The 1960 version of “The Magnificent Seven” combined an all-star cast (Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson) with a pure mission-of-mercy story and delivered that Western tale with one of the greatest soundtracks in film history. It’s truly magnificent.
Despite the inevitable comparisons, director Antoine Fuqua’s remake continues the theme of a group of outlaws and misfits coming together to help the helpless.
Living up to the original is an almost impossible task. The remake tries to match the star power with Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt, but the overall lineup eventually pales in comparison.
Washington brings the controlled swagger that makes his character believable as the leader of this group. It helps that the screenwriter is Richard Wenk, who understands how to write for Washington. (Wenk penned “The Equalizer” script.) He also wrote the script for “The Expendables,” another film that draws heavily on “The Magnificent Seven” blueprint (which was taken from the “Seven Samurai” format).
It’s a blueprint that has worked for decades, including Pratt’s star-making “Guardians of the Galaxy.” The theme of what makes a hero is always solid.
One reason the new version falls a little short is the change in story direction. In the original, the seven misfits come together to save a Mexican village being terrorized by the leader of a band of outlaws. This was a case of a group of people who are losing basic necessities but have no idea how to fight back.
Wenk’s script shifts the action from the quaint Mexican village to a small Western town that sits close to a gold mine. The leader of the bad guys is Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who wants to run the settlers off the land for reasons of sheer greed. The financial motivation has more of a modern feel and makes the efforts by the seven a little less heroic.
It doesn’t help that Sarsgaard falls back on the melodramatic approach to playing the villain that made his work in “Green Lantern” so forgettable. He tries too hard to make his villains gimmicky and that’s not necessary in a story where the basic plot is right over might.
The new “Magnificent Seven” has a 21st-century mark of diversity, from the ethnic mix of the heroes to the strength of the character played by Haley Bennett. She doesn’t make the final cut to be on the seven-hero team but her role is pivotal.
Fuqua does smartly use the original theme song by Elmer Bernstein over the closing credits. The theme is teased in the movie but it is a beautiful musical accent mark at the end.
Comparisons are always the curse of remaking a movie. In this case, what the new film loses to star power it makes up with incredibly choreographed fight scenes. Actors in the remake aren’t as well-known but that doesn’t keep them from turning in solid performances.
How much the audience member loves the original will be a major factor in judging the remake. If you can get past the places where the new movie fails to match the original, it’s a Western that shoots straight.
The Magnificent Seven
Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Peter Sarsgaard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ethan Hawke, Lee Byung-hun, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Rating: PG-13 (language, violence, smoking)
Opens: Friday, Sept. 23