So once again we have survived.

The Magnificent Seven (2016 remake)

tn_m7-16First of all, man, I am never gonna get that theme song out of my head. It’s on the original and the three sequels and on this remake it’s just on the end credits, other than some sly hints at its rhythm adapted to percussion and that exotic flute type thing that modern film composers love. But it’s so catchy and I’ve heard it so many times this last week or two that it’s burned onto my brain like what used to happen to TVs if you left it on a DVD menu all day. Thanks alot, Elmer Bernstein.

In Antoine Fuqua’s THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, we have a small town in Kansas (not Mexico) being threatened by a wealthy land baron (not bandits) who comes in with a bunch of killers, and makes a shitty, non-negotiable offer for their land, that he says they can accept or be killed when he comes back in three weeks. And he makes this threat at gunpoint inside the church! Not cool.

This opening shows the dangers of normal people standing up to these bullies: they quickly execute the first guy who does it, and this escalates into a massacre. This asshole Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) tells the in-his-pocket-out-of-fear sheriff to leave the bodies where they are, burns down the church and stops by the whorehouse on the way out.

It’s the widow Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett [THE EQUALIZER], but many will probly just think it’s Jennifer Lawrence) and her friend Teddy (Luke Grimes, ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE) who, without the approval of the rest of the town, ride out looking for magnificent help. They witness badass bounty hunter Chisolm (Denzel Washington, VIRTUOSITY)’s daring shooting of a wanted man in a saloon and convince him to help. He needs help helping so he puts together a team. I am not gonna give away the number of people on the team but I think fans of SEVEN SAMURAI, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and SE7EN will be pretty pleased.

mp_m7-16In the Steve McQueen first-guy-he-finds slot is Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt, JENNIFER’S BODY), a drinking, gambling, cheating scoundrel with not enough money and too many enemies. He’s the funny guy, so it’s kind of harsh when he shoots a guy’s ear off for coming after money he cheated. Didn’t expect that out of that lovable goofball. I guess it’s kind of in the tradition of how they introduce Han Solo in STAR WARS, that part in the cantina where you can’t really see what happened but George Lucas says Han Solo defends himself in a cool way and the fans say that Lucas is lying and actually Han committed a cowardly cheap shot murder of a fellow professional trying to legitimately collect money that he knows he’s way overdue on and he wouldn’t have been dealing with a vile gangster in the first place if he was a responsible adult, so he should be ashamed of himself, the no-business, born-insecure, rat-soup-eating nerf herder!

Pratt always wears a vest and rolled up sleeves designed to show off the shoulders and forearms he got from Marvel. I don’t think we ever see him punch anybody out or chop wood, so I’m not sure why he needs those in the old west, but he gets a scene where he’s very nimble with various firearms, proving that he got some training specific to the role.

But him and Chisolm don’t become best buds like I kinda expected. He stays closer to his old friend, Goodnight Robicheaux, played by Ethan Hawke, which between Denzel and director Antoine Fuqua makes this a TRAINING DAY reunion. Seven King Kongs ain’t got shit on these seven. Robicheaux brings with him Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee, I SAW THE DEVIL), who’s introduced with a knife vs. gun duel like James Coburn, but also knows how to slash. Then there’s Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series), a bounty who Chisolm tracks and then hires rather than arrest, and Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio, THE BLOOD OF HEROES, ESCAPE PLAN), a legendary mountain man, plus Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), a badass Comanche warrior who says he follows his own path.

I like that all the magnificents have pretty good gimmicks. Faraday does card tricks. Billy Rocks is a suave cigarette smoking brooder – the South Korean James Dean? – acting like a rock star in a country that demeans him. Robicheaux loves to speak in flowery metaphors, and suffers from some kind of PTSD. Hawke brings his regular-guy charisma even while trying to talk kinda like Colonel Sanders.

The funniest performance is definitely D’Onofrio. Of course he’s gotten bigger over the years, but seeing him run around with a bushy white beard it seems like he’s turned into late-period Orson Welles (after playing the young handsome version 22 years ago in ED WOOD). Then he gives him a weird, high-pitched mumble, the voice of a man who’s been alone in the woods for years, only himself and the bears to make chit-chat with.

