The movie is a remake of "The Magnificent Seven" by John Sturges (1960), which is itself a Western adaptation of Kurosawa's masterpiece, "Seven Samourai" (1954). Despite a few flaws, the 1960 version was balanced and entertaining: cast, dialogues and music, notably, have now become legend. In comparison the latest version delivers almost nothing. If anything, it proves that quality is not about plot (which is roughly similar for the two Westerns), but about style.
*** WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
The three films have the same structure: 1. Context and recruitment of the seven mercenaries; 2. Village life and training of the villagers; 3. Showdowns with the villains and conclusion. On all these parts, the movie fails.
1. CONTEXT AND RECRUITMENT OF THE SEVEN MERCENARIES. The context is over the top. The villains are horrendous, overstaffed for such a small village and ready to kill at any rate. By the way, Bogue, if you can murder "half a dozen" villagers for no reason, why do you even bother offering them to buy their land? Just start shooting to make them go away.
The recruitment is so incredible it becomes funny: reasons for joining the band remain completely obscure, if not absurd. Sure, I'll join this suicide mission just because you have my horse (Faraday). Of course I'll join because it will get just one single bounty hunter off my back, out of the dozens chasing me (Vasquez). No, I won't join you, I am going away
well, after all why not, even though I don't know why I changed my mind (Horne). Hey, let's share deer liver for breakfast and I'll go along with you (Red Harvest).
2. VILLAGE LIFE AND TRAINING OF THE VILLAGERS. Village life, where? Villagers, who? We barely see any of this, we don't know how they live, what they think, how they feel. They are reduced to a simple background for the action. The character we understand most is Emma Cullen, which says something. In the previous movies, the villagers debated about options, asked advice to the wise elder, hid the women, betrayed the mercenaries. We saw them discussing, working, celebrating, building defences, training.
Here we only see a few minutes of the villagers' training. At first it is a disaster, but afterwards
but afterwards nothing, we don't see how they progress, technically and psychologically, to be able to confront the villains.
3. SHOWDOWNS WITH THE VILLAINS AND CONCLUSION. In the previous movies, there was a build-up of the action, with limited confrontations that eventually lead to the final climatic showdown. Here there is a first fight as the mercenaries enter the village, and then we wait, and wait
until the final showdown that lasts forever. Loads of explosions, of shooting, of deaths, more deaths
It is impossible to keep track of the body count, however it seems much more than the original villain bunch. In terms of strategy, Bogue, since you have such a terrific machine gun, why do you use it AFTER most of your men have been massacred, not BEFORE? We will never know. Also, why do you even bother coming to this fight, endangering your life? Surely not because Chisolm would have called you a coward, since you don't remember who he is anyhow.
The movie ends in utter ridicule, with Chisolm trying to make Bogue pray with him. And when the three remaining mercenaries leave, letting the villagers sort out the mess, the latter repeat "thank you" as a mantra, even though most of their men died and their village is completely ravaged. Was that better than moving away? On a moral and symbolic ground it could have been, but then it would have required the movie to have moral and symbolic insight, instead of just inflated action.
This is where it doubly fails. First, it is a standard no-brainer action movie, while the two previous films (especially "Seven Samourai") were talking about values, honour, courage, purpose and dangers of fighting, characters, friendship, solidarity. Their ending was meaningful: villagers (life) win, mercenaries (death) lose. Dialogues were to the point; here, they are reduced and plain: just compare for instance the Quotes section of the three films on IMDb. There is only one scene when the main characters could have a real conversation: the dinner in the saloon. At that point we hope the movie will lift off the ground where it is stuck
unfortunately, dialogues remain dull. Earlier, it makes two weak attempts to add substance, to no avail: Bogue's opening speech on capitalism and the ethnic diversity of the mercenaries.
Second, it does not even succeed in being an efficient action movie: it is full of stereotypes, lengths, overblown scenes and inconsistencies. To some extent it tries to imitate Sergio Leone's style (or Clint Eastwood's inspired by Leone): outfits, close shots, macabre tone, incongruities. However it is a far cry from this Western master because it lacks essential elements: pacing, measure, second-degree humour and class. A typical example of superficial form without purpose. I am not a huge fan of Tarantino (another possible reference), but at least he would have provided rhythm and coolness to the same story.
The only quality that emerges is the solid acting. A special mention to Denzel Washington as usual, to Ethan Hawke as a past legend now drowning in despair and fear, to Haley Bennett as a sensitive yet strong woman. Actually everybody is performing so well that it makes the movie enjoyable at times.
If you haven't seen Sturges' and Kurosawa's films, you are lucky, you will appreciate them considerably after this one.
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