I think I was about four minutes into The Magnificent Seven before I started wondering if we’d in fact perfected the Western decades ago and there was no need to go there any more. Let alone with a remake of a remake. Nothing in the next 129 minutes really changed my mind about that. It had been a toss up between that and Tim Burton’s latest, and I kind of wish I’d taken the big risk of it being a complete mess instead of figuring that Denzel would cancel out the Antoine Fuqua of it all. (Fair warning; one of those days, I’m going to find myself needing to describe a movie as a complete Fuqua-up).
The biggest misstep is Chris Pratt, who already was in a much better remake of The Magnificent Seven and just doesn’t quite work in this remake. Mostly because the character needs to be kind of mean, and Pratt can’t do mean. He can do funny, even snarky, but Chris Pratt’s never gonna be the guy who shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. Everyone just plugs along, even if Ethan Hawke seems to be there because he ran out of excuses to meet up again after Training Day.
It’s anyone’s guess whether this is supposed to be a banker for Denzel’s looming pension years; they’ve cheapened the sequel by killing everyone you ever heard of, leaving Denzel and two guys I’d never seen before to ride off into the sunset. So maybe there’ll be a whole run of these, just like there was the first time. Or maybe everyone will go meh, like I did, and Denzel will do something else to stave off the indignity of living on his existing savings.
Meanwhile, no-one in the movie needs a pension plan. It’s been a while since I saw a western with a body count like this one. Denzel and Co clear their throats by killing the average body count of most Liam Neeson movies, and then hunker down for some serious killing in the climax. Peter Sarsgaard’s creepy plutocrat sends hundreds of mooks to stomp them flat, and they get cut down in droves. So do the townsfolk. So do the Seven, who are down to Three by the time the dust settles. This is a small town of sharecroppers being hounded out by a mining magnate. If you correct for scale, The Seven are about as good for the town as the Avengers are for Manhattan, Segovia or - well, anywhere the Avengers go problem solving.
However, it’s the villainy I find most troubling. The Seven are seeing off the forces of corporate greed, in the shape of human cartoon Bartholomew Bogue. If you ever want to see a genuinely scary, amoral capitalist scumbag with a mining jones, I commend to you the third season of Deadwood, where George Hearst is depicted as the kind of robber baron who would burn down an orphanage to light his cigar and yet still pass for human among his peers. Bogue is written as the kind of twitchy sociopath whose criminal career would end about six weeks into his first hiring spree as his goons collectively realised that their best prospects for short term survival would turn on making their employer’s survival a very short term thing. Yup, he’s another one of those idjits that shoot the help.
Or send two hundred of the help into a defenceless town to butcher everyone before belatedly remembering that he’s brought a Gatling gun. Why wasn’t the Gatling gun Plan A? Nah. Send in the two hundred guys, and when you’re down to about a dozen and the assault has gone to hell in a handbasket, then turn to the sergeant and tell him to bring up the wagon. Of course, Bogue is nothing if not consistent; once Denzel’s Chisum finally gets the drop on him, Chisum has pretty much choked him to death before Bogue remembers he’s got a hideout gun in his boot. Slowly he inches it out, and then gets plugged at the last minute by someone else in the grand old style. Bogue is pure Hollywood idiot. In the real world, people would be saying “Remember that asshole Bogue? Why did he ever think he would ever amount to anything?” Unless he borrowed a ton of money from his Dad and another ton after he lost the first ton, I suppose. But still. If the Gatling gun isn’t plan A, you don’t deserve a Gatling gun.