Yee-haw, or whatever.
“Hollywood has run out of ideas” is a phrase I tend to hear a lot the past few years or so. Given mainstream cinema’s recent propensity for adaptions, reboots, remakes, and sequels, it’s not an entirely unfair accusation. Although, fun fact, Hollywood has always been horribly unoriginal, so can they really run out of ideas having not had any in the first place? Anyway, totally unrelated to that ramble, here’s a review of The Magnificent Seven, the remake of a remake of a remake! Boy howdy.
The Magnificent Seven tells the tale of a band of shady and dangerous misfits lead by bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Washington), who end up lending their services to a small mining town being threatened by psychotic and perpetually sweaty corrupt industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Sarsgaard). Together, Chisolm and his merry band have to prepare the little town for an all-out war.
At just past the two hour mark, The Magnificent Seven is a bit of a long sit, and its length ends up being felt very hard in no small part due to the film’s very haphazard pacing. While the introduction and joining of each of the titular 7 to the merry band is glossed over in surprisingly speedy fashion, the film oftentimes feels like its meandering or lingering over long on scenes that don’t necessarily warrant it. While these scenes aren’t necessarily unpleasant, they oftentimes contribute very little to actually moving the plot forward or giving us any kind of interesting characterization or development of the main crew of bad-asses. After each of these scenes, my immediate first thought was “what was the point of that?”
Given the length of the film on the whole, it’s a bit baffling that Magnificent Seven often fails to afford any of its characters even the slightest amount of motivation or reason or going along with what’s happening: this is especially true of both D’Onofrio’s character and the team’s Native American archer Red Harvest (Sensmeier), whose only discernable reason for going along with anything is because “wicked men” are involved. This is even more bizarre given how many scenes involve the main seven characters exchanging dialogue. All these scenes that offer a perfect opportunity for some characterization are wasted on attempts at witty and humorous banter that, while entertaining enough, often ends up being little more than surface-level fluff that doesn’t do much to offer any greater engagement with the characters to the audience.
The fact that the main cast of characters feels so underdeveloped by the film’s end is also quite baffling given how much time in the film is spent on the gradual and oftentimes excruciating build-up to its final climatic action scene. While there are some interesting moments with the characters played by the film’s heavy-hitters (Hawke, Pratt, and Washington), these come few and far between and don’t do quite enough to make any of the characters feel like anything beyond one-dimensional. And when they aren’t being underdeveloped, some of the characters are simply undercut by performances that are confusing and often giggle-inducing. This was particularly true of D’Onofrio and Sarsgaard’s performances, both of who clearly try to go for “dangerous and unhinged”, but just end up going so goofy with it that it just comes across as, well…goofy. This was particularly jarring for me as far as Sarsgaard’s performance was concerned. I really wasn’t kidding when I said he’s perpetually sweaty. Combined with his fondness for lolling his head around, drawling out his lines in weird cadence, and half-opening his eyes, Sarsgaard comes across less like an unstable maniac and more like a guy running a horrifyingly high fever on the verge of passing out. While I guess it was nice to see both men seemingly having a lot of fun in the roles, it didn’t do much to aid in the audience’s investment in what was happening, as most scenes involving D’Onofrio especially were met with confused laughter.
Performances elsewhere in the film were serviceable, if not fairly unremarkable. Pratt and Washington both turn in solid performances in doing their level best to be tough-talking cowboys, helped in no small part to both men’s fantastic screen presence and charisma. This is especially true of Pratt, who is really finding his footing as a likable, light-hearted action star. Ethan Hawke provides the best performance as ageing badass sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux, with his character being one of the better developed and interesting characters of the bunch, probably helped in no small part by his character being the only one that actually had some kind of discernible arc or growth.
The strengths of Magnificent Seven weren’t found in its plotting and story as much as it was found in its action, and there is certainly some great action scenes spread out through the film. The films agonizing slow pacing actually comes into its own in the build-up to the scenes, injecting the moments before the bullets start flying with as much beautiful Ye Olde West-y tension as you can handle. The action when it gets going is slick and well shot, and by the film’s end, reaches a truly bonkers level of entertaining in its glorious excess. That said however, much like the rest of the film, these scenes also often end up over-staying their welcome, and begin to drag on just a little bit too long. This is especially true of the film’s big action climax, which starts off firing on all cylinders, but quickly wears itself out and begins to devolve into a slightly senseless mess once that initial adrenaline surge of everything coming together fades from the immediate memory.
For all its bombast, ensemble casting, and epic Western trappings, Magnificent Seven ends up falling short in more ways than one. While its entertaining enough when it really gets going, the film’s sluggish and inconsistent pacing, coupled with questionable performances and the lack of a slightly deeper script results in something that’s a decent enough time to watch, but nothing truly memorable. The Magnificent Seven unfortunately joins the ranks of the myriad of other existing remakes whose mere existence is highly questionable.