The Magnificent Seven ride again proving the old axiom that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The umpteenth retread of the excellent Seven Samurai (1954) and itself a direct remake of the 1960 Yul Brynner/Steve McQueen classic film, The Magnificent Seven is an underwhelming package that does little to reinvigorate the Hollywood Western despite its all-star cast.
In 1879, evil robber baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) terrorizes a small town in an attempt to force its residents out for his own profits. After Bogue coldly kills her husband (Matt Bomer), young Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) decides to fight back by hiring the mysterious bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) who, for reasons of his own, decides to take on her cause by recruiting a posse of six gunfighters. Together, the Magnificent Seven train the townspeople to stand up and resist Bogue’s impending army attack.
Despite the star power, one of the biggest misfires of The Magnificent Seven is that the titular seven are mostly underdeveloped, hanging on old Western cliches to make up for the lack of characterization (the cowardly legend, the wise-cracking Mexican, the gentle giant, etc.). Washington as their leader, Haley Bennett, and Chris Pratt as the quick-drawing gunfighter with a penchant for magic tricks fair a bit better.
Sadly, the bonding between the townsfolk and the Seven which helped drive the stakes in Samurai and the 1960-version (and even their send-up ¡Three Amigos!) is mostly glossed over with many such scenes either played out for comedy or exposition. Besides the action and the initial recruitment scenes, you never get too much of a chance to get to know many of the Seven marking their eventual fates as flat.
The same applies to the action which is mostly generic and lacks the punch of its predecessors; however, to the film’s credit, the cinematography is stunning and, other than a few stylized moments of slow motion, it imbues the ambiance of an old school Western with little CG evident throughout. The classic Elmer Bernstein theme is subtly woven throughout only playing in its full glory over the end credits and even then it feels unearned and displaced from the tone of the remake.
Overall, The Magnificent Seven misses its target and plays out as a minor autumn diversion. Pratt’s zingers and Washington’s demanding screen-presence propel it from complete mediocrity, but it is nowhere near as magnificent as the title may suggest.