Just 'The Seven' will do. Lose the 'Magnificent'.
From Kurosawa to Sturges to... Antoine Fuqua, this classic tale comes back to life with plenty of guns and violence - and a strong cast - but nothing that will leave it anywhere near a future classic.The classic Akira Kurosawa epic, Seven Samurai has already been the source of a Western remake in John Sturges's 1960 The Magnificent Seven, itself an iconic classic (spawning several sequels and space-based re-imagining in Battle Beyond the Stars), so one might wonder why remake a classic remake in 2016 and add nothing new? Well, as it turns out, Fuqua has done something new this time - indeed plenty new - but the changes are neither for the better, nor well-utilised, with this new incarnation scrambling around to find its own identity, and ending up a bloody, efficient, but largely perfunctory exercise in Wild West action for a new generation.The story, following the Sturges Western in its core design, has Mexican villagers updated to white townsfolk, here under the gun not of marauding Mexican bandits but of a despotic wealthy landowner with his own private army of mercenaries. Following suit, however, the town seek out bounty hunter Sam Chisolm to help them. Chisolm, who has his own reasons for helping, recruits a disparate group of miscreants - from a wise-cracking gambler to a knife expert, to a sharpshooter, an outlaw, an archer and a tracker, ticking the boxes off on most of the characters from the original, whilst allowing for a pointedly ethnically diverse cast of characters to accumulate.
The action is surprisingly back-loaded - and whilst that's a hallmark of both of the film's progenitors, it seems slightly out of place in a modern actioner, which this can aspire to be little more than. The extended finale is also surprisingly bloody, pushing the boundaries of its 12A rating - Fuqua is quite merciless and gratuitous at times, which is somewhat curious given that his ethos when he approached this remake of the hallowed original was, reportedly, to make a film 'which his grandmother would approve of'.
Still, notwithstanding the largely corporate box-ticking work that has gone into this production, from the top down, it is a perfectly watchable, slick, and violent western. It benefits hugely from its cast - with the supporting players, whilst not quite as celebrated as the original stars, or even those originally touted for the project back when it was announced in 2012 (Cruise, Costner, Freeman), do their best with the material. Vincent D'Onofrio's tracker is, curious, to say the least, but is never less than attention-grabbing; Chris Pratt does his wisecracking thing (typecasting has definitely set in, now, with his big three hitters – Guardians of the Galaxy, Jurassic World and now this – largely interchangeable) but it suits the role and to a certain extent the film; and Ethan Hawke, in particlar, stands out as a battle-damaged veteran (modelled on Christopher Walken's character from The Deer Hunter) sharing a bloody Civil War past with Washington's leader.
Or how about "The Solid Seven"?
It's Washington's baby, of course, much as his earlier Fuqua films - Training Day and The Equalizer - with the masterful veteran actor commanding the screen in every scene. It's curious that they feel the need to retrofit a revenge-twinged backstory to his character in this feature – given that a key feature of both the original Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven was the lead character's innate moral code, and the fact that that was enough reason to be committed to putting your life on the line for innocent strangers (and enough to instill the same feeling, eventually, in even his most mercenary companions) – but perhaps it was a bid to dispel any insinuiations of race-related prejudice, given the period. Nevertheless, Washington almost single-handedly makes the project work, or at least makes it never less than watchable, with some of the supporting turns (excepting Peter Sarsgaard's uninspired villain) being the icing on the cake. It's just a shame that his and, in particular, Hawke's character weren't a part of a different story with more time to invest in them, rather than this more predictable remake bid.
For all of Fuqua's commitment to make his own vision of the classic tale, there's nothing here remotely resembling the director's work, although it's hard to tell what Fuqua's trademarks would be beyond fairly generic slick efficiently and a penchant for violence (the last of which is arguably sometimes a breath of fresh air in modern Hollywood) and yet it is still another solid - albeit uninspired (even the late James Horner's last score barely registers as anything more than generic) - blockbuster to add to Washington's resume, which would have earned a marginally better reception had it not been treading so callously on hallowed ground. It's a perfectly watchable action-western, but don't expect a magnificent masterpiece in the tradition of its heritage, at best this is a Solid Seven.
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