Sean Ray | A&E Editor
Being a remake of a legendary film can never be easy. Being a remake of a legendary film that is, in turn, also a remake of an even more legendary film is even harder.
Unfortunately, that is the exact spot “The Magnificent Seven” finds itself in, a situation that seems almost doomed to failure.
However, despite the odds, “Magnificent Seven” turns out much better than it has any right to be. A fun throwback to the spaghetti westerns of the past, it manages to balance tense action with great personal moments from its spectacular cast.
Taking place in 1878, the movie covers the plight of a small farming village that is under threat of being kicked off its land by a rich business man (Peter Sarsgaard) who wants access to the gold underneath. With no options left, the village people hire bounty hunter Sam Chimsolm (Denzel Washington) to help them.
Knowing he does not stand a chance on his own, Chimsolm gathers a rag-tag group of heroes, consisting of gambling gunman Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), Civil War sniper Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), skilled knife thrower Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), frontiersman Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Mexican bandit Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and American-Indian exile Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).
Now, the reason I took the time to go through the entire cast of characters is because they really are the best part. Each actor is really at their prime here, with special mention going to Hawke’s performance. Robicheaux turns out to be a very complex person, haunted by his experiences in the war, hanging on to sanity only thanks to his friendship with Billy Rocks.
Much as it may anger purists, the remake may be even better than the original in this regard. The character writing is great for what is essentially just a blockbuster with very touching and deep interactions comparatively.
On the topic of differences, fans of the original may have noticed that the villain in this version is a very different person. At first, the change from a bandit leader to a business mogul at first seems a strange one, but it does come out as an appropriate update to the times. The theme of civilization versus the wilderness of the classic movie might not resonate well with current audiences, while a narrative about common folk being oppressed by the overly greedy is much more applicable to 2016.
Although this does come with a really over-the-top moment where, in order to establish his evilness, Sarsgaard’s character starts the movie by burning down a church.
The film’s biggest shortcoming is its directing. Director Antoine Fuqua really shows his music video roots, rapidly cutting way often. This runs contrary to the style of westerns, which usually used long takes to heighten the intensity of a scene.
But what ultimately saves this movie is the final action scene. Just watching the seven and the remaining townsfolk use guile and wit to outsmart the mercenary army sent against them brings a real sense of nostalgia to the halcyon days of the Western genre. The entire sequence had me on the edge of my seat, grinning like an idiot, so it has to be doing something right.
While “Magnificent Seven” is unlikely to be remembered as fondly as the original — and definitely not as much as “Seven Samurai” — it is still a fun throwback piece that is effective in bringing out the inner child in us all. In an era where westerns seem to have been taken over by overly serious melodramas like “The Revenant” or “True Grit,” this film is just too much pure fun to pass up.