Capturing the era of churned out blockbusters almost to a tee, Lee reviews the 2016 remake of The Magnificent Seven.
Context can add flavour to any narrative, check it out; Chris Pratt was terribly miscast in The Magnificent Seven and, after last year’s Jurassic World, filmmakers in the year 2016 should start to become wary of his ability with leading men or even general cool guy roles. See? Now when film historians look at which way the tide was pointing in 2016 before Chris Pratt got the opportunity to silence critics with a smaller indie role in 2017, they’ll see he was losing what good favour he had amounted with Guardians of the Galaxy and The Lego Movie and that he had to pull something out of the bag soon to save his blockbuster career.
It’s not wholly necessary to address, but whether the filmmakers want to or not, there will be a context applied to their film no matter how manufactured and soulless it hopes to be; that just means it stands out in a year full of soulless and manufactured films, or the opposite, or something in between. Best case scenario: embrace it, work with it. Say, for example, you wanted to remake an old classic Western movie. Take the material and either capture the old spirit or invent a new one in its boots. Do not take your efforts half-way and do not assume the set-up of the original will say anything about where we are now without adding a specific shade or angle.
If The Magnificent Seven wanted to be a rousing action adventure with some wacky characters, it succeeds only in the wacky category as it contains some of the most bafflingly out-of-touch character portrayals this side of Batman v Superman. Character gimmicks are dictated and displayed in turn like a show-and-tell as the screenwriters struggle to understand what makes an interesting character interesting. Dialogue seems to have been written in a vacuum then edited by another team as no line of dialogue seems either relatable or even comprehensible as each character seems to know each other character so well they don’t let the audience in on the jokes they seem to find so funny.
If The Magnificent Seven wanted to be an up-to-the-minute big budget remake showing how far we’ve come by letting a black guy lead an ethnically diverse cast in an old-style gunslinger Western, it does a poor job double-dipping standards when no one bats an eye at this black official calling the shots but characters can make poorly-handled jabs at the Mexican, Asian and Native American characters, and fails in not even remotely attempting to update or include women in this film in any substantial way. Anachronisms are not a problem if the film chooses not to make them a problem, but if we’re going to shred the rule book why stop short at women? Nothing about how these characters talk or act makes sense in either the blockbuster Western world or the diverse representation of the real West that the film clearly aspires to capture.
Exposition is handled clumsily as we fast-forward through reasoning to side with the villagers but make sure to reference a number of times how Denzel has some vague, unresolved history that’s sure to come up near the film’s climax. Character stakes are almost zero as the world never feels fleshed out enough to make the village worth defending and we get nowhere near enough reasoning for why these characters genuinely stay to finish the fight after all the bloodshed. There’s also nothing particularly about them that screams heroism other than their diverse range of superpowers, which rules out the ‘everyman’s a hero’ reading.
Villains falling for Chris Pratt’s misdirection never feels earned, the Native American stand-off feels cheap and cartoonish, how the woman character flips from capable action heroine to pathetic newbie clearly way-out-of-her-depth in need of rescue and back and forth and back and forth leaves her with no distinctive personality what-so-ever. The film is also abound with clichés, which aren’t necessarily a crime, but some are so poorly handled, such as when Ethan Hawke pulls the ol’ fake-out ‘leaving the gang, show up at the last minute to save the day’ trick, he shows up so early and before any real dramatic twists take place that it almost seems like a poor attempt to subvert the trope entirely. Oh, and the religious overtones, who knows what that was trying to get at but it can’t have been worth anyone’s while.
Structurally, there’s a movie here, absent-minded though it is. It’s not ugly to look at, there are some really weird deliveries by Vincent D’Onofrio and Peter Sarsgaard that will make for a good laugh and if you’re a fan of explosions and straight-forward action plots, it’ll definitely hold your attention. Unfortunately, for the rest of us, two hours is a long time to pay attention to white noise.
Well done, 2016. Contextually, we’ve got another mediocre blockbuster on our hands.