Thursday, September 29, 2016

It Came From The Cineplex: The Magnificent Seven (2016)

The Magnificent Seven (2016) was written by Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk, and directed by Antoine Fuqua.

Pizillatto previously wrote several episodes of the TV series The Killing and True Detective. This apears to be his first theatrical work. Wenk wrote 16 Blocks, The Mechanic, The Expendables 2 and The Equalizer.

Fuqua previously directed The Replacement Killers, Training Day, King Arthur (!), Shooter, Brooklyn's Finest, Olympus Has Fallen, The Equalizer and Southpaw. Apparently Fuqua loves working with both Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke, as The Magnificent Seven is their third collaboration. Washington starred in Training Day and The Equalizer, while Hawke was also in Training Day, as well as Brooklyn's Finest.

The Magnificent Seven is of course a remake of the 1960 film of the same name, which in turn was a remake of the 1954 Japanese epic Seven Samurai. It's a moderately entertaining film, but follows the plot of the previous film very closely and honestly brings nothing new to the table. In fact if you've seen either of the prior versions, you already know everything that happens here— right down to which of the main characters die at the end!

The "Inexperienced Townspeople Hire Fighters To Save Them From Bad Men" storyline is a very popular one in westerns and action films, and has been used in many times over the years. The same plot (or a variation of it) is used in The Professionals, Vera Cruz, The Hallelujah Trail, The Wild Bunch, Nevada Smith, Red Sun, The Great Escape and The Dirty Dozen

And it's not just westerns that use this plot. Roger Corman's low-budget sci-fi epic Battle Beyond The Stars is basically just The Magnificent Seven in outer space. Galaxy Quest, one of my all-time favorite movies, features pretty much the same plot as well. Even comedies like Three Amigos! and A Bug's Life are pretty much remakes of the 1960 film. 

Thankfully, director Antoine Fuqua used suitable actors of color for all the ethnic characters in the film. Hallelujah! It's the right thing to do, of course, but as an added bonus, now we won't have to endure another controversy like the one that brewed over the casting in Gods Of Egypt.

Speaking of casting, I spent the whole goddamned movie thinking I was watching actress Jennifer Lawrence as Emma Cullen, the female lead. Imagine my surprise when I saw the end credits and found out it wasn't her at all, but Haley Bennet, whoever the hell that is.

Just look at her! You cannot tell me that isn't Jennifer Freakin' Hunger Games Lawrence right there! She looks just like her! If this really and truly isn't J-Law, then she's got a twin no one ever knew about before.

I suspect this is another one of those Hollywood conspiracies, just like the one in which Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Summer Glau are the same damned person.


The Plot:
Have you ever seen Seven Samurai? Or The original Magnificent Seven? Eh, this is pretty much the same thing.

In 1879, evil businessman Bartholomew Bogue (played by Peter Sarsgaard) invades the peaceful little tow of Rose Creek. He informs the locals he's buying out their town to turn it into a mine or something, and considerately gives them three weeks to get the hell out. Then, just to make sure we get that he's evil, he shoots and kills Matthew Cullen, the only man in town who tries to stand up to him.

The terrified townspeople stand around wringing their hands, wondering what to do. They want to fight back against Bogue, but they're simple farmers, not soldiers. Matthew's widow Emma Cullen (played by Jennifer Lawrence Haley Bennett) gets the bright idea to hire a team of gunslingers to protect the town.

Emma and her friend Teddy Q ride to the nearest city to recruit protectors. There they witness cool, unflappable bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (played by Denzel Washington) as he enters a saloon. Chisolm's obviously supposed to be the Chris Adams character here, who was famously played by Yul Brenner in the 1960 film. Chisolm kills a criminal who's posing as a bartender. Emma approaches him and offers him everything she has to protect Rose Creek. He's reluctant to get involved at first, but agrees to help when he learns Bogue's behind it all. I guess he really hates Bogue or something?

