Seven warriors fight for the vulnerable, in a formula that bears revisiting in “The Magnificent Seven.” Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 masterpiece, “Seven Samurai,” begat the classic 1960 Western “The Magnificent Seven,” then a late ’90s TV series and now, a big budget action adventure Western directed by Antoine Fuqua.
With the blockbuster cast that Fuqua has assembled, including Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio and Peter Sarsgaard, as well as stunning cinematography by Mauro Fiore, this Western epic remake should be an easy home run. It’s all there — except for the writing, and that failure is the Achilles’ heel that never lets this version of “The Magnificent Seven” achieve liftoff.
Written by “True Detective” scribe Nic Pizzolatto alongside “Expendables” and “The Equalizer” writer Richard Wenk, “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.
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 to portray Bogue, a tyrannical capitalist who equates democracy with God with the free market, and who has seized the town of Rose Creek for the purposes of gold mining.
But there’s just not enough backstory 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 deep secret memory of Bogue that sparks his interest in the job. The other six he strong arms into joining him. Why any of them participate in the massacre is frankly, a mystery.
The Western genre has always worked as a metaphor — a fable that allows us to work out our contemporary quandaries through the screen of 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”
Starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke. Directed by Antoine Fuqua.
Rated PG-13 for extended and intense sequences of Western violence, and for historical smoking, some language and suggestive material. Check listings for theaters. 2 hours, 12 minutes.
Bottom line: Long on violence and short on story