Monday, October 24, 2016

"The Magnificent Seven" Review: A Fun Loving Cast Helps Elevate This Mostly Pedestrian Remake


Despite the 1960 western The Magnificent Seven being a remake of the classic Kurisowa film Seven Samurai, the idea of it being a remake never really factored into how anyone felt about it. So it is sort of funny when others come out and defend the "original" Magnificent Seven and decry the newer one for being unnecessary or not as good as that other one. To squabble over such petty things is to lose focus on what really matters, is the movie any good? Well that is certainly in the eye of the beholder for this one but for my money it is one of the more outright fun and entertaining movies released this year. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D Digital
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime:  2 hr 13 min
Studio: Sony Pictures
Release Date: September 22, 2016

Biases:  
Loves: Denzel Washington, westerns
Likes: Chris Pratt, Vincent D'Onofrio, Ethan Hawke, Antoine Fuqua
Neutral: Remake of a remake, nothing really new
Hates: Nothing
Which one to watch?: This updated version is just as good as the 1960 film, so if you are choosing between those two it doesn't really matter.

Chisolm is a bounty hunter with a secret agenda.

Director Antoine Fuqua has associated himself with gritty stories of heroism in the face of many facets of evil. Films such as Training Day, The Equalizer and Shooter display a certain sense of foreboding despite being extremely entertaining in their own right but aside from perhaps his foray into the Die Hard clone territory with Olympus Has Fallen and the much lesser Jamie Fox film Bait he seems to shy away from adding humor to his productions which may explain why most of his work, while highly touted critically and making a buck or two don't ever cross over into what most would consider a blockbuster style hit. So it is unusual but greatly appreciated when he decided to tackle this remake of The Magnificent Seven where he allowed his actors to have a bit of fun which instantly translates into the audience having fun as well.

Of course humor isn't something that just happens so it was imperative that he find just the right actor for each part. As anyone who loves what I refer to as the men-on-a-mission style films such as The Dirty Dozen, Saving Private Ryan and Ocean's Eleven just to name a few, the personality of each character is an integral part to whether or not the film works. Even more important is the chemistry they have with their co-stars which is generally easier said than done. Well Fuqua has never faltered before in this regard with both of his previous men-on-a-mission flicks Tears of the Sun and King Arthur being shining examples of films that work simply based off its cast. Unsurprisingly the crew he has assembled for The Magnificent Seven is no different.

Most of the seven consists of fortune hunters and scoundrels.

Trying to not be overshadowed by the legendary line up from the 1960 film which featured such film icons as  Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson while also doing justice to the characters themselves was a tall order for sure but somehow he prevailed. Fuqua regular Denzel Washington, current Hollywood heartthrob Chris Pratt, a very grizzled Ethan Hawke and an odd sounding but adorably brutal performance by Vincent D'nofrio round out most of the cast and while Washington and Pratt certainly carry the same name recognition as their forefathers it is an interesting choice on Fuqua's part to cast a large number of actors who are not only diverse in their appearance but in their acting styles. That gamble has paid off though and even more so with the lesser known actors.

Byung-hun Lee who plays this mysterious knife slinger Billy brings a distinct coolness to his character that instantly makes you fall in love with him. The same can be said about Martin Sensmeier as the wandering Commanche warrior Red Harvest whose bow skills would give Legolas from Lord of the Rings a run for his money. Just about the only character who sort of underwhelms is Vasquez played by Manuel Garcia-Rulfo which through no fault of his own is sort of bland compared to the others he is surrounded by. As a whole though each of these seven work well together and make for a fun bunch to watch as they shoot, cut and blow up anyone that stands in their way to victory. This then leads us into the actual story of the film which unsurprisingly is probably the least interesting aspect to it.

Bart makes for an appropriately despicable villain.

The big bad guy Bart Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) has taken over the small mining town Rose Creek as his army of hired gunslingers help him enforce his unlawful practices in extracting gold from the local mines. After he unceremoniously burns down the church and executes a number of the townsfolk, the recently widowed Emma (Haley Bennett) sets out to hire some gunslingers of her own to help avenge her deceased husband and free the town from Bogue's evil clutches. The plot for the most part is exactly the same as the 1960 film and with the possible exception of diversifying the cast it plays out just about the same as well. The slight problem with this of course is that the story isn't all that compelling so when we have a remake telling the same story again with barely any effort to change it up, well it doesn't make for a very engaging tale outside the general carnal lust to see an arrogant asshole get his come-uppins.

Those who have never seen the original will likely not find any fault in this regard but to those who have seen it this remake might leave you feeling a bit unsatisfied by the end. But Fuqua's visual style as well as the cast help alleviate most of the problems with the overly simple story and when the fireworks go off in the bombastic finale it is difficult not to get caught up in the drama of it all. Knowing that any one of these characters can be killed off helps avert the usual oh-he-is-the-star-so-he's-safe syndrome associated with these types of films and that works in keeping the audience on the edge of their seats until the final bullet is fired and the final body hits the floor. This version of The Magnificent Seven may not end up being looked upon as a classic like its predecessor but that doesn't change the fact that it is still a fun and entertaining popcorn flick filled in its own right with some great actors turning in some really fun performances.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

Just about the only thing holding The Magnificent Seven back from greatness is the fact that it is a retread of very familiar material. Playing it safe isn't all that bad a thing though and in this case helps provide a comfortable canvas for the audience to get lost in for 2 hours and forget about their problems. If only every movie could do that we would never have anything to complain about.

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