Chisolm first recruits boozy gambler Josh Faraday (played by Chris Pratt). He's clearly the Vin Tanner character here, who was played by Steve McQueen in the previous version of the film. Chisolm and Faraday then split up to recruit more gunslingers. Chisolm hires his friend Goodnight Robicheaux (played by Ethan Hawke), a sharpshooter who's constantly accompanied by his associate Billy Rocks (played by Byung-hun Lee), a knife-tossing assassin. Faraday recruits Mexican outlaw Vasquez (played by Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), who apparently can't afford a first name. The two groups meet up, and are eventually joined by wheezy mountain man Jack Horner (played by Vincent D'Onofiro) and Commanche warrior Red Harvest (played by Martin Sensmeier). Let's see... five, six, seven... yup, that makes seven protectors. And they're magnificent!

The group rides to Rose Creek, where they're met by some of Bogue's thugs (I guess he left them behind to guard the town?). A shootout ensues, and the gunslingers kill most of the thugs. During the shootout, Robicheaux can't bring himself to fire on the enemy, and we learn he fought in the Civil War and now suffers from PTSD. 
The gunslingers chase off the corrupt Sheriff (who's in Bogue's pocket) and tell him to deliver a message to his boss: Leave Rose Creek alone, or else.

Chisolm says they'll have about a week before Bogue returns with an army of goons, and the town will need to be ready for him. They train the townspeople how to shoot, plan strategies and set various deadly traps. At the end of the week, Robicheaux decides he can't kill anymore and leaves town. Emma, who's proven herself a capable marksman, er markswoman, fills in for him.

The next day Bogue arrives with his army. He attacks the town, but the Rose Creekians spring their deadly traps, killing many of the thugs. 
To absolutely no one's surprise, Robicheaux returns at just the right moment to turn the tide. I guess he miraculously got over his PTSD during the night. The gunslingers pick off dozens more of Bogue's men. Vasquez kills McCann, while Horner's killed by Denali, Bogue's Comanche assassin. Red Harvest labels Denali a traitor to his people, and kills him. 

Just when it looks like the townspeople are winning, Bogue reveals his secret weapon— a Gatling gun. He unleashes it on the town, killing dozens of innocents. Chisolm tells the surviving townspeople to leave before they're all murdered.

Robicheaux and Rocks climb the church tower and begin picking off Bogue's men from above, but are ultimately cut down. Faraday then goes on a suicide mission to take out the Gatling gun. He's shot several times, and falls to his knees just in front of the gun. He tries to light a last cigarette, but his hands are shaking too badly. One of Bogue's men lights it for him out of pity. Faraday then reveals he's holding a stick of dynamite, lights it with his cigarette, and blows up the Gatling gun and several more of Bogue's men. See, smoking is dangerous to your health!

Realizing his entire army's gone, Bogue tries to flee. He's confronted by Chisolm, who challenges him to a shootout in the middle of town. Bogue tries to draw, but Chisolm shoots the gun out of his hand (of course). Bogue runs into the church (that he burned earlier), confident that Chisolm won't cut him down in the Lord's house.

Chisolm follows him into the church. He reveals that his mother and sister were raped and murdered by Bogue and his men, and begins strangling him. 
Bogue pulls a small gun out of his boot, but he's shot in the head by Emma, who appears just in time.

With the town saved, Emma tells Chisolm that he and the other gunslingers are legends, and the town will never forget them. Chisolm, Vasquez and Red Harvest ride off into the sunset. Cue Elmer Bernstein's score!

• There are a lot of cast connections in this film:

Denzel Washington and Jennifer Lawrence Haley Bennett both starred in The EqualizerEthan Hawke and Vincent D'Onofrio were both in Brooklyn's Finest. And Chris Pratt and Vincent D'Onofrio starred together in Jurassic World.

• Man, this new Magnificent Seven movie poster is one butt-ugly piece of design. Who the hell thought slate gray and muddy gold would make an eye-catching color combo? I guess it's in good company though, as the 1960 poster wasn't much better.