Red Harvest is the Boba Fett character, the one that doesn’t talk much, but wears fearsome-looking war paint and looks cool leaping across the rooftops and firing arrows. Of course he ends up facing off with Bogue’s bigger, older Comanche henchman Denali (Jonathan Joss, TRUE GRIT), who throws a mean tomahawk.

It’s not like they do anything deep with this, but it has a theme of different types of people learning to work together. Chisolm and Robicheaux were on opposite sides of the civil war before they became friends. Horne is said to have scalped numerous Native Americans, but is working alongside a badass Comanche. Faraday turns racist as soon as he sees Vasquez, who understandably hates him. The last two are the only ones that really have an arc of starting to care about each other (actually similar to what happens between Joe Don Baker and Bernie Casey in GUNS OF THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN), but the idea comes across.

Despite this theme, any issues of Chisolm’s race are only dealt with indirectly. When he walks into the saloon at the beginning and everyone turns to look at him it could be because of racism, or it could be because he’s a scary looking stranger, as happens in many westerns. When he says that he’s not for sale it takes on a different meaning than if it had been Yul Brynner saying it. But his past as a civil war veteran seems more like a sports rivalry than the personal fight that Washington himself got to portray in GLORY. The past event that he blames Bogue for does involve Bushwackers, but sounds like it could’ve happened to any northerner, regardless of race.

And when Chisolm first confronts Bogue’s men it’s the Asian guy they wonder about, and Chisolm pretends he’s his manservant. (He claims to have met him in Shanghai, though Lee is Korean.) Racism against Asians is mentioned, though not seen.

The battle is pretty well done, with plenty of tricks up plenty of sleeves, and the resolve to stick with the suicide mission story and kill off several sequel-worthy characters. I do wish they had more time to hang out and get to know each other, the advantage of SEVEN SAMURAI’s 75-minutes-longer running time. But I think this does a better job than THE EXPENDABLES of balancing the needs of the cast with the expectations of the genre. Actually it made me wish THE EXPENDABLES had been a loose remake of SEVEN SAMURAI or 13 ASSASSINS.

By the way, the screenplay is by Richard Wenk (EXPENDABLES 2, THE MECHANIC, 16 BLOCKS, also directed VAMP) along with Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective).

Now let’s look at it as an adaptation. It has all the prerequisite MAGNIFICENT SEVEN parts: the attack on the village and decision to get help, the tough guy introduction of the lead where he meets his sidekick, the recruiting of the team, the preparations, the battle, the departure. It also has the Elmer Bernstein theme song, but only on the end credits, unless you count the way they subtly reference it with percussion and those exotic flute things that modern movie score composers love.

None of these things are done incompetently, and none are done exactly like the original. I think the introduction of Chisolm is the one that pales most in comparison to the original. It’s a well done bounty-hunter-comes-into-a-saloon-and-everybody-scoffs-at-him-and-he-shows-them-who’s-boss scene, but far too standard a scenario to match the novelty of the original’s hearse scene. It also seems like their research for how bounty hunters operated in the old west was to write down some of the dialogue from DJANGO UNCHAINED.

None of the characters are specifically based on characters from the original, which means they’re even further removed from the ones in SEVEN SAMURAI. But they do a good job of making them distinct from each other and giving them different skills (though in the battle most of them do the same kind of stuff as each other – mostly shooting and detonating bombs).

They make an effort to slightly female up the sausagefest (and/or to be more like TRUE GRIT) by having the stubborn young woman insistent on justice or vengeance, on participating in the battle and spunkily telling off Faraday when he assumes she needs gun tips. (opening scene spoiler) Her husband at the beginning is played by Matt Bomer (MAGIC MIKE) and it’s kinda cool that it’s a known actor because it made me think he’d be the Chico character, but then he doesn’t make it.

