head to Rose Creek and get to work. They take out the last of Bogue’s men that were holding the town, and send the corrupt sheriff off to tell Bogue what they’ve done. And once that’s taken care of, they assess the pathetic townsfolk and start planning. They know that they won’t have any chance at fighting Bogue’s men head-on, so they alternate between teaching the townsfolk their various skills and setting up a series of elaborate traps to trick Bogue’s men. All while bonding and busting each other’s balls and becoming a well-oiled machine. Which comes in handy when Bogue shows up with a goddamn army, ready to decimate the town. Which is where we get our massive climax here the Seven fight against Bogue’s army, just shooting down scores of men. Things take a turn when Bogue decides to cheat with a Gatling gun, but in the end the Seven are victorious. There’s of course some casualties, with four of the seven losing their lives, but they still manage to kill all of Bogue’s army, and even get down to Chisolm and Bogue for a climactic showdown. Which is where we learn that Chisolm didn’t take this job out of the kindness in his heart, he did it because Bogue once pulled this shit in his small town, and was responsible for the death of his family, and almost his death. So Chisolm gets his revenge, the people of Rose Creek are safe until people learn that they just brutally killed one of the richest men in the country, and the surviving three members of the Seven head off to be buddies in the Wild West.
Yeah, it’s the Magnificent Seven. I wasn’t really anticipating that they were really going to do something different with the story, but I guess I also wasn’t thinking that they’d just play so close to the original. The characters aren’t the same, and for the most party they play on different Western stereotypes, even having people who aren’t white, but the plot was virtually identical. Which was kind of a shame, because for a while I though that they were going to do something interesting with this movie. The idea of changing the villain from a gang of Mexican bandits to an evil industrialist changes the tone of the movie, and makes it more seem like a group of the 99% taking down the 1% all Occupy Wall Street style, but they never really took advantage of that. I for sure thought that we were going to look at how interesting it was that a black man, a Mexican Man, and an American Indian man were helping take down a shitty rich white dude, but they never played with that, to the point that there didn’t really seem to be much point in making the actor’s of different races. No on really reacted to this multicultural band of badasses, which seems odd with the Wild West setting, and seems like a lost opportunity to actually try and say something. Plus, by changing the villain to a well-known industrialist it kind of raises some ethical questions about what the Seven did, because now I would imagine people are going to be asking some questions. Kill a gang of Mexican bandits, and no one will really care. Kill a robber baron, I assume the government may want a word with the people of Rose Creek. Plus, as I mentioned, it felt a little odd that they gave the Chisolm character a personal grudge with Bogue, instead of just being an honorable man standing up for the little guy like the original. It just comes off as a little selfish, especially because he never tells the others that that’s why he convinced them to help.
But there were good aspects of the movie too. Primarily the fact that it was just a good time. I’ve really come to enjoy Westerns over the last couple years, and it’s a shame that we don’t get enough of them. It’s just such a fun and mythic setting that can be mined for all sorts of storytelling, but just the central aesthetic is enough to get me interested. And this movie delivered on that. The central Seven Samurai premise is a solid one, and even though they didn’t do anything special with it, it still holds up as a great story. And hey, it’s a movie were a bunch of charismatic actors hang out, drink, smoke, shoot guns, ride horses, and bust each other’s balls. It’s just great “dude” movie stuff. It had fun action, was well-shot, and despite the fact that I kind of feel like Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt don’t work well in a period-setting, the acting was pretty good. Was it better than the original? No. Did it need to be made? No. But I had a good time with it, and it delivered some fun Western action. And sometimes that’s all I need.
The Magnificent Seven was written by Nick Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk, directed by Antoine Fuqua, and distributed by Columbia Pictures, 2016.
Categories: Reel Talk