Seven warriors fight for the vulnerable. It’s an appealing concept: bad guys who can be good, loners who can work together to protect innocents.
Akira Kurosawa used the notion in his 1954 masterpiece, “Seven Samurai,” which begat the classic 1960 Western “The Magnificent Seven,” which begat a late-1990s TV series. Now comes a big-budget Western also called “The Magnificent Seven,” directed by Antoine Fuqua.
With the blockbuster cast that Fuqua has assembled, which includes Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio and Peter Sarsgaard, and the stunning cinematography by Mauro Fiore, this epic remake should be an easy home run. It’s all there — except for the writing, and that failure never lets “The Magnificent Seven” achieve liftoff.
“The Magnificent Seven” is long on violence and short on story, character development, motivation and all the things that make any kind of violence satisfying to watch. Therefore, despite all the star power, charisma and dusty heroics on screen, it’s impossible to care about any of it.
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The biggest problem is a failure to adequately establish the villain, Bartholomew Bogue. Sarsgaard does his sniveling best with the two scenes he is given. Bogue is a tyrannical capitalist who has seized the town of Rose Creek for gold mining. In the opener, we see what a baddie he is, tormenting children, shooting up a church and mowing down innocent citizens, but it’s not enough to justify the endless violence that the seven return, especially since the townspeople are endangered and killed in the melee themselves.
To top it off, there’s not enough back story and character motivation to believe that these seven would put themselves on the line for this tiny town. Spunky Emma (Haley Bennett) retains the services of warrant officer Sam Chisholm (Washington), who has a secret memory of Bogue that sparks his interest in the job. The other six he strong-arms into joining him, including Faraday (Pratt) and Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). He calls on old pal Goodnight Robicheaux (Hawke) and his associate, Chinese fighter Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), and somehow convinces Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) and cowboy Santa Claus Jack Horne (D’Onofrio) to join up, too. Why any of them participate in the massacre is a mystery.
The Western genre has always worked as a metaphor, a fable that allows us to work out our contemporary quandaries through a period piece. In this “Magnificent Seven,” there’s a celebration of guns that feels both of that era of lawless shootouts and, unfortunately, of this era, too.
These gunmen protect citizens entitled to freedom from unfettered capitalism. It’s a politically complicated message, at once conservative and liberal, speaking to both sides. While there might be an intriguing moral wrapped in this violent package, without the human element urging the story forward, the “Magnificent Seven” turns out to be rather insignificant after all.
‘The Magnificent Seven’
Rated PG-13 for extended and intense sequences of Western violence, and for historical smoking, some language and suggestive material. 2:12. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester.