Part two was a pretty bad movie and I kind of anticipated the trend to continue, with each entry getting worse and worse. However, I can pleasantly say that this movie definitely gunned down my preconceived notion of how things would turn out and I will even go further out on the limb and call this one better than the original Magnificent Seven, if only slightly. The original had that stellar cast, but ultimately I feel like it fell a bit short of the Seven Samurai source material. At the end of the day, it was still just a copy of another idea translated to English and while that isn’t a bad thing by any means, I like fresh ideas.
Enter Guns of the Magnificent Seven. Take the formula of some villagers being beaten down by the Man who get saved by seven strangers willing to lay down their lives, but make it with its own story to tell. We’ve seen Seven Samurai remade into the Magnificent Seven which was then remade yet again into Return of the Seven because someone got lazy and simply copied what worked from the original Seven. I will be so bold as to say that this is the sequel that Return should have been. I can live with the original copying the source material, but any sequel needed to take the series into its own identity and the second one did not.
Guns of the Magnificent Seven is the tale of a Mexican military group oppressing the villagers near to its fort. I kind of get the impression that the whole country was in a similar situation and that rebels were trying to overthrow it all, but the focus of this film was specifically the people shown. Much was made about exactly who was fighting for the peasants and who was either turning a blind eye or being aggressive. This film doesn’t pull punches, either. As the new Seven ride into Mexico, they find people strung up from telegraph poles and later on the Mexican military is shown to horse trample men buried in the ground to their neck. The level of violence was kind of surprising to me. Add some gore and it could pass for a modern film in a lot of ways.
The film was definitely engaging to me just for story content alone, but then there was the cast. George Kennedy, who I definitely recognized, plays Chris and replaces Yul Brynner from the first couple films. Kennedy was in the Airport movie series and Naked Gun. It’s hard to see this guy as a gunfighter after I watched him make so many jokes in the Naked Gun movies. James Whitmore plays the older gunslinger that’s gone into retirement. I recognize him from other films, but can’t exactly remember what. Monte Markham is someone I recognized from quite a few TV shows I watched as a kid. Bernie Casey I know as the leader of the black fraternity in Revenge of the Nerds. Michael Ansara I do not recognize, but he plays an amazing villain here. Some of the others look to be from movies I’ve watched, but none really strike me enough to mention. They were all wonderful, though.
I think this film did a good job of introducing the cast and getting to know them before plunging into the complete chaos of the final battle. You don’t really need much of an introduction, either. Chris is his usual self, saving another guy, Markham’s character, from hanging. Then there is the old guy who is pretty much settled down and trying to grind away for his family. There’s the one guy with some sort of illness. He coughs a lot so you know he’s not destined to live long. Another has a bum arm and feels like half a man who he takes out on others like telling the black dude he can buy a lot of watermelon with his cut of the pay. Um, yeah, that was in there and the black guy didn’t take too kindly to it, either. They do resolve their differences as the movie progresses; Casey’s character reminds the crippled guy that, as a black man, he’s had to undergo countless amounts of suffering for his skin color alone. Finally, we have the Mexican villager guy who seems to be a staple of the series. He’s the one that always finds Chris and gets the movie started.
What I don’t care for is how much of a formula there is to these films. In each movie, you see Chris holding up his fingers to count how many of the Seven he has so far, or maybe another member of the Seven does. Here it is revealed that all Seven are present when a seven is dealt during a card game. That just feels a bit dumb to me. The other, and bigger part of the formula, is watching them all get killed off. The old “Need Another Seven Astronauts” joke comes to mind, which went around when the Challenger exploded way back in the 80s. The joke asks what N.A.S.A stands for, in case you’ve never heard it. Pretty dark, I know, but kind of apt in this series. These guys are pretty much like the red shirts in Star Trek, except you get to know them a bit before they are killed off. I’d love to see the Seven survive, or even just mostly survive, to continue on to the next movie, but apparently that is a staple of this series, too.
To close this out, I really enjoyed this film a lot. I set out to watch it until I got bored and then take a break, but it was very engaging so I sat through the whole thing and now I’m sitting here banging out the review. Definitely not a perfect film by any means, but between the violence and the grit this has, I loved it! I’m tossing 4/5 stars on this one.