The Magnificent Seven is trademark Western thrills (safely) done right. That’s not to say Antoine Fuqua’s Kurosawa remake does anything memorably inventive, but this is Wild West action at its most digestible. All the clichés appear – guy gets thrown through window, guy gets shot into casket, multiple guys shoot from the tops of buildings – but it’s never dull or unwatchable. In fact, Fuqua does right to veer towards the realm of camp, which is the only way I can describe Vincent D’Onofrio’s performance. Writers Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto copy from every Western 101 textbook available, and draw up a streamlined hootenanny that allows for more performance-driven success than scripted genius. Seven men, a villain’s army, and one town to protect – easy enough for me.
Frequent Fuqua collaborator Denzel Washington stars as Sam Chisolm, a Kansas Warrant Officer called upon to save the town of Rose Creek from crooked hands. A tyrannical mining mogul, Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), wants the land for himself, but the newly-widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) has other ideas for her hometown. It’s Ms. Cullen who gets Chisolm involved, who in turn drafts a collection of wild cards to protect the town of Rose Creek. That, my friends, is the simplicity of The Magnificent Seven, in all its shoot-em-up glory.
The good news is, with such a focused objective, Fuqua finds plenty of time for gunplay, character wrangling and tons of comedic relief from Chris Pratt (shocker). A few nifty stunts shine through the antique West feel – such as Denzel flipping to one side of his horse and shooting across its back for cover – which keeps action feeling the slightest-bit fresh. Does The Magnificent Seven redefine the Wild West genre as we know it? That couldn’t be farther from the truth. But it does work to create zany period-hokey caricatures who make up a distinguished team of tobacco-spitting vagrants, and boy do they love shootin’ bad guys (like, a lot).
As mentioned, the cast is what works here – full-blown showmanship and all. These cowboys can be seen twirling their guns like they’re trying out for a traveling circus and crack really obvious, mostly racist jokes, yet there’s something indulgent about their simple-minded playfulness.
D’Onofrio, for instance, sports this super high-pitched voice to counteract his burly man-bear physique. Or there’s Chris Pratt, who kills people with magic and drunkly states the obvious for a quick – but efficient – laugh. Martin Sensmeier, meanwhile, as Comanche Red Harvest, doesn’t even say why he’s joining Chisolm’s primitive Suicide Squad (he makes Chisolm bite a deer heart and that’s it?).
So many “WHY!” questions go unanswered, as Fuqua keeps his finger on the pulse of this pulpy, unintentionally-self-aware stupidity that keeps us laughing. Denzel is as steely as ever (boasting a deadly Peacemaker swag), Ethan Hawke buddies with Byung-hun Lee’s supreme knife stills far better than he should and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo is the token Tex-ican (or Mexican he’d say). A melting-pot of devilishness connected by unexpected good intentions (aka money/freedom/retribution).
Then again, Peter Sarsgaard’s evil role as Bogue goes the “bad guy does bad things” route with tremendous vigor – which, sadly, is rather uninteresting. When you kill everyone and pillage every town, actions become predicable. Haley Bennett does her best as the film’s one female character of note, but again, her lonesome-maiden-with-a-rifle act isn’t necessary new.
One complaint I’ll echo that many others have already is that The Magnificent Seven doesn’t do a blessed thing we haven’t seen some billion times before, and that stagnant belief is what dooms every other grimy-faced character outside the titular seven. Fuqua’s stakes seem low, even with an entire town in the hands of a few capable kinda-nogoodniks. If Westerns aren’t your thing, there’s nothing worth swinging your vote in this cut-and-dry rehashing of better ideas – you’ll be helplessly turned off from the very first glare from under a tilted brim.
That said, The Magnificent Seven is harmless Western fun set to a twangy orchestral score that brings John Wayne and Sergio Leone to mind. Antoine Fuqua enjoys playing around in his Wild West sandbox, smashing toy cowboys together in imaginary brawls. I love my gunslingers cheesy, my duels swift and my horseback riding violent – all things that Fuqua and company deliver. There’s just too much charisma on-screen here to ignore, be it Pratt’s wry alcoholic “jokes” or another one of D’Onofrio’s pitchy prayers – good actors who make weaker, recycled material stick.
When all is said and done, the film is mindless entertainment by way of scoundrels, dynamite and honor – not quite magnificent, but “The Watchable Seven” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
The Magnificent Seven is Western "dumb fun," which works just fine with proper expectations.