Zaki's Review: The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Sometimes it feels like the only thing MGM has on offer is James Bond movies and remakes of revered movies from its voluminous back catalogue. From Rollerball to Red Dawn to RoboCop, the celluloid highway of the past few decades is littered with decaying carcasses of roadkill remakes from the once-mighty Lion that landed with the proverbial thud (including the entirely unneeded, entirely DOA Ben-Hur redux just last month). As such, it's easy to look at their latest trip to the reboot well, director Antoine Fuqua's The Magnificent Seven, as yet another cash grab from a desperate studio.

And while it may indeed be that, Fuqua's new vision of the 1960 John Sturgess oater benefits from strong production values and an imminently watchable cast (not to mention comparison with the numerous misbegotten remakes noted above). Worth noting too that the original Seven (itself a very skillful remake of Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai), while an entirely engaging western arriving at the tail end of that genre's cultural dominance, was hardly revolutionary. Instead, Sturgess was able to effectively leverage the mass appeal of a charismatic band of gunfighters fighting the good fight.

It's a fun movie that remains effective today thanks to stars Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, and others, not to mention composer Elmer Bernstein's unforgettable title theme. As such, it wasn't exactly a steep hill to climb when it came to revisiting the concept (already franchised into the ground via several mediocre sequels in the '60s and '70s, and a not-bad TV series in the '90s), but helping matters inordinately is the decision to stack the cast with such appealing and eclectic performers like Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, and Vincent D'onofrio.

In the film, the town of Rose Creek is menaced by industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) who hopes to control its mining rights. In desperation, the widow Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) recruits duly deputized bounty hunter Sam Chisholm (Washington) to render assistance. (One of life's pure joys is watching Denzel Washington in "righteous avenger" mode.) Soon enough Chisholm adds gambler Josh Faraday (Pratt) to his repertoire, along with the rest of the titular seven, setting us up for a climactic throwdown as the Chisholm's group and the townspeople hold off an onslaught from Bogue and his hired army.

With its script by Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk, Fuqua's Magnificent Seven (which also marks the final music score by the late composer James Horner, written shortly before he passed away two summers ago) preserves the essence and broad narrative strokes of the earlier film. However, it also steps rightly by not being an exact one-to-one match with the Sturgess version character-wise, which in turn allows the fun of predicting who will and won't make it to the "ride off into the sunset" shot before the credits. (I was mostly on-point with my calls, though there were a couple of surprises in there.)

Almost by virtue of the kind of film this is and the rote structure it's locked into, it's probably a mistake to ride in expecting anything staggeringly revolutionary. (The one thing I did expect more of -- and was disappointed by its absence -- was Bernstein's iconic theme, which is only heard during the end credits.) Instead, by adding some fresh paint to a story that was already told pretty darn well the first time, and sprinkling in some very appealing performers playing to their strengths, Fuqua has made a version of The Magnificent Seven that at least deserves to be mentioned in the same paragraph as the original, if not the same breath. B

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