A remake of a film – even if it’s a great film – doesn’t have to be bad. Just look at The Magnificent Seven. The 1960 film about seven men hired to help aid a small Mexican town is a classic of the Western genre, but it’s also a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. With the passage of time, and the shifting of culture, it’s possible to bring something new to a story that’s been told already in a tremendous way.
Unfortunately, Antoine Fuqua’s 2016 version of The Magnificent Seven is a pale take on the 1960 version that tries to involve some modern political commentary, but fails.
In this version of The Magnificent Seven, the town that needs help is Rose Creek, a frontier town in the United States. The town isn’t being threatened by bandits (technically), but by a robber baron named Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who actually utters the line, “This country has long equated democracy with capitalism, capitalism with God.” After threatening the townsfolk, a few of them enlist the services of Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), who has a score of his own to settle with Bogue. He, in turn, assembles a motley crew of partners for this mission: Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a Mexican bandit Chisolm is supposed to bring in for a bounty; Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), a Confederate sniper who travels with his best friend, a Chinese railroad worker named Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee); Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) a mountain man known for killing Natives; a lone Comanche named Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier); and a gambler named Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt).
Unfortunately, The Magnificent Seven fails to make this disparate band of guns-for-hire actually truly connect. Outside of Robicheaux and Rocks, whose relationship is given more weight by Hawke’s and Lee’s performances than the script, there’s nothing that really connects these seven or gives any sign as to how they’ll be able to work together. There’s no real chemistry at play, and outside of Chisolm’s vague reasons for targeting Bogue, there’s no bit of motivation on the part of these outsiders either.
It doesn’t help that a number of the characters feel added in just to hit the “seven” of the title. Vasquez and Red Harvest are perfunctory characters at best. Horne is slightly more memorable, though that may be due more to the way D’Onofrio plays him (the high, wheezing voice is…distinctive). Faraday is technically given more to do, but it’s a misuse of Pratt, who’s not able to pull off the slightly darker qualities this role seems to require.
As for the conflict that comes into play, it seems the only reason to make the villain into a capitalist was to try and make a play for modern audiences. It doesn’t fit in naturally to the story, and some of the dialogue revolving around Bogue’s motivations yanks the film right out of the 1870s time setting.
Look: I get that remakes are big right now for studios, and for MGM, it must be tempting to go back through their storied vault and look for films they can update for modern audiences. But between Ben-Hur and The Magnificent Seven, the studio may want to rethink their strategy. It’s not enough to remake a classic. The remake has to stand on its own, and be worth watching. Right now, they’re failing.