Hollywood knows that you claim to hate remakes. They also know you go see them despite this. Film directors know very well which films are classics that can’t be improved upon and which aren’t. Remakes of classic films are made for one of two reasons, those being that a studio needs an easy cash grab and assigns a director looking for work to a project they are sure will bring in some box office numbers due to name recognition or that a director decides a classic film needs to be brought to the attention of a new audience even if the remake can never be as good, the film’s legacy must be allowed to carry on. Since it’s been 62 years since Seven Samurai was initially released and 56 years since the first The Magnificent Seven, I like to think this is a case of bringing a classic to a new generation’s attention. It’s unfortunate that updating it didn’t do the story any favors.
The plot of this 2016 version of The Magnificent Seven remains more or less the same as its predecessors. A small town of farmers is beset upon by a group of outsiders (a mining company run by a robber baron rather than bandits this time around) and they have to find someone who will defend them from these outsiders with very little reward since the farmers have already lost most everything they own. This simple and now classic set up allows for a deep exploration of character as we discover why the various members of the group of saviors put themselves in this situation. It allows for fantastic action scenes and tense anticipation. In short, everything you need for truly great drama. This version of The Magnificent Seven, unfortunately, does not give itself the time it needs for plot and character development. At over an hour shorter than its predecessors it instead rushes through the gathering of the seven together and straight into the climactic battle. If Hollywood studios feel, perhaps correctly, that modern audiences will not sit through a movie longer than 2 and a half hours, they shouldn’t attempt films that need more time than that to truly develop.
The many flaws present in this latest remake, however, are almost never the fault of the actors. There are a few poor performances here, particularly by the film’s major bad guy (Peter Sarsgaard as Bartholomew Bogue) and the lead female role played by Haley Bennet who was apparently cast more for her admittedly very impressive figure than for her acting range. Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, and Vincent D’Onofrio as our primary four of the seven are, while certainly not at the top of their game, quite good and give as charming and commanding of performances as we have become used to seeing from them. D’Onofrio in particular is great in his turn as an older tracker nothing like anything we have ever seen from him in the past, once again showing that he is one of the most underappreciated actors in Hollywood today.
The camera work and choreography in The Magnificent Seven is also very impressive for the most part, though in a few of the more frenetic action pieces late in the movie shaky cameras are relied on a little too much, though not to the extent many recent films have taken the technique and it doesn’t mar the experience too terribly much. Visual effects are also very well done and seamless to the extent that you can very easily forget that they are even in play here. Overall the visuals never achieve any level of greatness, but they definitely display a high level of expertise on the part of all those involved.
Ultimately, The Magnificent Seven is a film I cannot recommend even as a modern reimagining as most of what made Seven Samurai and the 1960 The Magnificent Seven great is missing here. The action is better, but that’s it, and we lose all the deep characterization, all the thematic brilliance, and the ebb and flow of tension that make Seven Samurai a masterpiece and the 1960 version a rarity among remakes. The 2016 The Magnificent Seven is more than just a hollow shell of it’s predecessors, but not much more, especially when the predecessors are still out there to demand your attention instead.
Rating: 5.6 out of 10