Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke
Directed By: Antoine Fuqua
Running Time: 132 minutes
Our Score: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
“The Magnificent Seven” feels like it comes about two months too late. I may have enjoyed this remake more if my phones weather app read triple digits outside and the theater was still pumping out Arctic air. “The Magnificent Seven” feels like a good fit for the summer line-up, especially with the cast at hand, stunning visuals and exciting action-packed finale. Maybe it’s because I’m gearing up for awards season or my mind is ready to overanalyze, but I was in total critic mode while watching this movie.
This remake of the original (which was also remake) follows familiar beats. Sam Chisolm (Washington) is a bounty hunter that is contracted by a pair of residents from Rose Creek. The town is under the thumb of a ruthless businessman. He’s milking valuable materials from nearby mines, utilizing the populace as slave labor and poisoning the town’s water source. The capitalist, played by Peter Sarsgaard, establishes his cold-heartedness early by killing residents and burning down the Rose Creek church. But not before giving a very ham-fisted speech about how evil he is and how capitalism and our society justify it.
Feeling like it’s his civic duty, Chisolm rounds up some degenerates to save the town. Pratt plays Josh Farrady, a charming alcoholic that gambles and kills those who double cross him. Hawke plays a Civil War sharpshooter, Goodnight Robicheaux, who clearly suffers from PTSD after the War of Northern Aggression. He’s accompanied by a Chinese assassin, Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee). Then there’s Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), a Comanche warrior, whose appearance is the most random. There’s also Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a Mexican fugitive and Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) a murderous man-sized teddy bear that you can’t understand half the time.
The “origin” story takes forever to get moving. The movie is more fascinated about establishing and having fun with its star power, Washington and Pratt, than it is explaining why half the group would join a suicide mission to help protect a town that none of them have heard of. The throwaway montage scenes of training Rose Creek citizens to fight and the predictable action-movie beats could have been trimmed for a much more lean and fluid flick.
The overall charm of the cast is nearly enough to forgive the movie for its storytelling mistakes and unimaginative narrative. When there aren’t guns blasting, explosions going off, or one-liners, the movie is a real drag. I wasn’t emotionally invested enough in the townspeople to care about them being in the path of a murderous tycoon. I also wasn’t emotionally invested enough to feel anything when the body count started to pile up towards the end.
That being said, there’s actually a lot this movie does right. The visuals and action are infectious. A lot of what makes the fighting sequences exciting can be chalked up to the use of real horses, set pieces, and stunts. So much of it appears natural and real that when the use of CGI is required, the computer animation sticks out like a sore thumb. On that level, it’s a successful summer movie that came out towards the end of September.
It’s odd that the movie never appears to pay homage to old Westerns or attempts a style change that may help it carve a new path in a familiar trail. It’s brainless entertainment that has awkwardly shown up at the beginning of Oscar season. “Magnificent Seven” is a stick of dynamite blast half the time, but the other half of the time it’s like watching a tumbleweed blow unenthusiastically in the wind.