I can say for sure that The Magnificent Seven is the best film from Antoine Fuqua since Training Day, but that really wouldn’t say all that much. While I admire that Fuqua can cross into different genres with varying budgets and not feel boxed into making films exclusively about the African-American experience like many African-American filmmakers tend to do, whether intentional or unintentional, I wish I could apply that same admiration into his films. He has yet to reach the heights of Training Day, and The Magnificent Seven, while certainly no exception, it plays to his strengths as a filmmaker.
It can be easy to dismiss, though. After all, it is a remake of a film that is already a remake. However, not only that, but the general concept used in the original Akira Kurosawa classic, Seven Samurai, has remained to this day one of the most influential pieces of cinema ever made. The influences, references and homages have become so prominent in pop culture that we have all become hyperaware of it, even to those who haven’t seen it. The basic formula of “a group of misfits coming together becoming unlikely heroes to help those in need” extends to films like 13 Assassins, Battle Beyond the Stars, Seven Magnificent Gladiators (yes, this is a real movie), A Bug’s Life, Wild East and Dune Warriors. All are films that wouldn’t be considered remakes, but the influence is very apparent, even Zack Snyder mentioned that Seven Samurai is a major influence on his upcoming Justice League.
All the history that comes with the basic idea makes it harder to forgive this new version of The Magnificent Seven for not taking more risks or play with some fresh ideas. Though it is ultimately the least of its problems, nothing is inherently wrong with a basic genre exercise. Fuqua clearly loves his westerns. The camera revels in the dirt and soaks in the heat, each gunshot is blows, crashes and bangs with the power of a locomotive, the designs on the towns are filled to the brim with rotting and shabby woodwork and everyone is just sweating balls. And of course, not to mention the late great James Horner does wonderful work with his final score, a triumphant work of sweeping, classical western romanticism.
Fuqua is obviously loving this playground, but the film makes a liberal use of narrative shortcuts that undercuts a lot of what makes this formula generally really effective. While the film is already at a runtime of 132 minutes, a lot of the film feels half-baked and underdeveloped. I don’t mean so much in terms of plot mechanics, as that can be easily overlooked, but it’s mostly with the characters where it falls short. There is an attempt made at adding depth to the characters, but they aren’t fully realized. Many of them are given character beats meant as a setup that will later pay-off in some way, but instead of building to the pay-off the film just goes from from A to Z. There’s very little real character building so moments meant to be impactful fall flat.
What ultimately saves this from ruining the film, and preventing it from being a slog, is the cast. It’s the kind of movie that really needs movie stars to drive things forward, allowing you to enjoy the characters not necessarily for their specific nuances, but for what the actors bring to that role and what they do to make it theirs. The actors are great all around, and they command the screen with ease and swagger, and they bring their all into the action sequences. Though, I really wished Fuqua was allowed to do this as an R-rated film as opposed to the safer PG-13 route. Denzel Washington is Chisolm, the man hired by Haley Bennett’s Emma Cullen to find men to help her townsfolk who are being oppressed by the evil, greedy Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). Joining them is Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). Now, I’m not sure what exactly D’Onofrio was going for, but whatever it was, it was marvelous and weird. And I gotta hand it to Fuqua, it was a pretty bold choice for him to keep Peter Sarsgaard from taking a shit during the filming of the movie.
At least, I’m pretty sure that’s why he seemed to act the way he did.
There are things to like about The Magnificent Seven. In fact, I do love the casual progressiveness of the whole thing, and what seems to me, an attempt to mimic the post-racial elements of the Fast & the Furious franchise, but in a genre that has generally revolved around white men as heroes (and remember, this particular context is that of a classical western, not a spaghetti or revisionist western). However, the Fast franchise is able to make their post-racial qualities a core thematic element of the series, whereas here, it isn’t used to any effect or idea. Though, it is a bit interesting to see a diverse group of heroes essentially take down a figure that weirdly represents everything that seems to be wrong with America, so the timeliness is oddly fascinating, but there isn’t much else to chew on. The film seems interested only to function as crowd-pleasing entertainment, despite having some genuinely interesting things in the mix, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is functional, it does use the cast to great effect and Fuqua is delivering pulpy thrills with an efficiency that he hasn’t done in over a decade. So, could someone tell Antoine Fuqua to please make another one of these and not The Equalizer 2? 60/100