There’s no point arguing about the necessity of certain remakes. They’re here to stay, and that’s all there is to it. What can be debated, however, is if a remake manages to work on its own terms. In that sense, “The Magnificent Seven” comes up short, never getting out of the shadow of its superior original incarnation. There’s occasional fun to be had, but the cliches come hot and heavy, choking the good times. Director Antoine Fuqua seems to like tackling this genre almost too much, as he never has a strong handle on the material. It looks and feels not like a Western, but like a remake of one. Unfortunately, it detracts something from this version of “The Magnificent Seven” and prevents it from succeeding.
“The Magnificent Seven” is obviously a classic and itself a remake of sorts, so this isn’t inherently a cinematic sin. Still, it’s clear that this only exists because the name is an existing property. As much a Denzel Washington vehicle as anything else, it’s a competent action flick that just happens to be a Western. Unfortunately, Fuqua and Washington did better work last time out with their remake of “The Equalizer.” This one is bigger, for sure, but not on the same level. There’s a bit of style on display, but no substance, making for an ultimately hollow experience in the end.
With regards to the plot, things have been more or less simplified into one long set-up for an action set piece. The town of Rose Creek is being terrorized by gold baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who wants their land. Initially, it’s just minute pressure, along with insulting financial offers. The town is trying to figure out a course of action when Bogue and his lackeys show up with a last offer. When Bogue kills the husband of Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) after a confrontation and plans to return to take the town by force, she sets out for justice, with a side order of revenge.
Emma begins recruiting an army to defend the town, with the help of Teddy Q (Luke Grimes). They start with the mysterious Sam Chisolm (Washington), making him an offer he can’t refuse. In short order, they also pick up the sarcastic Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), followed by the legendary Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and his cohort Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee). From there, they wind up with seven when Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) are added to the mix. Then, it’s time to go back to Rose Creek and wait for Bogue. Eventually, it comes down to a giant gunfight, just as you’d expect.
When you have a cast led by Washington and supported by a group including Pratt, there are going to be some nice moments. They both are solid, utilizing their charm and action chops, but neither has to do too much here. The same goes for Hawke, just with less screen time. The rest of the cast is pretty much wasted, especially Bennett, D’Onofrio and Sarsgaard. Garcia-Rulfo, Grimes, Lee and Sensmeier just don’t leave a mark. Other supporting players include Matt Bomer, Cam Gigandet and more, but it’s all about Pratt and Washington here. They’re the only ones you really wind up caring about, if only to a small degree.
Fuqua is not a subtle filmmaker. He’s no Akira Kurosawa or John Sturges, though he might be more of a crowd pleaser than either of those legends. Still, Fuqua’s take leaves something to be desired. It’s not as instantly memorable as Sturges’ version of “The Magnificent Seven,” and it’s also nowhere near as profound as Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai,” though I concede that it’s not trying to be. Fuqua gets solid work from cinematographer Mauro Fiore along with composers Simon Franglen and James Horner. At least on a technical level, this is on fairly solid ground.
A chief failing for this version of “The Magnificent Seven” is found in its screenplay. Fuqua competently shoots what scribes Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk put on the page, but it’s never elevated. Certain lines, especially ones given to Pratt, bring a chuckle, but by and large this is rote stuff. You’ll forget everything that happened moments after the credits roll. Stock villains and one-note heroes are a cliche, and unless you add something to the mix, it gets old in a hurry. Nothing that the group comes up with here justifies its long runtime. It’s never bad, but it just kind of sits there for much of the running length.
Essentially, “The Magnificent Seven” is a garden variety action epic, just given the trappings of the Western. The name might mean something to you, but it shouldn’t be a sing of quality. This is a passably entertaining film that benefits from low expectations. Given the cast and talent assembled, it should have been better. “The Magnificent Seven” isn’t worth ignoring, but it’s not worth seeking out either.
“The Magnificent Seven” is distributed by Columbia/Sony Pictures and hits theaters Sept. 23.