We need more Westerns. Brimming with the optimism of a country still being forged, the genre was a mainstay in Hollywood for decades. Back in the day, all of the biggest stars made Westerns. John Wayne. Paul Newman. Jimmy Stewart. The list goes on and on. Modern day stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx and Kurt Russell have had a chance to play in the neo-Western, but with The Magnificent Seven, the old-fashioned, star-studded, big budget Western has returned to the silver screen.
The original The Magnificent Seven, itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, was chock-full of stars, with Yul Brenner and Steve McQueen headlining a cast that included Eli Wallach, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, and James Coburn. The new Seven is no different, with Washington and Pratt co-starring with Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Haley Bennett, Matt Bomer, Byung-hun Lee and Peter Sarsgaard.
This new Magnificent Seven is very much a typical, classic Western. It hits almost every mark of the old-fashioned, John Wayne-esque Western. There are a few modern sensibilities, especially the diverse cast, but the film lacks the modern neo-Western feel of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained or the Coen Brothers’ True Grit remake. Giving Washington a starring role in a Western is a pretty good reason to remake The Magnificent Seven, but beyond that nothing truly feels new with the film.
That’s not a total surprise, given director Antoine Fuqua’s last outing, Southpaw, refused to stray from the tropes of the boxing genre. Beyond casting his Training Day and The Equalizer star Washington as the lead, Fuqua doesn’t stray from the ideals of the classic Western. It doesn’t kill the film, but with the genre peaking almost 50 years ago it doesn’t exactly make The Magnificent Seven fresh. The best thing going for Seven is the script, co-written by True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto. The dialogue crackles and the one-liners are a treat, but wow is Peter Saarsgard’s villain left to do nothing more than glare at the good guys after a fun opening scene monologue.
Mostly with this new Magnificent Seven, everyone involved seems giddy – and content – to make an old-fashioned, big budget studio Western in 2016. And why shouldn’t they?
In the Western’s heyday, a film like The Magnificent Seven wouldn’t star Denzel Washington or have Antoine Fuqua directing. Why it took this long for Washington, one of the best and most badass actors around, to star in a Western is anybody’s guess. As Chisolm, Washington’s terse delivery and saunter set the film’s tone, freeing up the rest of the seven, especially Pratt and D’Onofrio, to let loose, and have some fun. Pratt, free from the burden of shouldering a blockbuster, is clearly having the time of his life as card shark Faraday. D’Onofrio, looking like a grizzly bear, speaks with the squeaky, high-pitched voice of a pre-teen, sounding like the complete opposite of his Kingpin character in Daredevil.
There isn’t a pressing need to remake The Magnificent Seven in 2016, nor was there a need to remake 1954’s Seven Samurai into a Western in 1960. It’s not the worst thing in the world to say that, if nothing else, The Magnificent Seven gave the world a Denzel Washington-led Western, it’s just a shame there isn’t more to the film than that.