Do westerns need remakes?
While I admit to enjoying this action-packed, swagger-filled, testosterone-fueled romp through the Old West, the tiny voice in the back of my head wondered why it was necessary.
Oh yeah, to get my butt in a theater seat. Once again, I took the bait.
Most people know this is a remake of an older film which was itself a reinterpretation of film called The Seven Samurai. Both films hold a special place in the hearts of critics and fans.
So, was it good? Yep. Was it great? Nope. But it was entertaining, to say the least. I like Westerns, I like Denzel, and I don’t mind Chris Pratt, so there’s that going for it.
I won’t compare this to the original, because I haven’t seen it since childhood. I know it’s considered a classic and one of the standard bearers for the genre, so one wonders why someone saw the need to remake it. But I digress.
You know the story, so I’ll talk about what I enjoyed. The chemistry of the cast was great. Denzel leads the pack pretty much effortlessly, almost to a fault. More on that later. I liked how the writers and actors brought a personal ‘take’ on the characters to make them distinct and impossible to get confused with someone else, which tends to happen with a cast this large. Of course, the diversity helped a great deal with that as well. It was nice to see such an array of ethnic representations in a film like this, even if the placement was more aimed at political correctness than having an actual impact on the story. More on that later.
On a side note, actress Haley Bennett brings true grit to her role as the determined Emma, but she sure looks like a clone of Jennifer Lawrence, almost to the point of distraction. I wonder if that’s just coincidence or a Hollywood thing.
The script allows the story to move along at a brick pace while balancing grim moments with dashes of humor, which was a big plus in my opinion. This kind of story is impossible to take seriously, so a few winks and jokes along the way weren’t a bad thing at all. A few things were accidentally funny as well, like Vincent D’Onofrio’s high-pitched accent.
The action was intense. A lot of creative uses for explosives and surprise attacks kept things from becoming too redundant, and the director definitely knows how to film action sequences.
So far, so good. But as slick and entertaining as the film was, I walked out the theater feeling like it was more of a missed opportunity than anything else. I think remaking a film that didn’t particular need a remake has a lot to do with it. Here you have a Western with perhaps the most diverse cast of main characters featured on the screen, but the diversity means little beyond displaying their distinct fighting styles. Sure it’s cool to see Byung-Hun Lee take bad guys out with whirling daggers, and have a Native American sniping with arrows, but the characters are locked in their stock modes, trailed by the ghosts of the actors who played similar roles in the original film. Even Denzel is boxed in a bit, allowing him little to add to a character that could have been his to own.
It’s strange. Does Hollywood believe Denzel couldn’t sell a Western with an original script? Imagine what a cast like that could have done without the shackles of a remake. A ragtag group of gunmen with vastly different backgrounds and ethnicities should make for more compelling drama than the instant camaraderie the characters develop practically as soon as they lay eyes on each other.
The villain in the story is another greed baron who robs and kills with abandon, surrounds himself with wolfish, murderous henchmen, and looks stoned throughout the entire film. Basically, he’s the bad guy with no motive other than to be evil and give the seven an adversary. I guess it works, but in the end the final confrontation lacks the panache it deserves because the villain never manifests as an individual threat. He’s a rich, evil guy, and that’s about it.
Wrapping it up, M7 unfortunately isn’t magnificent, but entertains and looks great on the big screen. A pretty good Western is better than no Westerns at all, so I hope the evil dictators in charge of major studios can get it through their heads that it’s perfectly okay to use star power to shine in an original story.
After all, we should be looking forward more than back, right?
When Bard Constantine isn’t consumed by pop culture, he writes gritty futures and far-flung fantasy. See more at bardwritesbooks.com