Antoine Fuqua's remake of The Magnificent Seven is a pop western for the masses. It relatively entertains with strong characters and huge action scenes. To be clear, it doesn't hold a candle to the John Sturges classic or Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai; the original 1954 Japanese film. It doesn't even belong in the same time zone. Fuqua's update sticks with the basic themes and plot; but has a very poor, uneven script. It develops too quickly, lacking much of the great exposition in the earlier works. Fantastic cast chemistry and the raw, leading-man star power of Denzel Washington provides a mighty lift when needed.
Set fifteen years after The Civil War, the valley town of Rose Creek is being overrun by a ruthless land baron (Peter Sarsgaard). A grieving widow (Haley Bennett), seeking mercenaries for protection, comes across a deadly bounty hunter - Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington). She promises all the town's valuables for his services. Chisolm methodically recruits six others of his ilk. They prepare the meek townies for a massive assault. As the battle nears, the men develop a deep camaraderie, even as they realize certain death awaits.
The Magnificent Seven is the kind of film where the good guys never miss. The bullets flow like water and hit every target. The body count is staggering. There's also a fair amount of grit, except for the pearly whites of the actors. It's hilarious to see everything else look so grimy in comparison. It's a textbook example of how you can have an insanely violent film that somehow gets a PG-13 rating. But if you drop one f-bomb or show a boob, slapped with an R rating. Fuqua was sharp to secure a wider general audience while still delivering graphic action.
The lead actors play the archetypal characters well. Washington's Chisolm, clad in all black, leads with a fearsome authority. Chris Pratt's roguish gambler and ladies man is hilarious. Now this is the diverse western, so all races and ethnicities have screen time. We don't hear much from the Indian characters, nor Byung-Hun Lee for that matter, but they kick a whole lot of ass to make up for their lack of dialogue.
Fuqua knows how to stage big action scenes. What the film lacks on the page it makes up for in spectacle. The climactic battle is thirty whopping minutes of non-stop carnage. That's worth the price of admission by itself. Honestly, I'm a huge western fan and did expect more of a nuanced story. I am a bit disappointed in that regard. Fuqua certainly had all the pieces to make an exceptional film, but this iteration is not in the league of the others.
Coming from Sony Pictures, The Magnificent Seven entertains with bullets, bombs, and top tier talent. Everything else is average. Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington are a surefire bet. They've hit greatness and mediocrity, but have never been terrible. This one won't be in cinema books, but good enough for a weekend afternoon.