• Any time Chisolm places his gun in its holster, he does so with the grip facing away from him. Wha...? I freely admit I know nothing about guns or gunslinging, but this seems completely wrong to me. I don't see any tactical advantage to this method at all. When he draws, he's not only going to have to flip his gun over, but around, so it's facing his opponent. Wouldn't that eat up precious split seconds, and get him killed in a draw?

• As in most westerns, the main characters all know one another personally or by reputation. This despite the fact they live hundreds of miles apart, in a world in which the telegraph is the most advanced form of communication. It's a small world, I guess.

• The movie definitely needed more of Bartholomew Bogue, the main villain. He shows up for a couple of minutes in the opening scene, then disappears completely from the movie until the big battle in the third act. 

All through the film we're constantly TOLD he's a badass, psycho and force of nature all rolled into one, but when he finally shows up again at the end, he doesn't do anything particularly evil. In fact once his army of goons is wiped out, he turns out to be a sniveling coward.

I guess maybe that was the point? That he's only a threat when he's got an army to back him up? If so, that's an interesting take on the character, but it's not right for this film. The Magnificent Seven needs a villain who's a formidable force even without his army.

• During the obligatory "bonding" scene between the gunslingers, Faraday (Chris Pratt) tells a joke about a man who's thrown off a six story building. As he falls past a windows, a person looking out asks him how things are going. The falling man says, "So far so good!"

Steve McQueen's character told the exact same joke in the 1960 film.

The Magnificent Seven continues the time-honored tradition of bad guys who can be killed by one bullet, arrow or well-place axe, while the heroes can keep on fighting after being shot a dozen times. I'm honestly surprised that Faraday didn't get up and dust himself off after detonating the stick of dynamite he was holding. 

• In every version of the film, four of the seven protectors die during the final battle. The way they're remembered is quite different in the new film though.

In Seven Samurai, four of the protectors are brutally cut down. At the end of the film, one of the surviving samurai says, "The victory belongs to those peasants. Not to us."

In the 1960 Magnificent Seven, Chris Adams gazes at the graves of his fallen comrades and says virtually the same thing.

In this new version, we see the graves of the fallen gunslingers, and Emma Cullen says they're all heroes and will never be forgotten by the townspeople.

This completely changes the tone of the ending, and not necessarily for the better. In the previous versions, the protectors died for people they didn't even know, and the world at large would never know their sacrifice. In the new film, the gunslingers and their actions become legendary.

Chalk it up as a sign of our times. Few people today understand the concept of self sacrifice (for no personal gain).

 Even people who've never seen the 1960 The Magnificent Seven have heard Elmer Bernstein's iconic theme music. I was wondering if they'd shoehorn it into this new version, and sure enough, they did. They play a few bars of it during as the end credits begin to roll.

Composer James Horner wrote the bulk of the new film's score. Sadly, he died in a tragic plane crash in 2015 before he was done. Horner's friend Simon Franglen finished the score for him. 

Horner wrote many, many memorable film scores over the years, including Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, Star Trek 3: The Search For Spock, Cocoon, ALIENS, Willow, The Rocketeer, Braveheart, Titanic and Avatar

Sadly, his score for The Magnificent Seven isn't going to top Bernstein's.

Although he was a brilliant and excellent film composer, he was often criticized for "stealing" bits and pieces from his earlier scores. Nowhere is that more evident than in The Magnificent Seven. As I watched the film I heard a couple of familiar riffs on the soundtrack, and I honestly knew it was a James Horner score before I even looked at the end credits.

He scored over a hundred films though, so I'm willing to cut him some slack here. What artist (including myself) hasn't reused an idea now and then?

The Magnificent Seven is a fairly enjoyable update of the 1960 version, but offers little or no surprises. If you've never seen any of the previous films, I guess it's worth a look. If you've seen the others, then you're safe skipping this one. I give it a B-.

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