Remake of The Magnificent Seven references Seven Samurai

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A common observation about history is that it repeats itself— the only differences are the details. Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven repeats the story of the 1960 Western of the same name, which repeated the story of the 1954 Japanese film Seven Samurai. It is a remake of a remake. The film tells the story of a town threatened by a powerful horde that carries the danger of starvation or death. Seven men are hired to protect the town. Camaraderie is built and battle ensues. While the story remains virtually the same as the previous films, The Magnificent Seven makes changes in characters and style. A fault in the 1960 version was a lack in characterization and screen time for the minor members of the magnificent seven. In the update, every member of this diverse group gets their time to shine, though Chris Pratt is clearly the filmmaker’s favorite. Visually, the film is sleeker and more modern, featuring varied coloration and more explosions.

Some of the cinematography is stunning. At night, during moments of rest, the group sits around a fire and the light bounces off a looming mountain edifice. Dark faces are outlined by an orange glow. By day, there are beautifully featured pieces of scenery. In Avengers fashion, there are explosions and quips to keep the audience entertained. Pratt’s jokes punctuate scenes, begging for laughter and occasionally deserving it. Even in his jokes, he acknowledges the previous iteration, telling the same story Steve McQueen told about a man jumping off a building. The film delivers references like this in passing. Denzel Washington’s response to his payment echoes the words of a similarly dressed Yul Brynner. The score features musical references to Elmer Bernstein’s work in the 1960 film.

At the very end, one of the few callbacks to Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is a visual cue carrying some degree of poignancy. Although that final image is able to elicit partial sentiment, as a whole, the film fails in many of its attempts to create emotional arcs. Ethan Hawke plays a former Confederate sharpshooter who will not fire a gun until he does, but then he chooses not to, and so on. Unlike the previous two films, there is no real connection between the magnificent seven and the people they are protecting.

The other films had romances and moments of kindness and tenderness. In its quest to be bigger and better, a large flaw glimmers through the many bullet holes in this town’s edifice. When the attacking forces bring a Gatling gun with them, mowing down countless townspeople, the question arises if it is all worth it. The movie ends with the surviving number of the magnificent seven riding away from the town. The buildings have been torn apart by explosions, horses, gunfire and everything else that has been utilized in the battle. There seems to be no point of fighting for a town if almost everybody is dead.

The movie chooses to mainly limit itself to humor and explosions. One of the major complaints for Suicide Squad was that it was composed mainly of “trailer lines.” These are the pieces of dialogue or quips that sound good in a promotional trailer, yet do not necessarily make sense in the context of the film. The Magnificent Seven runs into similar issues, as it is built upon such moments. The dynamite and jokes look good in a trailer, but there has to be more going on behind it to make a movie. There is not much more.

While The Avengers was criticized for giving an unbalanced amount of screen time to its various stars, going so far as to grant Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye only 12 minutes on screen, Magnificent is generally able to overcome this stumbling block of ensemble films. Every character—whether it be Washington’s leader, Byung- hun Lee’s assassin or Martin Sensmeier’s Native American warrior—gets his or her moment in the spotlight. After the success of Marvel’s Netflix show Daredevil, fans of the Kingpin may have been excited to hear of the casting of Vincent D’Onofrio in the film.

Unfortunately for them, the only similarity between his characters is their brute strength. When D’Onofrio begins to speak, it becomes apparent why his voice has rarely been heard in promotional material. His high-pitched and strangely accented vocal performance is grating. The villain is Bartholomew Bogue, played by Peter Sarsgaard, who has positioned himself as the evil capitalist, whose gold-hungry tendencies lead to the destruction of a town. In his first scene, he delivers a ho-hum speech about capitalism, religion and dust.

The character is lackluster and stays on the fringes of the battle, waiting out of town with the Gatling gun. The other major character outside of the magnificent seven is a woman whose husband was murdered by Bogue. Haley Bennet plays the only significant female character, but she rarely acts as more than a plot device. She hires Washington, who in turn finds the rest of the men. For most of the movie, she merely remains on the sideline or part of the scenery. She pops up at the end of the movie for plot purposes and for a voiceover, saying that the men were “magnificent.” But, the movie itself is decent. Unfortunately, that would not sound as nice in a title.