The Magnificent Seven is intense. Oh, sorry, forgot to finish that. The Magnificent Seven is intensely uninteresting. It’s less of a movie and more a collection of clichés thrown into a dusty Western sack and shot out of a revolver. That’s not to say there aren’t redeeming qualities, but as a comprehensible piece of entertainment, it fails magnificently.
We’ll ignore the fact that a remake, but it should at least inform you partly of what it aims to be. (To further compare it to Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai be even more fruitless.) Denzel Washington plays Sam Chisolm, a man that basically amounts to a bounty hunter who is morally and professionally tasked with taking down corrupt businessman Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). In order to take back the otherwise sedate town of Rose Creek, Chisolm must rustle up a single-digit posse to take on Bogue’s double-digit army.
The structure is actually one of the most significant weaknesses of the film, though you might guess (or hope) that it would be otherwise. Such an inordinate amount of time of the entire 133 minutes(!) is dedicated to half-heartedly rounding up this ragtag team of inhumanly skilled murderers that it could have been an entirely separate movie. People just kind of keep cropping up until they all ride by a sunset and are pretty much forced to count. One, two, three…yep, all seven are there. Let’s get started! Ooo, nearly an hour in.
And once things get rolling, it doesn’t fare much better. This is a wholly charmless movie. Out of about two dozen or so off-handed jokes and fun-loving jabs between this suicide squad, 100% of them fall painfully flat. (One person in my theatre, bless his heart, did his best to give each one a pittance of a chuckle.) Worse than that, this ham-fisted joviality seemingly takes the place of characterization.
It’s obvious these characters have backstories. Some of them emerge at seemingly random points in throughout the movie, but they have them. And some them are begging to interact with one another. A savage, deeply religious wilderness tracker working with a Native American warrior? A black bounty hunter taking charge of an otherwise entirely white settlement? Powder keg, meet match.
Instead, it clumsily, awkwardly, and foolishly throws around all of it with varying amount of weight and commitment, trying to give each of the seven due course when none of them deserve it. It’s almost a flip of a switch where suddenly they are all friends, forgetting the past hour of casually and passingly racial conflicts (an Irishman attempts a Mexican accent and the aforementioned tracker quips that the warrior might eat him) that exist because I guess the audience needs to see growth as a team? That’s a best case scenario and even that is probably wrong.
Then there’s the massively broad swings these characters take that are unbelievably akin to spinning a wheel of tropes and clichés. Just how many heroic sacrifices can you put in a movie? What if everybody gets a hidden gun to up the drama? A seemingly selfish rogue decides to put the greater good ahead of himself while another overcomes a haunting past? Let’s just go ahead and infantilize the only woman in the movie while feminizing the Asian guy while we’re at it.
Perhaps not too much blame can be put on the movie for trading in such rote character and narrative archetypes. It is, after all, a remake of a movie that established many of them. But it seems to execute them as an obligation, not from any substantial desire. The parodical arc in The Three Amigos had more interesting is being like the 1960 classic in terms of impact and ambition than this heavy-handed remake does.
As stated previously, however, there are redeeming qualities to this laborious and uneasy endeavour. (I’m talking about watching it, not making it.) There is, if you couldn’t tell, an immense cavalcade of stars in this thing. Washington, Sarsgaard, Ethan Hawke, Chris Pratt, Vincent D’Onofrio, and, hell, they even had room for Matt Bomer just for kicks. And surprise: they’re all tremendously watchable, likable, and talented actors. (And despite being walking tropes, how about that diversity!)
None of them reach quite the iconic cowboy portrayal of Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday, but who ever can. They do, however, instill the proper amount of confidence and swagger to their presence and physicality to the extraordinarily sparse action. They are, after all, basically gunslinging superheroes of the Wild West where their superpowers are apparently not getting shot while shooting everyone else. But they make it incredibly exciting and engaging nonetheless.
And not just because so much else of the film was borderline torturous, but the full aural landscape is fantastic. The sound effects, the foley work, the soundtrack. It’s all topnotch. At a certain point, you can’t help but take a moment to just appreciate the sounds of walking on dirty, dusty wooden planks.
Plus it all certainly looks fantastic. Western settlements looks eerily like Hollywood sets anyways, so there’s an art to making that look not like what they are. But there’s only so far these minute victories of solid actors and riveting action can carry this otherwise banal endurance run in the dirt. Sure, there are seven of them, but magnificent they are not.
Final Score: 4 out of 10