1 October 2016

The Magnficent Seven review

Can a film really be praised just because it doesn't technically do anything wrong? Is it OK to criticise a film for simply being adequate? At what point does "purely acceptable" stop being good enough? These are the kind of questions posed by Antoine Fuqua's The Magnificent Seven, a remake of the 1960 film of the same name and one of the most staggeringly ordinary movies I've ever seen.

You know the drill. We follow Sam Chisolm, a bounty hunter hired by the townspeople Rose Creek to protect them from Bartholomew Bogue, a businessman who is forcing them out of their homes in order to better capitalise on the nearby mines. Rounding up six unlikely allies, Chisolm and his motley crew travel to Rose Creek in order to liberate the town from Bogue's men and protect it and its people from the inevitable violent retaliation.

It's not that The Magnificent Seven is bad, per se - it's hard to think of any one element of the movie that isn't at least competent at a base level - it's just that it's so averse to doing anything that you haven't seen a hundred times before that it's impossible for it to be anything more than just fine, regardless of how technically capable it is. You've seen these characters and this plot before, even if you haven't actually seen the original The Magnificent Seven - the tropes and cliches of the genre are so well worn by now that using them in earnest simply makes your film seem instantly dated.

We live in post-Western world, and that's probably the biggest problem that The Magnificent Seven faces. We've seen a number of films over the last few years that have used the genre to better examine the realities of the time period, films that have subverted expectations by turning the hallmarks of the genre on their head, and unfortunately The Magnificent Seven isn't doing anything like that. It's as traditional a Western as you could expect to see in cinemas today, and its inability or its unwillingness to use the genre in a similar way to more recent films makes it seem bland in comparison.

I mean, look. This is a film set in the wild West in which Denzel Washington plays the lead, and yet the movie completely ignores the racism that permeated the era. It's an omission that almost makes it feel as if a huge chunk of the film is just straight up missing - we all know that this was a bad time to be anything other than a white male, and the films complete lack of recognition of that makes it feel as if it's attempting to paint the era in a better light than it deserves, a romanticised version of events that feels... dishonest.

This lack of historical context combines with a clean, overly glossy shooting style that makes The Magnificent Seven look and feel like it should have been a Disney film, a successor of sorts to 2012's The Lone Ranger. Everything about it is so safe and inoffensive that even the deaths of a number of main characters lack any kind of impact - I fully expected them to stand back up and carry on fighting, simply because I didn't believe that the film had the gall to do anything so bold as to kill someone off.

And that's frustrating, especially considering that The Magnificent Seven had real potential to be so much more than it is. It's got a great cast playing characters with distinct personalities - but they're all two-dimensional at best, and their motivations for doing what they're doing are either non-existent or revealed far too late in the film for it to matter. Director Antoine Fuqua is excellent at building up tension - but when the shooting does start it's incredibly generic, with no memorable or exciting action beats to be found. Everything good in The Magnificent Seven is almost instantly undermined by something else, which means that although it's never boring, it's never particularly engaging either, failing to ever rise above of fall below "it's OK I guess".

All of which results in a film that simply slides straight out of the brain almost as soon as it's over, one that somehow ends up being less than the sum of its parts. If The Magnificent Seven had have been released a decade ago, it might have been worth watching - but as it is, this consistently average Western simply pales in comparison to a number of better films released in recent years, and average isn't enough when we've been seeing what good looks like for some time now.

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