I regretfully admit that I have not yet seen the 1960 version of The Magnificent Seven (which was originally based on Akira Kurosawa's 1954 Japanese classic, Seven Samurai). In fact, the whole western genre is a bit of a blind spot for me. However, the positive is that I can look at Antoine Fuqua's (Training Day, The Equalizer) remake with fresh eyes rather than compare it to the original. Apparently I'm in good company - the film's star, Denzel Washington, citing similar reasoning, didn't see the original either.
The plot is relatively simple. Set in 1879, Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) and his gang roll into town and demand the townsfolk sell their land to him at a cut price. He gives them three weeks to comply before he comes back and takes the town by force. Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) and her friend Teddy Q (Luke Grimes) head out to a nearby town to enlist help. There they find Warrant Officer Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), who in turn, enlists six other guns for hire (Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke among them). Together they nut out a battle plan before Bogue and his heavies return. You can imagine what happens next.
So, how do we justify this remake? Why now? Was there something new and fresh to be told, or was it simply a commercial cash grab? I can see the thinking - conjure up a familiar but compelling plot worthy of recycling, add some heavy hitting actors, and we might just have a hit on our hands. This rationale is fine, but if you're deciding not to tread on new ground then it puts a heavy onus on "entertainment".
Here, unfortunately entertainment took a back seat to box ticking. Variation of ethnicities and backgrounds - tick. Stage it like the original classic - tick. Ensure a big finale - tick. Get big name actors - tick. All boxes were checked successfully, yet this film still felt vacuous. The variation of ethnicities felt like they were meeting quotas, with little opportunity given to explore their rich backgrounds. The result left me with a seven that was more "meh"gnificent than magnificent. The staging was so drawn-out and overemphasised it felt too heavy-handed. The long and overcooked finale was a path of violence that left a town so devastated it was barely recognisable. I had to ask myself what the point was. Perhaps Fuqua was angling for a cynical view of violence as a tool to solve disputes. Who knows? Moreover, who cares ... I certainly didn't.
Star rating: 2/5