Why, you may ask, do we need a remake of The Magnificent Seven? It's a reasonable question, though you might consider that the first Magnificent Seven, from 1960, was also a remake, of Akira Kurosawa's kinetic Zen masterpiece Seven Samurai. Kurosawa loved Westerns; he was often criticized within his country for being too Western. So the first Magnificent Seven can be seen as the closing of a cross-cultural circle.
The new version is more of a money grab, which is ironic, because it's actually the story of a money grab.
The grabber is one Bartholomew Bogue, a demonic mining baron played with an innate sneer by Peter Sarsgaard. The little farming town of Rose Creek stands in the way of Bogue's increased fortune. Early in the movie he enters the town's church and gives a speech about democracy, capitalism and God. Then he has his men burn the church down. Then they kill some of the townspeople, just to get the point across: It's time for you to leave.
If you're familiar with either of the previous two versions, you know the gist of what follows. The townspeople, in this case led by Emma (Haley Bennett), recruit a gang of good bad men to protect them. The 1960 movie was pretty pale: The only non-white member, Chico, was played by the German actor Horst Buchholz. This time, in a welcome sign of the times, the crew is led by Denzel Washington's Sam Chisholm. His charges include a Comanche warrior (Martin Sensmeier), a Korean knife thrower (Byung-hun Lee) and a Mexican sharpshooter (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo).
I enjoyed the Magnificent Colors of Benetton approach, which has the advantage of representing the demographics of the Old West more than the standards of mid-20th-century Hollywood. But this Magnificent Seven is most comfortable speaking the language of the modern action spectacle, not the classic Western.
Which isn't to say the film is ignorant of the genre. Director Antoine Fuqua has watched his John Ford, evident in the sweeping mountain vistas that use every inch of the screen, and his Sergio Leone, represented by the squinty tension that fills the air before every showdown. These are rare quiet moments occupying the scant time between the loud, lengthy shootouts and jocular quip sessions that fill multiplexes.
This is a competent action movie, even if the logistics of who's who can get lost in the carnage. It just doesn't have much chill. The missing ingredients that didn't survive the leap to 2016 include the apprehensive interaction and hard-earned trust between the farmers and the hired guns, and the sense of societal isolation, of not belonging, that haunts these heroes and so many other Western protagonists.
Does the desire for such shadings ask too much of today's mass entertainment product? Probably. But such comparisons come with the remake territory. This is likely the Magnificent Seven we deserve. Wait another few decades and maybe we'll get yet another take.