Beautifully shot, superbly cast and hollow as the empty chamber of a Smith and Wesson, Antoine Fuqua’s (Training Day, The Equalizer) reworking of John Sturges’s classic western is stylistically strong but lacking in substance. Unlikely to be appreciated with the same reverence as the 1960 original (itself inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s sublime The Seven Samurai), this version nevertheless has enough charisma, bravado and visual impetus to keep you glued through to the final showdown.
Shifting the action from the Mexican small town of the first film to the American frontier community of Rose Creek allows for a clearly pointed subtext about the threat posed to wholesome protestant idealism by the Godless inhumanity of corporate greed. While the villain in Sturges’s film was a Mexican outlaw who terrorised a community of paltry farmers for their crops, the monster this time is church burning industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) who wants to depopulate the town so he can mine for gold. Anyone who stands in his way ends up with a bullet in their belly, which is unfortunately what happens to Matthew Cullen (Matt Bomer). In the aftermath of a bloody encounter, Matthew’s widow Emma (Haley Bennett) sets out to avenge her husband and enlists the assistance of bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington). He has his own beef with Bogue and rallies a rugged posse of hired hands to strap on their six shooters and come to the aid of the embattled Rose Creek residents.
The 1960 film is regarded highly but is largely a kitschy yarn which succeeds thanks to the appeal of it’s excellent cast and the bonhomie between the characters. This is true of Fuqua’s version also. The Magnificent Seven class of 2016 features a stellar ensemble on fine form. While not like for like replicas of the original seven there are some notable parallels. Washington’s Sam Chisolm is clearly this film’s answer to the Yul Brynner role. Chris Pratt is the closest equivalent to Steve McQueen’s Vin Tanner, although he also evokes the youthful gusto that Horst Buchholz brought to hotheaded Chico in the first film. Ethan Hawke’s Robicheaux is an obvious riff on Robert Vaughn’s performance. The remaining members of the seven are less pronounced than Charles Bronson, Brad Dexter and James Coburn were first time around but the whole cast are generally impressive. Sarsgaard is in delightfully unhinged mode as the villain of the piece, while Haley Bennett holds her own with the boys, even though her cleavage is perhaps the most magnificent element of the whole film. The problem is that the characters don’t get fleshed out in a satisfactory manner and you never become invested in any of their narratives. The lack of depth becomes evident in the climatic shootout which is exhilarating on a superficial level but has zero emotional impact.
While Fuqua has done a fine job in paying homage to the source material, The Magnificent Seven is too formulaic and never really elevates itself above mediocre in terms of story telling. The film undoubtedly looks great and it’s cinematic vistas demand to be experienced on the big screen. It just doesn’t pack enough punch to be particularly memorable. A commendable effort that shoots from the hip but doesn’t quite hit the mark.