The western is a simple genre, so I will summarize my opinions of The Magnificent Seven in a similarly simple fashion: Seven is a good movie— not a great movie, not a bad movie—but a good movie. It’s as good as a good movie can be without being either too great or too bad. Does that sound like a bad Dr. Seuss rhyme? Well, it sounds better if you picture me sittin’ on the front porch chewing tobacco and talking in an over-the-top western accent.
I say Seven is a good movie because, as a remake of a remake, the movie will face hostility as something that shouldn’t exist, but actually has far more reason to than most remakes, only to squander that reason on charming banter and gunplay over substance. Granted, it does these things well enough to distract you long enough to where it’s not until you get back into your car you realize you could’ve just seen a vastly better film.
Taking place in the Old West (I have no idea what date, I just assume that whenever someone walks into a bar with swinging half-doors they must be in the Old West), is a direct remake of the remake that was The Magnificent Seven in 1960. Whereas that remake was made with its American audience in mind (the original, Seven Samurai, a Japanese samurai movie, probably wouldn’t have connected for some strange reason), this new version is a straight-up redo with its differences simply being related to time: the effects are better, and the stars have a more modern, accessible charm. Why the filmmakers couldn’t take from the 1960 version and inject the same classic storyline into the setting of something like soldiers in Iraq defending a small town I’ll never know, as the western genre itself doesn’t exactly have audiences pissing themselves with excitement anymore. However, there is one element in this new version that is enough to validate its existence: an abundant sense of diversity.
With “The Seven” made-up of the cast of Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Byung-hun Lee, Vincent D’Onofrio, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Martin Sensmeier there’s no reason to say this movie doesn’t answer the prayers many have today of seeing more diverse casts in movies. In that regard I can see why this movie was made. A story about honor and unity over adversity, no matter your skin color, is a message audiences desperately need to hear and see in modern movies. That being said, the movie only presents the diversity, but never really digs into any of the tensions that would come with it.
Aside from a crooked glance, or the occasional sideways comment from one character to another the issue of race is never really brought up. This is a time when racial tensions were at one of their highest points in American history, so I don’t believe every one of them would be instantly alright with having to team up with someone from, say, China or Mexico, or of a Native American clan for that matter. And yet, for the sake of entertainment they do. I guess that could be the point, that they were able to put trivial biases aside for the greater good. Still, anyone wanting to see racial issues addressed will be hard-pressed to find them done so in this movie. But hey, it gets points for being more diverse than any Michael Bay movie.
The said cast is the main reason to pay the price of admission. Actors like Pratt and Rulfo are suitably charming, loveable assholes, whereas Denzel Washington commands the team with a quiet, confidant cool only he can deliver. Lee wins the “My Favorite Character Prize” as the silent, deadly, knife-wielding and mysterious assassin, Billy Rocks. It’s not often you get a character of his caliber in westerns, especially modern westerns, and I couldn’t help but want to know everything about the man, only to given nothing but mystery (what a tease). Then there’s D’Onofrio as bear/man Jack Horne, a mountainous man with the strained voice of an old prospector. It was genius move by the actor to give the character such an unassuming, almost sickly voice to a massive, dangerous man. He’s sweet, funny, and insanely aggressive as he guts men like fish, and then chucks the carcasses out a window.
But, as is usually the problem in movies with such a big cast, there isn’t a whole lot of complexity to any of them. They each have their characteristics that make them individuals, but they can’t help but feel one-dimensional as the script bounces from character to character, usually sacrificing story building for witty banter. Lee as Rocks and Hawke as Goodnight Robicheaux undoubtedly have a depth to their chemistry as the only two characters that have spent a lot of time together outside the events of the film. They could have their own, inter-racial buddy western flick and I would probably pay out the nose to see it, simply for their effortless compatibility. Plus, Lee rocks it with those knives, and Hawke wins points for rocking a goofy golden tooth with style.
Once we’ve gotten to know the characters’ outer characteristics it became time to bring the pain, as a massive final battle is what this movie builds up to its entire two acts. Director Antoine Fuqua knows how to stage an action sequence, as it’s easy to keep track of every character and stay aware of what they’re doing. Other than that let me recite to you how the action proceeds: Bang, bang, bang, boom! Stab, gut, rib, AH! BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG, NO! We won!
Even though some of these characters had a connection at some point, once the battle is done the ones who have died are left there for the towns people to take care of without a moment of grief from the survivors. They then bolt as if they realized all the damage they caused and were like, “Okay, let’s ride out of here real cool-like before they notice.” The result is a horrendously rendered CGI panning over the graves of the fallen as a cheesy monologue narrates their greatness. For a second I thought I had been transported to the end of a mediocre PlayStation 2 game. Hence ends an entertaining distraction that’s as good as it can be without being to close to greatness or terribleness. Nowadays, that’s good enough for me.