Antoine Fuqua remakes another remake with The Magnificent Seven, his latest offering thus far. Being a remake of a remake, there’s always room to turn something into one’s own vision and that’s part of what I was hoping for in this new take on the story inspired from Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, but something about it also feels empty. What happened to the excitement of watching a group of seven fight for good? Sure, there’s fun to be had within certain moments of the film but perhaps they only work because of how the film presents itself out to be as a result of those involved rather than offering much to stand on its own. Quite surprisingly, that is actually not what bothered me most about this re-imagining of the classic tale.
Kurosawa’s tale was given the western spin in John Sturges’s own The Magnificent Seven, which revolved around a poor village recruiting a group of seven in order to protect them. The Magnificent Seven isn’t doing anything particularly new with the premise, aside from having a new cast. In the same manner that Yul Brynner as Chris Adams led the pack in the original Magnificent Seven film (akin to Takashi Shimura’s Kambei Shimada in Seven Samurai), Denzel Washington leads the way as bounty hunter Sam Chisolm and joining him include the likes of Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Lee Byung-hun, and Vincent D’Onofrio. They’re recruited by Haley Bennett to fight against industrialists that raid their town, and one should know where things are set to go if they’ve seen the story being told in other ways.
What I admire most about Antoine Fuqua’s direction in regards to how the story is handled is the fact that as much as he is trying to stick true to the original Magnificent Seven film, he also wants to pay homage to Seven Samurai inside of his remake. All throughout, Fuqua laces The Magnificent Seven with his own love of westerns, whether it be from the cinematography, the arranging of set pieces, or the gunplay, homages are laced everywhere. In this sense, The Magnificent Seven also becomes a showcase for Fuqua’s own influences from the classics of the western genre, ranging from John Ford’s The Searchers to Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. His love for the western genre certainly elevates the film up a tad for he also understands where the energy arises from watching them.
The new cast is mostly fun to watch, but this is where one problem begins to arise. Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt are merely playing themselves, but nevertheless they are fun to watch whenever they play themselves. To see Washington and Ethan Hawke reunite together with Fuqua was a delight, knowing that they previously had collaborated on Training Day, but because of how they are playing themselves – they never seem to become the characters whom they are portraying. However, if there was a single one from the new seven that did stand out from the whole bunch, it would be none other than Lee Byung-hun, who creates an intimidating presence from his short one-liners together with how unlike the other recognizable names, he actually becomes his character whereas Washington and Pratt are figures built upon their own charisma to the point it is all the more difficult to see them as the characters they play.
Yet given what Fuqua had intended to capture of Seven Samuraiwith The Magnificent Seven, he omits one of the most crucial elements to the source material that ultimately made it so endearing. At the very least, it was something the original Magnificent Seven film had remembered to keep intact, as the whole second act from both versions of the story feels gone entirely. As a means of making myself clearer, we have an entire act in both of the original sources that shows how the samurai/gunslingers get along with the villagers whom they are set to protect but after assembling the group, Fuqua forgets to show how the townsfolk interacted with the seven which becomes the film’s biggest detriment. Instead of providing moments for the villagers to leave an impact after they go, he focuses only on the seven and those responsible for hiring them, everything else feels so muted as afterwards it goes down to the action spectacle that the film’s second half becomes. At first, it’s fun but the final sequence brings the experience further down as it never provides room to breathe given how long it runs.
I won’t lie when I say that I had fun watching parts of The Magnificent Seven, but I also wish that it never left me feeling as empty as it did. You can admire Fuqua’s own love for classic westerns as he spends The Magnificent Seven paying homage to them, but by the time in which it heads into its final shootout sequence, it loses its focus with an extended homage to The Wild Bunch that, in spite of incredible crafting with the action, feels somewhat lifeless. That’s not to say The Magnificent Seven is ever unwatchable, because the cast certainly can make for an entertaining ride. It’s a film that is fun enough for one watch, but unfortunately I don’t see it leaving that lasting effect after a period of time. I was never expecting another Seven Samurai, considering how that’s just too high of a bar to reach, but I was hoping for something even as a piece of popcorn entertainment that could leave a lasting impression. It was not to be found here, sadly.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Sony.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Screenplay by Nic Pizzolatto, Richard Wenk, from the films The Magnificent Seven by John Sturges and Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni
Produced by Roger Birnbaum, Todd Black
Starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Lee Byung-hun, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard
Release Year: 2016
Running Time: 133 minutes