The old saying goes that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Ben-Hur, anyone? Not content to let sleeping dogs lie, Antoine Fuqua follows prevailing winds currently battering screens all over the world by remaking John Sturges’ 1960 Steve McQueen/Yul Brynner classic The Magnificent Seven, itself a Hollywood iteration of Akira Kurosawa’s seminal masterpiece Seven Samurai. Lack of originality aside, Fuqua’s latest suffers in a pedestrian opening half with predictable storytelling, surface-level character development, and ropey script but explodes – literally – into life with a spectacular extended showdown sequence that exhibits the director’s vision, skill, and flair in crafting stellar action.
The familiarity of plot is echoed by the Training Day and Equalizer director getting various members of the old band back together for this ensemble number; Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, and Haley Bennett are back in the saddle. However, ‘Bogue’ is the name on lips of terrified townsfolk, aside a stagecoach and boxes of gold in a desperately poorly acted prologue which paints the scene of Rose Creek, a settlement under the heal of ruthless capitalist aggressors. Driving people from the land by any and all means necessary, Peter Sarsgaard is the villain of the piece, shooting the defiant husband of local gal Emma Cullen (Bennett). Seeking retribution and/or revenge for her loss and the inexorable fate of a besieged town, she and male companion Teddy Q (Luke Grimes) go in search of a hero.
Who better for the job than Denzel Washington? His steely eyed surety of movement recalls Eastwood’s Man with No Name and instils trust, fear and respect in equal measure. He’s given first of all to diplomacy, but is open to pistols at dawn (or indeed any time) if necessary. Chris Pratt once again puts his pitch perfect comic timing to good use as gambling, drinking, sharpshooter Josh ‘Chris Pratt’ Faraday, the first of – you guessed it – six recruits. Introduced lounging with feline agility on a fence, Ethan Hawke is certainly not stretching himself here but his easy screen presence as emotionally scarred sniper Goodnight Robicheaux is ever-watchable.
Fuqua completes his culturally diverse rag tag group of freedom fighters with an arrow-firing Comanche Indian (Martin Sensmeier), knife-throwing Oriental assassin (Byung-hun Lee), Mexican cowboy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Davy Crockett bear of an avenging angel (Vincent D’Onofrio). A seemingly disparate group of men united in a common effort, good combatting evil, ordinary people confronting the evil of capitalist oppression: themes dug like the trench defences of the preparing-for-the-showdown montage but nonetheless pertinent and universal. The grand finale is quite a spectacle, one of the finest shootout sequences in recent memory and carried off with breathless stylistic class by a director holding the reins good and firm. 2016’s The Magnificent Seven is a game of two halves that is worthy multiplex fare but by no means reinvents the wheel.
Words by Matthew Anderson