You know Hollywood is fresh out of ideas when it not only does remakes, but also remakes of remakes. This new Magnificent Seven is a remake of the classic 1960 John Sturges western that starred Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter and James Coburn – which was itself a remake of the classic 1954 Akira Kurosawa film Seven Samurai, starring Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima, Daisake Kato, Ko Kimura, Minoru Chiaki and Seiji Miyaguchi.
All three films have the same premise: a group of bullied villagers/townsfolk recruit a seven-strong team of sword-/gun-fighters to come to their aid and beat the bullies/marauding bandits/uber-rich gold-hoarding bastard. Both Seven Samurai and the 1960 Magnificent Seven are, justifiably, considered classics of their respective genres (the three sequels and the 1998-2000 TV series, less so). The 2016 version of The Magnificent Seven is a solidly-made film and yes, it's certainly entertaining (although the final showdown goes on for WAY too long), but it's far from a classic.
The plot is updated from the Mexican village under siege of the 1960s version to a post-Civil War western town called Rose Creek, which sits on a rather rich vein of gold that corrupt industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) wants to get his slimy mitts on, so he sends in the boys to rough them up a bit (and kill a few of the men and torch the church, too, just for fun). Newly-widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) sets out to hire some gunfighters to help save the town. Bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) puts together a team that consists of handsome gambler Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt), Civil War veteran Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), "bear in a man-suit" Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio) assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).
It appears that director Antoine Fuqua is somewhat of a fan of westerns – there's probably not one western cliche or trope he hasn't managed to squeeze in (plus that famous theme music, which is probably better known for advertising a certain brand of cigarettes, does get a look in over the final credits). The male characters all smoke cigars and spit a lot, drinking whisky from shotglasses while playing cards in saloons before heading out through the swinging doors and leaping on their horses for a good-ol' gunfight before giving said guns a damned good twirling before putting them back in their holsters. You can almost smell the wood and the sweat and the leather and the booze and the dust and the gunpowder and the horseshit. It's a big, loud, action-packed and balls-out (but somewhat bloodless for all the gunplay) update, but it just lacks a certain something. And that something is originality; what this Magnificent Seven really needs is its own voice.
The ensemble cast works well, and it's great to see a more diverse cast than we had in the 1960 version. And Washington gives a standout performance in the Yul Brynner role (I'd love to see him as an evil robot in the new HBO Westworld, too), all assured swagger and very adept at the sharp-shooting and the gun-twirling. Pratt, Hawke, D’Onofrio, Lee, Rulfo and Sensmeier are also solid; they all seem to be having fun, and all get a decent amount of screen time and most manage to get a good one-liner or two in. Oh, and Sarsgaard gives great villain. But this very much feels like The Magnificent One and his six sidekicks. It's doesn't feel like a well-formed team in the same way the 1960 film did – it just feels like it lacks cohesion and comradery. Another missed opportunity here is with Bennett's Emma Cullen, the woman who hires the Seven in the first place. It's great to see a strong, powerful female character in a western, but it's a shame that she doesn't get more screen time – the western genre is not that well-known for its feminist approach. Why put such an interesting character in a film if you're not going to use them more?
When you are remaking a film, then you should really try to do something different to what was done the first time around – just look at what John Carpenter did with his 1982 remake of The Thing, or what Brian De Palma did with Scarface in 1983. Fuqua – the man who made Training Day, The Equalizer and Southpaw – is a dab hand at the action, and boy is there a LOT of action here, but what this Magnificent Seven lacks is a distinctive voice, something that sets it apart from the first Hollywood version and every other western that has come since. The 2016 Magnificent Seven lacks much-needed depth and well-developed characters. It's not so much a Magnificent Seven as a Somewhat OK Seven.