Remakes are a tricky proposition with many people shunning the idea all together as “unoriginal” or “a cash grab”. I don’t fully agree with those sentiments, as I already mentioned in an earlier blog, and so I like to go into each one with an open mind. So how does the newest remake The Magnificent Seven stack up?
The original 1960 Magnificent Seven is considered a classic film and is easily one of my favorite Westerns. With its great ensemble cast anchored by Yul Brynner, and including Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson, it was a fun Western with a hearty amount of character and solid acting. The film even went on to spawn three sequels and a surprisingly enjoyable TV show in the late ‘90s starring Michael Biehn and Ron Perlman. However, the original 1960 film isn’t so original itself.
In 1954, we received one of the most iconic and influential films of all time – Seven Samurai. Some consider this to be the first action movie though it certainly doesn’t feel like it by today’s standards. Akira Kurosawa, one of the most important directors in modern cinema, delivered a tale of seven samurai, each with his own distinct personality and specialty, as they work together to defend a poor village from bandits. The characters were well-crafted and unique, the acting was top notch, and the writing and directing were superb.
The 1960 remake carried over the high quality from the original, only it turned in the swords for guns, and instead of samurai, they were cowboys. This made it more digestible for American audiences who were (and still are, much to my chagrin) hesitant about watching subtitled movies. The characters between the two films were largely the same, as were the plot points, resulting in two great versions of the same story. That is where this newest remake, or perhaps we should call it a re-remake, deviates from what came before it by taking some of the similar plot elements and story beats and inserting somewhat different characters.
The story of the new Magnificent Seven finds the small town of Rose Creek being strong-armed by shady land baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) who wants their land for himself. The town resists his paltry offer for their land, resulting in Bogue killing a few of the locals and burning down their church, warning them that he’ll be back in three weeks. One of the townsfolk Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), whose husband was killed by Bogue, and her friend Teddy Q (Luke Grimes) take a bag of money and search for help in defending the town.
They come across warrant officer Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) who agrees to join them once he finds out Bogue is behind the town’s misery. He is able to recruit another six men, all with varying talents, personalities and backgrounds and together they put it all on the line to protect Rose Creek and take down Bogue once and for all.
The basics of the story are very reminiscent of Seven Samurai and the original Magnificent Seven but aside from seven strangers coming together to defend a helpless town from a larger force, this doesn’t feel much like those films. One big difference that struck me is that in the prior movies, it is made clear that the troubled village has little-to-nothing to their name and, as such, cannot really offer to pay much of anything for the services of these men. This makes their decision to stick it out and help that much more selfless and heroic. Here, there is an unnamed sum of money (referred to as everything they have) being offered to the Seven. It was basically a saddle bag full of money and I never got the impression that it was an insultingly small amount, as it was with the originals.
Additionally, the motive for the villain is different. In both Seven Samurai and the original Magnificent Seven, the antagonist and his army were basically raiders who kept ransacking the town in question. Here, Bogue is a rich and greedy businessman that wants to create a business empire on the backs of the little people with Rose Creek just being another stepping stone in a long line of many. Not only is the antagonist a bit different, the titular Seven are as well.
First off, it’s not just the Seven who are the heroes. Emma, and to a lesser extent Teddy, receive a fair amount of focus, almost as if they are unofficially a part of the group as we periodically see them during the final showdown assisting in the fight. The development they receive also seems to take away from some of the others. For instance, we barely get any development for Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), the Native American member of the group who is the last to join the Seven and is given the least motivation to do so.
The main question here is- how good is this new film? Well, it’s not an instant classic but it is a heck of a lot of fun. It is an action-packed modern western with explosions, a high body count and lots of shooting. The acting is typically great and the action is fun. The movie does suffer from a lack of focus on some of the Seven with Chisolm and Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) receiving the heaviest characterization and development, whereas Red Harvest and Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) have paper-thin motivation and characterization with minimal development.
While not an identical remake of the prior films, The Magnificent Seven follows a similar enough formula while giving us a different feeling film. It ups the action quality and tweaks some of the character details while telling the classic story of an outnumbered ragtag group banding together to protect a defenseless town but sadly, it doesn’t live up to the potential of what came before it. The action is fun enough but not spectacular. Also, some of the titular Seven feel a bit underdeveloped, perhaps due to the fact that Bogue and Emma Cullen receive a fair amount of focus, which was something that was lacking from their counterparts in the original versions. This was still a fun film that I enjoyed but ultimately it isn’t anything special.
Andy Snyder is a writer and regular contributor for Happy Dragon Pictures. He loves video games, films from all over the world, screenwriting and kittens.