The Magnificent Seven review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Does the new Magnificent Seven blow away the original? Absolutely not, but that’s thankfully not the plan for director Antoine Fuqua. Having directed the loud and simplistic crowd-pleasers of Olympus Has Fallen and Southpaw, he knows where his strengths lie and it’s not in character development or new plot twists on the old formula. He specializes in crafting big, loud and blood-pumping action, designed to generate standing ovations from the most red-blooded of American audiences.
Fuqua keeps the story the same. Seven unlikely men are hired by a town that’s threatened by evil men that take their money and kill their people. All the beats are maintained right down to the plan of attack and the exact number of deaths between the seven. Though the characters themselves fulfill the same roles, Fuqua brings a splash of color to the cast.
Denzel Washington leads the pack as a sworn bounty hunter, dressed in all black. Byung-hun Lee plays an Asian assassin specializing in killing with knives. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo plays a Mexican veteran of the Alamo. Martin Sensmeier, a Native American, fulfills the role of a Comanche warrior. The always likable Chris Pratt plays a charismatic enough anti-hero, Ethan Hawke an uneasy veteran and Vincent D’Onofrio the crazy coot who lives in the woods.
While this is a rather strong cast, they’re never really given any depth. In particular, the villain played by Peter Sarsgaard is just a walking cliche of evil. He kills people randomly whenever the whim strikes him and has no motivation for his pillaging and murders. Likewise, the heroes are reduced to such simple figures that they spend more time making cheap quips than displaying any meaningful development. This wouldn’t have bothered me so much if it weren’t for the script deciding to pull out light pathos so late in the third act. Their dialogue is amusing to be sure, but the audience will be more laughing at the lines than the characters.
For the first half of the movie, Fuqua attempts to make these characters both charming and badass. And most of these attempts fall flat on their face. I can still recall the astonishingly cool moment from the original movie when Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen defend a carriage from being attacked on their way to bury a Native American. I recently saw this new Magnificent Seven and can not think of one moment when these characters accomplished a comparable feat. I know, I shouldn’t be comparing this movie to its predecessor, but it was hard not to when this picture kept using that classic theme from Elmer Bernstein.
It isn’t until the second half of the movie when the grand defending of the town turns the movie into an endless scene of action. Characters are shot up left and right by pistols, arrows and Gattling guns. Tomahawks become lodged in backs and knives are driven into hearts. Dynamite goes boom and horses go flying. Not only is the action noisily portrayed at a frenetic pace, but it also comes with the superhero formula where the heroes never miss and every bad guy goes down. In many ways, it becomes a mixture of both the classic themes of good-natured anti-heroes and the modern makeover of creating action built for a 7.1 sound system.
After trying to distance myself from the original and acknowledging that this Magnificent Seven is it’s own movie, I began to enjoy myself with a picture that, while lacking in writing, made up for its faults with Fuqua’s trademark action direction. There’s even some great cinematography with beautiful mountain scenes and solid lighting. But, again, I must stress this, do not go in comparing this to John Sturges’ classic western as that film was a perfect balance of story, character, action and cool. This new version is solid popcorn entertainment and succeeds at being just that; an excuse to turn off your brain and let your hands clap wildly for simplistic heroes saving the day.