What a sight for sore eyes seeing a studio tentpole Western film in theaters again, especially with such a fantastic cast. Westerns slowly faded from popularity after the 80’s and it was quite the shame. Perhaps we have Quentin Tarantino to thank for the sudden uptick in popularity, having lovingly crafted two well-received Western films that found new ways into the genre to give the audience something novel and exciting. From Django Unchained to The Hateful Eight, you can see some influences of the “Tarantino Western” in 2016’s The Magnificent Seven through its talky and eccentric characters and more unrelenting violence (not necessarily a terrible thing). In fact, director Antoine Fuqua has created a stylish and efficient blockbuster movie with plenty of elements to admire.
Once expectations have been adjusted to anticipate this kind of popcorn flick, then it is hard to imagine someone not coming out of it with a smile on their face. However, if you are expecting something along the lines of the 1960 classic, or even Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 masterpiece Seven Samurai that in turn was based on, then you are going to be disappointed.
The update of The Magnificent Seven does not stray too far from the original films as far as plot is concerned. It is 1879 in the mining town of Rose Creek. The locals are desperate because an industrialist thug named Bartholomew Bogue has invaded with his gang of outlaws and is holding the town hostage, killing many of them in the process. Emma Cullen, the wife of one of the fallen citizens played by relative newcomer Haley Bennett, goes out searching for a bounty hunter to help the town rid itself of its unwanted guests. She finds Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), who eventually agrees to help. Together, they gather 6 others to join their “magnificent seven”, including characters played by Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, among others. After getting to know each other rather quickly, the “magnificent seven” prepare for battle against the outlaws. Chaos ensues.
What follows is a surprisingly entertaining and thrilling action movie. It takes inspiration in small doses from the original film and other classic Westerns, but the majority of the piece feels modern in the best of ways. It is a Western for a new generation. That is not to say that the film is perfect. In fact, it is far from perfect. This possibly comes down to those “modern” sensibilities. Despite the film’s long run time (it is well over 2 hours long), the film never fleshes itself out the best that it could, which is something that previous incarnations of this story did in an efficient and effective manner. There is character and plot development that is incredibly rushed or just skipped over entirely. Other than a couple of “main characters”, the rest of our 7 gunslingers are little more than single trait archetypes. The actors themselves make these characters memorable because of their strong talents for character work, but the script does them no favors. This group is still incredibly enjoyable to be around, but it is hard to shake the thought of “what if?”
A good example of another film that suffers from team based movie character development is the recent Suicide Squad. The Magnificent Seven is an infinitely more entertaining film than the other, but Suicide Squad’s major downfall was also a lack of development for its plot and characters. What puts Magnificent Seven a notch above DC’s ensemble is that the film makes the effort to spend time with these characters. What the audience doesn’t get from the script, they can possibly get from the actors themselves. Suicide Squad never spent this time with its characters, so they do not even seem like actual people. Rather, they are just ideas that someone threw on screen because someone thought they were cool. Thankfully, The Magnificent Seven does not suffer from this and is able to overcome many of its script issues through sheer talent and energy alone.
The action itself is well handled and intense, often making me question the PG-13 rating that the MPAA slapped on it. The only other aspect of the film’s technical merits that needs to be addressed is the soundtrack, but for different reasons than the previous issues mentioned. The soundtrack for this film is often exhilarating, sometimes even beautiful, but it is unfocused and somewhat sloppy. This is due to the fact that the original composer was the late (and great) James Horner, who died recently as most already know. Simon Franglen was brought on to fill in the gaps in the score that this tragic circumstance left, but he often resorts to using other themes and motifs from previous James Horner works. As a result, there are moments in the film that do not feel as genuine as they ought to be. This is a minor issue, especially given the unfortunate circumstances presented to Franglen, but it is one worth mentioning anyway.
The Magnificent Seven is often a complete blast of fun. The characters are likable and engaging, notable because of the film’s “magnificent” cast, and the action is fast and furious. There are times where the film’s extended runtime creates some saggy moments in the pacing, but when The Magnificent Seven is firing on all cylinders, it really hits the mark. This won’t be a future classic by any means, but there are worse things one can do for an evening out at the movies. Go into it with tempered expectations and it (probably) won’t disappoint.