I’m not really sure why they took out the aspect of the farmers not having much money to offer, and having to find gunmen who are either desperate for work or can be convinced it’s a good cause. In this version they have no problem at all providing money, taking away a major source of drama for both SEVEN SAMURAI and MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.

It’s probly bad luck to say this out loud, but I think it’s cool that Fuqua has made a western that nobody would think of as a “black western” like POSSE, and nobody thinks it’s unusual. There was a time when black directors mostly had to make “black” movies, and I don’t think that’s really true anymore. Tim Story did two FANTASTIC FOUR movies, F. Gary Gray did THE ITALIAN JOB and BE COOL, the Hughes Brothers did FROM HELL, John Singleton did that terrible teen BOURNE movie, Rick Famuyiwa is doing THE FLASH.

Fuqua has been telling interviewers that he made this movie to put Denzel on a horse. Has he really gone horseless so far his entire career? The strutting, gun-slinging, hat-wearing, all-black-western-attired Denzel is so natural that it doesn’t seem that new. Of course he’s cool in this. It doesn’t feel entirely like his movie though, and that in itself is kind of impressive. Denzel doesn’t usually share.

This is far from the best of the modern westerns, but like the original (if you want to call it that) it’s a pretty solid and entertaining take on the great story of a much better movie, that has a good ensemble cast playing pretty cool characters and having fun working together. I had a good time watching it in a theater, but its true purpose is for you to watch it a few years from now with your dad on a Saturday afternoon.

p.s. So there are the western remakes of SEVEN SAMURAI, and the fantasy version and the space version and the martial arts version, and you guys have let me know there’s an animated bug version and a post-apocalypse version. What’s left? Cop version? Werewolf version? Porn parody?

The Magnificent Checklist:

1. SEVEN SAMURAI
2. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
3. THE RETURN OF THE SEVEN
4. GUNS OF THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
5. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN RIDE!
6. SEVEN MAGNIFICENT GLADIATORS
7. SEVEN WARRIORS

also: BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Friday, September 30th, 2016 at 11:10 am and is filed under Action, Reviews, Western. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

44 Responses to “The Magnificent Seven (2016 remake)”

  1. Someone must have mentioned Three Amigos by now, right?

  2. I made my feelings known in THE EQUALIZER thread so I’ll just say I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed this one. I felt it was a pretty solid modern Western. My favorite non-Washington character was Vincent D’Onofrio and his wonderfully weird performance and great introduction.

  3. The Undefeated Gaul

    September 30th, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    Well I watched it with my dad in the theater, so it served its purpose already, no need to wait a few years :)

    I think this is a solid three star film, let down by a lack of a feeling of true camaraderie between the characters. Each of them was awesome on their own (except Pratt, that guy should not play semi-sadistic hard-asses blowing off people’s ears, felt super forced and like he was ACTING all the way), but they never really come together as a group, they don’t quite gel, chemistry wise. Also, I don’t understand why a fist-pumping action western like this can’t have a cool melodic score, literally the only good part about the score is the original theme, which is saved for the end credits. Why not throw around a bit more of that good stuff throughout the film, write some actual good music for this thing. But I know, that complaint goes for pretty much 90% of the films released in the past decade. Movie scores are dead, and I miss them.

    Aside from that, good stuff. Byung-hun Lee was the highlight for me, that guy is just impossibly cool. Wish he’d get to star in a couple more proper headlining action roles as either hero or villain (he’s fucking great at both). This was a better showcase for him than I’d feared at first, but the guy can do so much more.

  4. The Undefeated Gaul

    September 30th, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    Also, agreed on the “Expendables should have been a Seven Samurai remake” sentiment. It’s so goddamn obvious that that would be the PERFECT type of story for a group of old tough guys actors, it seems truly insane to me that throughout 3 films nobody got the bright idea to just fucking do it.

