Film Review | Revenge is a dish that never gets cold

The initial response to the remake of The Magnificent Seven was typical – fans of the original bemoaned the arrival of yet another remake while other acknowledged that John Sturges' version was already a remake • 2.5/5

Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Chris Pratt help out a band of desperate villagers in Antoine Fuqua’s remake-of-a-remake
Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Chris Pratt help out a band of desperate villagers in Antoine Fuqua’s remake-of-a-remake

Another remake? Yes, another remake. And this one’s a remake-of-a-remake, fellahs. When the internet first announced that Training Day director Antoine Fuqua will be re-jigging the classic 1960 Western – and anti-bully anthem – The Magnificent Seven, the initial response was fairly typical. Namely, fans of the original – and those keen to secure their cultural capital – bemoaned the arrival of yet another remake on the scene, and of such a landmark of the Western genre, too! 

The flip-side to this was the even more smug riposte that, well, John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven is in fact already a remake, you see: of Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai (1954), just swapping over samurai with cowboys to tell its own tale of overbearing bullies getting their just desserts by a clutch of hard-bitten veterans. 

Well, the latter may very well be true. But the nub of the fact is that the 1960s film had an inspired hook: Westernizing a Japanese hit. And despite doing as good a job of it as he can manage, Fuqua will never be able to claim that he brought something entirely new to the table with his own attempt on the same story.

Because while the details change – a more upfront feminine presence and a more ethnically diverse cast being among them – the basics of the story remain roughly the same. The original had bandits riding roughshod over a defenseless town; this time it’s industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) who violently extorts the denizens of Rose Creek from their homes, making widows on his evil way. Among this unfortunate bunch is Emma Cullen (Haley Bennet), who is driven to hire an initially reluctant band of mercenaries to even the score between the beleaguered town and Bogue’s posse. 

Draw: Denzel Washington
Draw: Denzel Washington

It all starts when she attracts the attention of Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) – and with Washington playing the stand-in for Yul Brinner in the original and Chris Pratt (as the scoundrel-charmer Joshua Faraday), slipping into the shoes of Steve McQueen, the stage is set for Fuqua to muck around with a familiar formula. While featuring more conventional stalwarts like Vincent D’Onforio (as Jack Horne) and Ethan Hawke (as Goodnight Robicheaux), the cast gets a welcome multicultural boost in the shape of the knife-throwing Billy Rocks (played by Korean superstar Byung-hun Lee) and the amoral but effective Mexican gunslinger Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo).  

Washington is certainly the director’s comfort blanket – to say nothing of the fact that he was statistically confirmed to have been this film’s top box office draw – given his Oscar-baiting turn in Fuqua’s Training Day and more recently, the revenge-pulp romp The Equalizer. He proves to be a dependable source of gravitas and power throughout, though perhaps his most notable moments are with his former Training Day co-star Ethan Hawke, who does a capable and interesting take on Robert Vaughn’s tortured former soldier from the original. 

When it comes, the action is also more than adequately handled, with a climactic sequence more than justifying the price of admission. Choreographed to near-perfection in a way that gives our (many) anti-heroes and their varied fighting styles time in the spotlight, it also allows for other Western references to slip in: namely the appearance of a gatling gun that serves as a nod to the genre’s greatest bruiser, Sam Peckinpah. 

But beyond these cosmetic tricks, Fuqua doesn’t have much of a vision for his story. It trucks along nicely with a game cast in tow, but in both look – the dreaded, default ‘orange and teal’ cinematographic wash is sadly very much in evidence – and approach, he gives in to contemporary formula all the way.  

Fuqua’s movie will not convert those skeptical about the relentless assault of Hollywood reboots and remakes, but it makes for diverting entertainment in its own right.

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