By: Kevin Jordan
Yee *snore* haw.
If there’s one thing about being a movie critic that is annoying it’s when people get all incredulous when I tell them I haven’t seen <insert movie title here>. It’s usually a movie that happens to be their favorite movie, so life stops making sense to them when I have the temerity to tell them I haven’t seen their favorite movie. Or every movie ever made, for that matter. This is always immediately followed by “well, you really need to see it.” This is a good time to remind you, dear shocked readers, that I am only thirty-seven years old and “movie critic” is not currently a paid job that I hold. I do this in my spare time and I watch roughly 70 movies released each year. I’ve even added an extra movie a week with my Movie Fixers podcast (shout out to my two friends that co-host with me), which means I’m watching 120-ish movies a year and given that movie watching schedule, I don’t really have time to watch everyone’s favorite movie. I’m fairly certain you aren’t watching that many movies, so you probably don’t want to start a game of have-you-seen-this-movie with me.
I bring this up because I’ve never seen the original The Magnificent Seven. No less than two people were surprised by this, even though the original came out 16 years before I was born. Granted, according to a little research, it’s the second-most shown movie on television (behind The Wizard of Oz), but it’s not like The Wizard of Oz is shown on a daily basis. Plus, the original was considered a box office disappointment (just $2.25M in the US) and is really only well-known for its musical score. It might even be more of a surprise if I had seen the original.
Anyway, this year’s remake of The Magnificent Seven is what you would expect from a remake – uninspiring and not an improvement on the original (so I was told), which explains why it was released in mid-September despite starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt. The plot was tweaked from “seven gunman protect Mexican town from pillaging bandits” to “seven men protect farming town from pillaging gold mine owner.” While I don’t have any problem with the overarching plot – it’s standard fare for Westerns – the details left a lot to be desired.
The biggest problem with the film is the severe lack of character development. All seven of the magnificents were nothing more than cardboard cutouts, as was the woman who hired them, Emma (Haley Bennett), and the villain, Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). You root for or against them for the most basic of reasons – Bogue is greedy and kills people, Emma’s husband was murdered by Bogue’s men, and the magnificent seven are the titular characters. Beyond that, you have no reason to care about any of them when the bullets start flying, and you won’t care when the bodies start piling up (on both sides, including some of the seven). Bigger than that is that all seven of these guys are hinted at being shady characters, yet all of them join this most righteous of crusades with little-to-no convincing required. For the lack of information given on any of them, it’s just as easy to believe these guys are in it simply to kill people as they are to help out the townsfolk.
Just to linger a moment on motivations and relationships here, we have no idea why Sam Chisolm (Washington) picks most of these guys. We hear a piece of a war story that connects him to Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), but nothing to explain why they decide to hug each other at their reunion (they fought on opposite sides of the war). Besides Goodnight (and, yes, that’s his actual name), the rest join simply by being in the right place or because Chisolm once heard of them. None of them have any special or unique skills which means we’re in for a very generic gunfight in the climax.
Much is going to be made of the diversity of the casting of the seven (Washington, Pratt, Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier), but shouldn’t change an opinion of the film when all seven characters are interchangeable, one-dimensional gun slingers (though Lee gets a knife skill and Sensmeier is a Comanche wielding a bow and arrows)? It’s hard to get excited about the lesser-known actors when the writers don’t bother to give them any backstory to speak of. Plus, why isn’t Emma part of the seven? She seems to be nearly as good a shot as any and is the only person who seems to actually give a damn about saving the town. She shows more emotion than the entire seven combined.
What this boils down to is this film is another ho-hum remake a long list of remakes this year that nobody asked for. If you are into throw-back westerns and high body counts, this movie is for you. If you expect more than that out of a movie, especially one that wastes Chris Pratt’s comedic talent (the jokes are there, but the seriousness of the movie steps on most of them), you’ll be bored by this film.
Rating: Ask for seven dollars back and I won’t get mad at you for being shocked that I’ve never watched a Clint Eastwood western.