  5. This is pretty generic fun, but I suppose fun nonetheless. Really, the most interesting thing about it is how unselfconscious it is about being a big expensive modern Western. I mean, it’s pretty much the exact same dumb but fun action movie Fuqua would make for any era, and it doesn’t even particularly concern itself with anachronisms, but at the same time, it’s in no way postmodern or meta, and it fuckin’ loves big, grandiose takes of manly men on horseback which is about as old-fashioned as genre cinema gets. Does the fact that this is becoming something of a hit mean that Westerns are officially back to the mainstream? I’m going to miss the genre’s wilderness years as a haven for offbeat art-westerns and weirdo horror/western pastiches.

    Also, fuckin’ Ethan Hawke always brings his A-game, don’t he? Even here, where the script doesn’t quite know how to deliver on the arc it sets up for him (or any of them) he’s far and away the most interesting thing in sight.

  6. Also, I was only moderately enthused about MAG7REMAKE, but I’d be genuinely excited for a Lee Byung-hun / Ethan Hawke prequel spin-off. And if Kim Jee-Woon could direct it, that would be swell, thanks everyone.

  7. Missing Mag7 ripoff/homage: the only one I can think of is THE BAD PACK (1997).

    Shit, what a cast:

    The Bad Pack - Trailer

    This is the trailer to the 1997 action movie The Bad Pack starring Robert Davi. Full movie review | http://www.90lostminutes.com/2014/09/the-bad-pack.html

  8. Have there been any post apocalyptic Magnificent 7’s? I mean Mad Max and its many imitators are basically Westerns (and of course Max has helped villagers and sort of filled the role of Magnificent Number One) , but I can’t think of any which follow through with a full retelling.

  9. I mention it on another talk back but World Gone Wild is an example of a post apcolyptic Magnificent 7

  10. I mention it on another talk back but World Gone Wild is an example of a post apcolyptic Magnificent 7

  11. “I had a good time watching it in a theater, but its true purpose is for you to watch it a few years from now with your dad on a Saturday afternoon.”

    Perfect distillation of the movie’s ambitions. This is why I’ve been reading Vern for so many years.

  12. In case nobody mentioned it before, the porn version was directed by Joe D’Amato and is called ROCCO E I MAGNIFICI.

  13. I thought Pratt did a nice job. I didn’t notice him working too hard. I thought it was a more nuanced performance than he’s given lately.

    It was a total waste of an awesome song. That song isn’t made for the credits. It’s made for riding horses over a ridge with the sun either rising or setting behind them.

    I liked every character and actor. I did think Vasquez was not as interesting, but he wasn’t bad or anything. And Goodnight Robicheaux is one of the best names ever.

    I was a little annoyed with the amount of skin they had the woman flashing. No woman would be riding around with her bosom all out and bouncing around to get sunburned like that.

  14. Dtroyt – THE ROLLER BLADE SEVEN might qualify. It is, incidentally, one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. It’s also fucking hilarious and well worth anyone’s time if they’re into super entertaining cinematic train wrecks. I was pretty obsessed with the director and his invention and application of the “zen filmmaking” technique for a while there.

  15. Thanks for writing about this series, it’s been a fun one. It also gave me an opportunity to shine, ha. I was at the comic book store and the owner and a guy were talking about The Magnificent Seven and who was in the sequels and what have you. Now, I’ve only seen the first two (Mifune and Yul), but I was able to jump in like I had a mutherfucking degree in Magnificence! I gave you all due credit though and rolled out of there.

    Also, I had a good time watching this one at the show. Fun bunch of characters and actors.

  16. “Actually it made me wish THE EXPENDABLES had been a loose remake of SEVEN SAMURAI or 13 ASSASSINS.”

    That’s pretty damn true.

    I give this movie a 6.5 out of ten. It’s entertaining and there are lots of things I like; how only three survive, how there isn’t a love story, and how each character feels different and is well performed (Hawke & Donofrio especially). I, personally, LOVED who the three surviving characters were at the end (I didn’t expect those to be the three) and was also pleased by who died, and how.

