The Magnificent Seven fails to make good on its Training Day reunion

I wonder how many casual filmgoers are going to finish watching The Magnificent Seven this weekend and think: “Wow, that was a lot like Suicide Squad.”

Of course, The Magnificent Seven, starring Denzel Washington, is a remake of the 1960 Western of the same name, which itself is a remake of the 1954 Kurosawa classic Seven Samurai. But with its aging A-list movie star sleepwalking through an instantly forgettable ensemble picture that rounds up seven badass outlaws (who rarely miss a shot) and pits them in a fight for good, the similarities to this summer’s DC Comics stinker outweigh whatever might have been transferable from the source material.

That’s because both Squad and Seven are based on a formula that is worn down to its goddamn nub. In a season that in just the past month has yielded remakes of Ben-Hur and Blair Witch, Hollywood has again signaled itself out of ideas. The only thing we can hope for in a remake these days is some kind of fresh energy or relevancy, whether by way of the filmmaking style, interesting plot tweaks, or the charisma of the cast.

Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven achieves none of this. This is the kind of movie that ends with a narrator intoning: “They were … magnificent!

Washington, reunited with his Equalizer and Training Day director, is Sam Chisolm, a warrant officer who is convinced by a fierce young widow (Haley Bennett) to rid a small mining town of a murderous industrialist. Peter Sarsgaard plays this villain as the half-asleep cousin of Val Kilmer’s sickly Doc Holliday from Tombstone. The movie’s intro scene tells you all you need to know about the script’s commitment not only to violence, but to every cheap shortcut imaginable. Need to get people to hate your bad guy immediately? Have him and his henchmen burn down a church, shoot unarmed men in cold blood, and knife women in the back while they run. Roll opening credits.

With very little effort, Chisolm finds a hard-drinking gambler (Chris Pratt), a Mexican bandit (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a rumpled trapper (Vincent D’Onofrio), a knife-throwing Asian assassin (Byung-hun Lee), a Comanche warrior (Martin Sensmeier), and a former Confederate sharpshooter (Ethan Hawke) to enlist in his suicide mission.

It’s an interesting choice to have a black man lead a multicultural cast, especially for a film that takes place so soon after the Civil War, but The Magnificent Seven refuses to take that dynamic seriously. Washington and Hawke’s characters have a shared past, but it’s only hinted at, and not one character in the movie acknowledges race on any level. Fuqua is instead offering pure fantasy — which might have worked if the cast were up to it.

It’s not. Other than Hawke and Washington (who co-starred in Training Day), there’s zero chemistry between any of the characters. The script, from screenwriters Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective) and Richard Wenk, is so tired it can barely muster a couple of decent one-liners, and it ignores delving into any of the men’s checkered pasts — something that might have provided much-needed spark.

Every generic cliché is recycled, none convincingly. Meanwhile, Fuqua pays visual tribute to classic Westerns such as The Searchers and The Wild Bunch, but renders the callbacks meaningless by providing no context for them. He shoots some beautiful widescreen vistas, but even the impact of those is marred by a final CGI landscape shot that’s laughable.

James Horner’s score (which was finished by Simon Franglen after Horner’s death) has an old-school Western vibe and occasionally lifts the film.

Most of the time, though, The Magnificent Seven is a flat-out chore to sit through. It’s a dull, soulless 130 minutes, punctuated by meaningless gun battles and pat story beats. Fuqua skirts anything remotely interesting from a thematic standpoint, opting instead for a by-the-books modern re-imagining of the genre.

Modern as in violent. Somehow, Seven has a PG-13 rating. The body count is incredibly high, and there’s enough blood (and some guts) to warrant an R. But there’s no cursing, which turns out to be Fuqua’s only authentic homage to the original. 

Categories: Movies