Seven gunmen, led by Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt, are hired by a local town to defend themselves against the machinations of a violent industrial tycoon (Peter Sarsgaard).
This summer will undoubtedly go down as one of the most disappointing seasons, critically and commercially, on record. Beginning with the likes of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and ending with two unnecessary remakes of classic films, Ben-Hur and The Magnificent Seven. The key difference between this and Ben-Hur is that this isn't trying to push foment any particular agenda, other than Denzel Washington is a badass in any given time period. Where The Magnificent Seven works best is when the characters are riffing off another, much like the original.
Denzel Washington plays the role made famous by Yul Brynner, who's invited to a local town by a vengeful widow (Haley Bennett) to defend against an encroaching industrialist (Peter Sarsgaard) and his band of hired goons. In order to mount a defense, Washington's character hires six other gunmen - Chris Pratt, a loveable scoundrel with a gambling problem, Vincent D'Onofrio, a soft-spoken tracker who's more closer to a bear than a man, a young Commanche hunter known only as Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), an Asian knife expert and his sharpshooter companion (Byung-hun Lee and Ethan Hawke) and, finally, a nondescript Mexican called Vasquez, played by Manuel Garcia-Rulfo.
Essentially, the characters they play are pastiches of the Western and Akira Kurosawa's version. There's the hard-bitten leader, the rogue, the warrior uncertain of his skills, so on and so on. With the exception of one, each actor brings enough of a performance that they reasonably stand out amidst the noise of it all. Washington's performance is like most of his work lately; standing tall and quietly whilst murdering everyone around him. Vincent D'Onofrio, meanwhile, gives a hugely physical performance as the man-beast while Ethan Hawke and Byung-hun Lee have a surprisingly tender relationship between each other. Chris Pratt, of course, has all the best one-liners whilst Martin Sensmeier's Red Harvest plays the mysterious Native American who nails his enemies with pinpoint precision. The only one who has nothing to do is the Mexican gunslinger Vasquez, whom the script almost entirely ignores.The screenplay correctly decides to jettison both the original and the Western's bandits in favour of an altogether more modern one, that of a cavorting capitalist with designs on a nearby mine that's soon to be plundered of gold. Granted, Peter Sarsgaard plays the role like a cartoon villain and chews the scenery as much as possible, there is something vaguely entertaining about both his performance and the film itself.
It's clear that Nic Pizzolatto, late of HBO's True Detective, had something much more subversive in mind when he sat down to write this screenplay. You get the sense that by the time it passed out of his hands and into Richard Wenk's, much of what made the whole thing so compelling for him was either dumped, rewritten or reshaped into something more broad and palatable to wide audiences. For example, there's a former relationship between Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington that's ripe for exploration, but is only touched upon before moving on to something else. Likewise, there's a sense that Red Harvest, the Commanche archer, had a much deeper backstory than what was given to him. Vasquez, the Mexican, must have had his role entirely excised for the purpose of alacrity and brevity.
Simply put, when you watch Magnificent Seven, you get the sense that there's a missed opportunity here and it isn't helped by Antoine Fuqua's bland, workman-like direction. Considering he's reuniting his two Training Day co-stars, it's a shame that they've done so on such a relatively mild and uninteresting film. Some of the action sequences are well-directed and there's a brightness to all of it that makes it seem almost earnest and unironic. Still, Fuqua pushes the screenplay along at such a fervent pace and doesn't give it any chance to stop, reflect or examine any one particular scene. Instead, it just barrels along to the eventual finale.
Overall, it's a fine adaptation of one of the most well-known Westerns ever made, but somewhat unnecessary and not all that effective to be memorable.