I'm a sucker for them.
Does Antoine Fuqua's (Training Day, Southpaw) 2016 remake of a remake validate its own existence? I guess it depends on your criteria. The story doesn't differ much from the original (Seven Samurai or Magnificent Seven) -- a tale of beleaguered villagers who turn to a group of seven gun men to save them from a powerful and violent industrialist (Peter Sarsgaard) who wants control of their town. As has been widely recognized, Fuqua's diverse cast gives the Fast and Furious one a run for its money, with Denzel Washington in lead as bounty hunter Chisolm who rounds up the rest of the seven which include cardsharp Faraday (Chris Pratt), a war veteran Goodnight (Ethan Hawke), an assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), an outlaw (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a Scripture-quoting wild woodsman Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio), and a Comanche warrior named Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).
Fuqua has talked about the importance of both preserving and modernizing any remakes -- keeping in line the same principles that Seven Samurai had while legitimizing a new film. There are indeed a few changes to the original story. It doesn't necessarily make sense in its context -- western history has not been kind to women or minorities. However, these changes can be seen as welcome in the sense of a current cultural context and also certainly an interesting participant in the ongoing topic of race in Hollywood. Perhaps its lack of explanation of its altered context can be seen as the next step, since the storyteller doesn't feel the need to justify its diversity.
Movie-goers love a good roundup a la Ocean's Eleven or even The Avengers, and although the band are a bunch of ne'er-do-wells, the seven get along better than the Avengers ever have in recent memory. Each of the cast members are delightful, although some inevitably get less of the spotlight and therefore remain murkier in memory. Shot partially on film, Fuqua gives the Western its proper due, allowing the landscape to become an additional character. The only egregious error made via cg has to be the horrendous epilogue, which should hereby be stricken.
The Magnificent Seven is an entertaining thriller of its own right. It suffers a little in that Chris Pratt could never be Steve McQueen (probably for the better considering the stories of how the older actor could be petulant on set), and a few of the narrative updates pertaining to motives take away the sheen of the original intent. Furthermore, Sarsgaard's villain never seems dangerous when placed next to Chisolm, appearing anemic and underdeveloped. However, of all the Westerns that have come out recently, it has the most fun with itself. It's a joy to watch twirling revolvers, the concentrated focus of Pratt as he takes a shot, and Denzel's flipping around on his horse. Lee's extra dervish with his knives doesn't really make a lot of sense, but that's not the point. It just looks really, really cool.
Also of note is the late James Horner's music, as The Magnificent Seven marks his last work. Although he was only able to work on seven themes before his death, which were fleshed out and finished by collaborator Simon Franglen, it's a rousing, fitting tribute to the movie's legacy and to him.
Fuqua's remake isn't Yul Brynner and co by any long shot, but there shouldn't be any expectation of that going in. Magnificent Seven (1960) is a classic and there's no danger of Fuqua's becoming the same in film history. Westerns of the old were pioneers of film vocabulary and rightfully created gargantuan directors. But it's a decidedly good time, and far more solid than the long stretch of bad blockbusters we've had all summer: a popcorn flick at its finest. There's definitely much to be applauded for a hearkening back to a time of simple morals and good guys pitted against bad.