'The Magnificent Seven' Review

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures
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The Magnificent Seven is just about the billionth remake or reboot in 2016 alone, but the circumstances are a bit different for this one. For one thing, the first Magnificent Seven was itself a remake of Seven Samurai back in 1960, proving remakes weren't entirely a late 20th century/early 21st century invention.

While that first retooling of a classic was considered a classic in its own right, Antoine Fuqua's version is unlikely to be regarded as well. Nevertheless, compared to how other remakes have gone this year and how Suicide Squad squandered its own "outlaws on a mission" premise several weeks ago, The Magnificent Seven is only a halfway misleading title.

In 1879, the town of Rose Creek is being squeezed dry by the mining operation of robber baron Bartholomew Bogue. With only a few weeks before Bogue drives the remaining residents off their land by force, new widow Emma Cullen goes out to find men who will fight him off instead. Once she starts by hiring warrant officer/bounty hunter Sam Chisolm, others fall into line like gambler Josh Farraday, Civil War legend Goodnight Robicheaux and his Asian partner Billy Rocks, eccentric tracker Jack Horn, Mexican outlaw Vasquez and Comanche warrior Red Harvest. But after the seven hired guns chase off Bogue's men, they must train the rest of the town to stand and fight before Bogue's entire army comes to finish them all off in person.

Out of all the remade and rebooted properties this year, The Magnificent Seven is certainly the oldest, as this is the only remake of a remake as well. As such, unlike with the likes of Ghostbusters, Fuqua likely doesn't have to worry so much about angering fans of the original with different approaches and casting choices.

In any case, the storytelling and formula is very much like an old fashioned Western, only with more violent gunfights and explosions than there would have been in 1960. But until the third act becomes one big shootout, Fuqua takes his time in dealing out the action, with only one real extended action sequence in the first two acts. Even before then, Fuqua spends about 30-40 minutes getting the Seven together in the first place, which may not be fast enough for everyone.

The pre-credits opening alone is rather lengthy, although it does set Peter Sarsgaard up into maximum mustache twirling villain mode, has Matt Bomer stop by for a brief sacrificial lamb cameo, and halfway burns down a church in the first of many religious references to come. But once Fuqua gets through that, he goes forward with what he does best besides action, which is working with Denzel Washington.

Fuqua may be an odd choice on the surface to do a Western, yet there is nothing odd about him using Washington as his own personal Clint Eastwood. After their success together in Training Day and The Equalizer, Fuqua is old hat at turning Washington loose and letting him carry him across the finish line. Even with six other cohorts alongside Washington in this Fuqua film, the third time is still the charm for them here.

Yet Fuqua still has Chris Pratt leading the others as insurance, having been the ultimate lucky charm over the last few years. For a while, however, Pratt seems to be trying out a rougher edge than he had in Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World, especially during his first performance of a card trick. Nonetheless, Pratt then falls back into his usual role in having most of a film's comedic one-liners, which he still hasn't wore thin quite yet.

Washington isn't the only one Fuqua reunites with for the third time, as his other Training Day star Ethan Hawke has another stint with him as well. It may be no accident that Washington and Hawke have perhaps the biggest comradery between them and the most fleshed out backstories of the Seven, as they are certainly at each other's throats a lot less than in Training Day. It certainly helps brush aside Hawke's attempts to sound Cajun, and the initial puzzlement at how a black man and a former Confederate soldier could seem so chummy together in 1879.

Still, even that oddity has nothing on Vincent D'Onofrio when he shows up. D'Onofrio often performs like he's lost in his own little world, but even for him, his high pitched voice and oddball delivery here seems to be from another planet. in fact, at times it may be among the weirdest and most out of place voices since Benicio Del Toro's in The Usual Suspects.

Fuqua has to lean on these eccentricities and old friends to carry The Magnificent Seven through its set-up phase, as his own energy and pace is sometimes lacking. But in spite of Washington, Pratt, Hawke, D'Onofrio and Haley Bennett's Emma carrying the load, it is easy to notice there isn't as much less over for non-Washington minority team members Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Martin Sensmeier. In the cast of Lee and Sensmeier, they are mostly defined by their fancy fighting styles and weapons, while Rulfo's Mexican outlaw is mainly the target of racial jokes from Farraday most of the time.

In the long game, Fuqua mainly bides his time for the Seven to arrive in Rose Creek and start shooting, which they do in one extended opening skirmish. Once that settles him in, the movie starts finding a groove as the Seven train the town and prepare for the real battle ahead. When that battle finally comes, it takes the whole third act to settle and brings out Fuqua's whole bag of action tricks.

At that point, Fuqua stops holding back and starts throwing everything but the kitchen sink, in a whole lot of sound, gunfire and fury. The whole showcase is certainly louder and more violent than how things played out in 1960 and even 1954 with this story, which isn't entirely a bad thing. After slowly but surely building towards the big shootout, Fuqua is then able to make it a real payoff after all.

The whole journey of the Seven is that their bumpy ride ultimately pays off when they get to do what they do best. In that sense, the same principle applies to The Magnificent Seven as a whole, as it too rounds itself out over time before delivering the fireworks at the end. Once the individual work and teamwork of Washington, Pratt, Hawke, D'Onofrio and Bennett gets it through the growing pains, Fuqua's action sensibilities come alive and carry it the last mile through.

This may be damning the film with somewhat faint praise, which is warranted in a way. Considering that Washington is directing and starring in the would-be Oscar contender Fences during the holidays, that Pratt is going into sci-fi leading man territory with Jennifer Lawrence in Passengers at the same time, and that Bennett has an even bigger breakout role ahead in The Girl on the Train in just two weeks, this may merely be a warm-up act for them and the fall blockbuster season as a whole in the long run.

In that context, The Magnificent Seven really isn't asking that much from the stars and Fuqua than their usual skill set. But those skills were exactly what they were hired for to get the job done and come out ahead, much like with their characters. Those are the skills that get the movie ahead in the end, even if the victory isn't as total as it is in the film itself, despite being far less deadly.

Many remakes, reboots and reimagining of older movies have done it worse lately, with less bang for their buck, less chemistry and less star power used to the fullest. These may be a less Magnificent Seven than Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen and their posse, but they do their fair share to avoid being the Dreadful Seven instead. For that, at the very least, Fuqua, his men and one lady do earn a nice ride off into the sunset.