    But…

    -I wish we had spent more time with the characters (Pratt & the Mexican, for sure).
    -the “Teddy” character should’ve been cut. Didn’t give a single shit about him the whole movie. They should’ve made the Irish Priest the guy who goes with the girl to hire the 7. I’m right about this.
    -the final battle gets a bit boring, what with all the bullets and explosions and this constant resetting of “ok, NOW there even more bad guys coming at them AGAIN” to the point where I’m not sure what the stakes are until the gatling gun comes out. -All the seven (except Donofrio) seem to be GREAT at shooting. Sure, they have their differences visually, but when the action happens I would’ve like more variance.

  17. Vern, you say that this is far from the best of the modern westerns. It would be interesting to hear what movies you consider good modern westerns?

  18. Jareth Cutestory

    October 1st, 2016 at 6:40 am

    Those YOUNG GUNS movies from the late 80s / early 90s don’t have anything to do with the SEVEN concept, do they? Sort of like the MUPPET BABIES that were all the rage at about the same time? The only thing I know about those films is the wretched Bon Jovi song.

  19. Wait? Isn’t the first Expendables a variation on this?

  20. Also, Cirio H Santiago’s DUNE WARRIORS, which stars David Carradine, and is reasonably fun.

    Holy shit, 70s BATTLESTAR GALACTICA did a rip off episode, too.

  21. I don´t think that Bon Jovi song is wretched. I actually like it and most of the album as well.

  22. I agree with Shoot. Blaze of Glory is an awesome Jon Bon Jovi song.

  23. I willingly admit that there are several Bon Jovi albums that I like.

  24. Pegsman – That’s a good question. I’m no expert on it and to be honest when I said modern I was thinking of things as old as UNFORGIVEN, which is the far and away champion to me. But I would consider TRUE GRIT, DJANGO UNCHAINED, APPALOOSA and THE REVENANT (sorry Inarritu, it’s a western) to be some of my favorites. Also I liked BONE TOMAHAWK, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE ETCETERA ETCETERA and 3:10 TO YUMA was maybe about the same quality as this one. There are many others that I know people like that I need to get around to.

  25. “Fuqua has been telling interviewers that he made this movie to put Denzel on a horse. Has he really gone horseless so far his entire career?”

    Denzel was on a horse in Kenneth Branagh’s version of Shakespeare’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. In the opening credits he comes galloping in with Branagh, Keanu Reeves and the guy who played Wilson on HOUSE.

  26. THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, Vern? Being post Unforgiven and all…

  27. That’s more or less the list I suspected, Vern. I would add MISSING and TOMBSTONE. We could go all the way back to DANCES WITH WOLVES, really. Or maybe we should call all westerns where the hero don’t have pants that go all the way up to his armpits, modern?

  28. Yeah, THE MISSING with Tommy Lee Jones and Cate Blanchett (plus Evan Rachel Wood, practising for WESTWORLD) is a fairly solid one. Good mood.
    Also great: RIDE WITH THE DEVIL, that Ang Lee western people tend to forget exists. And OPEN RANGE, of course.

  29. Vern, does that list signal a reappraisal of THE LONE RANGER, or are you trying to make people forget it was a western so as not to slow the chance of a revival?

    Johnny Depp’s other westerns, DEAD MAN and RANGO, are good too. RANGO would go nicely with A BUG’S LIFE, if anyone wanted a partially Kurosawa-inspired, computer-animated animals double bill.

    THE MISSING is solid, but it pales next to the two westerns Tommy Lee Jones has directed: THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA and THE HOMESMAN. A wise man called The Three Burials “the first true bad ass Cinema of 2006”:

    The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

    This movie is directed by and starring Mr. Tommy Lee Jones (UNDER SIEGE) and it’s a western, even though it takes place today. It might be the first western with cell phones. As far as I could tell there were only two literal burials of Melquiades Estrada depicted in the movie so I figure the other …

  30. Uh, while there may actually be a bad ass in THE THRE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA, I’m failry sure we both meant, and you said, “badass Cinema”.

  31. “Failry”! Enough said.

  32. TLJ directed and starred in the very good THE HOMESMAN last year, an offbeat western with a strong feminist bent and a 70’s revisionist vibe, and no one knows it even exists. At least nobody I talk to. Damn shame.

