Review: The Magnificent Seven ride again, but why though?

The Magnificent Seven is a truly magnificent movie. Not the remake, the original. We’ll get to the new one later…

The 1960 original Magnificent Seven is one of the few perfect films ever made. Taking the framework of Seven Samurai — a bunch of mercenary ne’er-do-wells hired by a defenceless village to protect them from a bullying villain — the film spots the perfect opportunity to set the same story in the Old West and assemble a cast of contemporary action heroes into a supergroup of screen legends. Every actor is playing themselves, of course, but who cares when all you want to see is Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner team up?

Why remake a movie if you’re not going to improve it in some way?

More than that, the script itself is a masterclass in economic storytelling. The plot is set up, the villain established, and every one of the seven is introduced, filled in and developed before almost all meet a heroic end. Somehow, there’s even time for a few plot twists and a betrayal before wrapping up in just 128 minutes. Modern directors would maintain a movie like that was unfilmable.

Best of all, the movie is oddly progressive. It was still 1960, of course, but there are a fair few moments where intolerance is cast in a bad light, which makes you root for the film even more.

Overall, it’s a thing of beauty and it has rightly formed a template for movies that have followed. Not only did it spawn three sequels and eventually a short TV series, but the template has been re-used again and again. We have Magnificent Seven in space with Battle Beyond The Stars (also starring Robert Vaughn) and Guardians Of The Galaxy (also starring Chris Pratt); war-time Magnificent Seven with The Dirty Dozen and The A-Team; we have superhero Magnificent Seven with Avengers and Justice League; comedy Magnificent Seven with the classic Three Amigos; there’s overly-botoxed, old action hero Magnificent Seven with The Expendables; and so on and on.

With all of this, why would you remake Mag 7 again now? The answer, of course, is money.

The original being a great movie is almost a co-incidence. The reason it was made is that the studio got to put all its biggest stars in one flick and it was a Western — always a big draw. That’s precisely why a remake looked like a good opportunity, and it made its money back, so win for MGM.

For the audience, however, what’s the point of yet another remake? Well, there’s a lot on paper…

Antoine Fuqua is one of the most consistent, jobbing directors in Hollywood. From the classic dirty-cop thriller Training Day to one of the most cheesetastic popcorn flicks ever made, Shooter (which is currently being ground up into mince, having all its tasty, fatty bits removed so it can be bulked out with chemically-processed soy, then force-fed to subscribers in bite-sized chunks as a godawful Netflix Original), the man knows how to make a great action movie, and it is physically impossible to argue with the new Mag 7’s action scenes. Try. I dare you.

Likewise, you have a cast epic enough to rival the original: Denzel Washington needs no introduction, Chris Pratt oozes charm from his pores, Ethan Hawke is unbelievably underrated and Vincent D’Onofrio rides roughshod onto the set on a live pig, firing honey-glazed hams from a homemade pork cannon while oinking manically at the top of his lungs because he’s Vincent D’Onofrio and are you going to argue with his performance? No; no, you’re not.

So all good, huh? Well, no. Not by a long way.

Vincent D’Onofrio rides roughshod onto the set on a live pig, firing honey-glazed hams from a homemade pork cannon while oinking manically at the top of his lungs

While the original movie had a script to match the title, this just falls short in every way. The remake may only be four minutes longer, but it fails to cover half the plot. Gone are the personalities of the villagers; gone is the master-of-disguise sneaking behind enemy lines; gone is the double-cross; the love story; all of it, and there’s nothing replacing it. This is bloated, overwrought modern-Hollywood filmmaking at its worst.

Likewise, while the original cast were supported with a wealth of one-liners, here, even Pratt can’t save the dialogue. “You’ll be murdered by the world’s greatest lover,” Pratt quips and silence falls. Tumbleweeds cross the screen. “Excuse me, Mr Pratt,” one of the villainous extras mumbles, “was there a punchline there? it’s just it sounded like you were setting up a jo… no. No, that’s fine. Carry on…”

Worst of all, the film’s only concession to progression is the multi-cultural casting, which is hardly championed in the script. Meanwhile, there’s racial tension between the characters and a few chauvinistic moments for the sake of supposed historical realism that we could have really done without.

This all brings us to the big question this movie raises: why remake a movie if you’re not going to improve it in some way? MGM is laughing all the way to the bank, but viewers? Not so much.

The new Magnificent Seven is not so magnificent. Just go watch the original again.