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Thursday, 29 September 2016

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

(M) ★★★★

Director: Antoine Fuqua.

Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard.

Little known fact: The Wild West often celebrated racial diversity.

EVERYONE loves a good team-up.

Whether it’s Marvel’s Avengers, DC’s Justice League and Suicide Squad, cult ‘90s cartoon Captain Planet, or an NBA All-Star game, people enjoy watching uniquely talented individuals coming together to make something greater than the sum of their parts for the power of good.

When done properly, it’s a thing of beauty. Take for example Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 film Seven Samurai and its 1960 Western rehash The Magnificent Seven (anyone lamenting a remake of The Magnificent Seven was hopefully doing so with a healthy dose of irony). Both films are regarded as bona fide classics, and stand as team-up benchmarks, as well as being great examples of the “hired guns save the village” sub-genre (which has its own spin-off sub-sub-genre – “hired pretend guns save the village”, featuring the likes of Three Amigos, A Bug’s Life and Galaxy Quest).

Digressions aside, this remake from Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer) probably won’t be held in the same high regard in 50 years time as the Kurosawa or John Sturges versions, but the key qualities that made those predecessors tick are on display again here. This is perhaps damning it with faint praise, but Fuqua’s Magnificent Seven will always easily be the third best version of this story.

Uniting the team, in the Toshiro Mifune/Yul Brynner role, is Denzel Washington – as cool and calm as ever as Wild Mid-West registered bounty hunter Sam Chisholm. When he is approached by the recently widowed Emma Cullen (Bennett) and asked to help save her town from the clutches of evil robber baron Bartholomew Bogue (Sarsgaard), Chisholm collects a random team of talented individuals who must come together to make something greater than the sum of their parts for the power of good.

The things that made its predecessors great are all here – colourful characters, a canny cast, and a stirring plot about sacrifice and overcoming impossible odds because, goddammit, it’s the right thing to do.

The cast in particular is outstanding. Seeing Washington re-team with his Training Day co-star Hawke makes you think they should do more films together. Pratt is playing the same louche hero he plays in all his films of late, but he does it so well it’s silly complaining about it. D’Onofrio hasn’t had a role this good outside of the small screen in decades. Sarsgaard gives good villain. Bennett is going to be big.

They all get decent characters, and while some aren’t as well sketched as they could be, at least some effort is made to hint at deeper layers.

The plot is rock solid and remains unchanged from 1954 and 1960. Fuqua hasn’t gone out of his way to mess with it and this is both a blessing and a curse.

On the downside, the film plays it incredibly safe. There is nothing daring or unpredictable about it – the only thing that will keep you guessing is trying to figure out which of the seven will survive the big shoot-out. This means this Magnificent Seven will always run a respectable third.

On the upside, Fuqua hasn’t done something stupid and attempt to fix something that ain’t broke. And in that sense, this version of The Magnificent Seven is a great success. It does exactly what you hope it would do – deliver an updated version of an old story with a few good laughs, a sense of cool camaraderie between its misfit heroes, and conclude with an over-the-top showdown that boasts a ridiculous body count. It is exactly as good as you hoped it could be, and not an iota more.

What more could you ask for in a remake of Seven Samurai?

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