  33. Good call Borg9

  34. Seven King Kongs ain’t got shit on these seven.

    nice

  35. How could I forget OPEN RANGE. It’s a classic.

  36. Hey, what about THE GOOD THE BAD THE WEIRD?

    Just saw this new Mag 7 and yeah, I really liked this. Fuqua is one solid cat when it comes to action, and this hit the spot: a meat and potatoes western with a nice side dish of revisionism (I love the fact that the survivors are Trump’s favorite kinda people.)

    Good stuff and I sincerely hope they don’t make any sequels.

  37. After The Equalizer and Mag7 it’s occured to me they should’ve gotten Antoine Fuqua to direct The Force Awakens instead of JJ. I loved his approach of taking an old IP, giving us a list of shit we like from the old IP with his own spin on them, then letting him new elements of his own so it doesn’t feel tired on first go.

  38. Yeah, that’s a good one, Fred. I’ve been meaning to revisit that.

  39. Borg9 – THE LONE RANGER didn’t occur to me since it’s such a different tone and style of western, but no, I have not forsaken it. I still love it. I thought of THREE BURIALS but decided not to include contemporary westerns, otherwise I’d have said NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN too.

  40. THE SALVATION (2014) is cool. A Danish-made western that references (either heavily or lightly) literally hundreds of previous films (mainly Westerns, of course). Jeffrey Dean Morgan knocks it out of the park (vague pun intended) as the villain.

  41. Thanks Vern. I guess that’s what I thought, and I do think you’re right about both movies.

    If you were looking to add another contemporary border western to that list with THREE BURIALS and NO COUNTRY, then I’d want to suggest LONE STAR, John Sayles’s SHORT CUTS/CRASH western.

  42. I second LONE STAR. Such a great movie, one of the most underrated movies of the ’90s.

  43. Speaking of post apocalyptic takes on the SEVEN SAMURAI/ MAGNIFICENT SEVEN formula. Stephen Kings book number five in THE DARK TOWER series is a MAGNIFICENT SEVEN setup

    Also, this film is alright. Goiod to see a fim in the old school weathered as hell westerngenre.

  44. I don’t know if I was in a bad mood or what, but nothing in this movie worked for me – it’s basically the “dark and gritty”/Nolanized reboot of a beloved IP, except Nolan (despite his rep) remembered to put fun and excitement in his Batman trilogy. This should have been a Superman Returns/Force Awakens-style soft reboot/homage, but Denzel isn’t playing Chris for some reason and the theme song isn’t even used until the end credits – can you imagine if those movies tried that shit?

    Everything here is joyless and dour, with sluggish pacing and scenes (and even individual shots) dragging on way, way too long. I can’t believe this is only 4 minutes longer than the original because it feels twice as long. (Not to mention 45 min. or so longer than some of the sequels, which managed to inject more personality into their characters). I like all these actors, but other than D’Onofrio and Hawke, who try their best, everybody is devoid of chemistry and on autopilot – I mean if even Peter Sarsgaard can’t make an impression as the main villain, then all hope is lost. (I can’t believe I’m saying it, but I actually prefer Kenneth Branagh playing basically the same character in Wild Wild West).

    Maybe I’d be ok with it if the action scenes delivered, but other than a few cool beats, it’s just repetitive shooting and shooting and shooting, way past the point of tedium. What does it say that the movie makes me wait almost 2 hours for its big action showdown, finally delivers a huge, Commando-level bodycount, and I still was thisclose to nodding off?

    Re: Great modern westerns, probably my favorite besides Open Range has got to be Forsaken. Just a simple, clean story that has been told a million times before, but it’s told extremely well with great characters, acting, and a final battle that’s probably 1/100th the scale of the Magnificent 7 but is actually exciting and emotionally involving. Kiefer Sutherland continues to show he’s extremely underrated as an actor, and Brian Cox and Michael Wincott are both great as the villains. It’s everything I wish the Magnificent 7 reboot was.

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