I doubt the great Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa had any idea his 1954 classic Seven Samurai would spawn a worldwide franchise that remains vital more than 60 years later. But the movie that inspired John Sturges’ durable 1960 American version The Magnificent Seven — along with several sequels, a TV series, and an iconic Elmer Bernstein theme that put Marlboro Cigarettes on the map — is upon us again in Antoine Fuqua’s reboot called, well, The Magnificent Seven. So does the attempt to rework a classic still work? Yes and no.
As I say in my video review above, there is pure cinematic joy to be had simply in seeing a balls-out Western like this back on the big screen — plus the cast may be the year’s most diverse with African Americans, Asians, Latinos, a Native American and even (heavens to Murgatroyd!) a woman figuring into the action. But it lacks the gravitas of the originals, both American and Japanese, by being content to be a garden variety shoot-’em up. Fuqua and screenwriters Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto seem more interested in the sheer number of rounds they can get off in the film’s testosterone-heavy second half than in rich character development.
Of course, the 1960 version also had the benefit of a true ensemble with Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Yul Brynner, Robert Vaughn and Eli Wallach to name a few. It’s fondly remembered and seen now as almost quaint compared to the assault in store in this version. The cast here is also terrific, even with less to do than utter a few lines, ride horses and play with guns — lots of guns and lots of shooting. Washington acquits himself nicely in his first oater and is ably supported by Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio as the white-guy portion of the Seven. Lee Byung-hun, Manuel Garcia Rulfo and Martin Sensmeier add to the aforementioned diversity of this ride. Haley Bennett is the woman who attempts to save her beleaguered town of Rose Creek from the menacing presence of industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who is determined to kill anyone in his way and has the minions to back him up. She sets out to hire what becomes the Magnificent Seven in order to save the day. Sarsgaard is the standout in this movie, having a field day chewing the scenery and playing viciously evil like there is no tomorrow.
Even though the story has impressive roots, this struck me as more of a garden-variety B-Western than anything else, or even closer in spirit to Henry Fonda’s deliciously hardcore Western Welcome To Hard Times. After setting up the premise and key characters, Fuqua wastes little time turning the events on screen into a massive — and endless — shootout. The whole thing does not have the substance or style of the Sturges film, and it seems more hellbent on just providing a little fun. On that score it succeeds nicely, but the PG-13 rating proves the MPAA doesn’t have much of a problem with nonstop carnage.
Do you plan to see The Magnificent Seven? Let us know what you think.