The Magnificent Seven (2016) isn't going to eclipse its predecessors but it is, nonetheless, an immensely entertaining and heartfelt action-western experience.
After her husband is killed by ruthless gold magnate, Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who wrested control of the Rose Creek farming community to pillage a nearby mine, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) enlists the aid of a virtuous bounty hunter, Chisolm (Denzel Washington), in the hope of driving the villainous tycoon out of town. Knowing that Bogue and his enforcers will not leave Rose Creek without spilling blood, Chisholm recruits a motley crew of outlaws and hustlers to retake the town and defend it against Bogue's army of guns-for-hire, including: degenerate gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), war hero Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and his partner Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), Mexican gunman Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), reformed Indian hunter Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio), and noble Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).
Knowing they will be outnumbered, with only one week to prepare for Bogue's arrival, "The Magnificent Seven" train the Rose Creek townspeople to stand their ground and survey the land for opportunities to gain an upper-hand - fueled by a thirst for righteousness, riches, and (for some) revenge.
An adaptation of Akira Kurosawa's 1954 Japanese film Seven Samurai, which was later reimagined as an American western from director John Sturges in 1960, Antoine Fuqua's (Training Day and The Equalizer) 2016 film is a successful blend of the two prior iterations - utilizing Sturges' post-Civil War setting while pulling thematic through-lines and character dynamics from Kurosawa's original for a modern retelling with big screen spectacle. Fuqua's Magnificent Seven is built on a solid foundation, with an emotional and outright funny script from True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk (The Equalizer), but it is Fuqua's sharp direction and an all-star cast of likable dirtbags that ensures the 2016 film can stand on its own - continuing the legacy of the two iconic films that inspired it.
For cinephiles, a team-up between Fuqua and Pizzolatto was already an intriguing prospect - and one that was sure to provide a thoughtful story. Given The Magnificent Seven's violent premise, antihero protagonists, and Fuqua's previous (uncompromising) character work, it would have been easy for the filmmaker to unintentionally deliver a joyless adaptation that prioritized gun fights and cold-hard vengeance over uplifting entertainment value - especially with a screenwriter known for creating the dour (albeit gripping) True Detective. However, filmgoers will be pleasantly surprised by the amount of nuanced humor the director and writers have managed to include. Simply put: The Magnificent Seven is packed with emotional punch and crowd-pleasing moments throughout - producing a solid mix of character, comedy, and action for moviegoers of all ages and film tastes.
Fuqua brings the same level of visual sophistication to The Magnificent Seven as his previous filmography, with sharp cinematography from Mauro Fiore (Avatar), that blends iconic western aesthetics with modern filmmaking tools for an immersive blend that is reverent to the genre while keeping the experience fresh for theatergoers in 2016. The small town of Rose Creek and its sprawling prairie setting is just as much a central character as The Magnificent Seven themselves - grounding audiences in an authentic time and place that Fuqua manages to maintain even as the filmmaker dials up the action in Act Three.
That all said, there's no question the A-list ensemble cast will be a major draw for The Magnificent Seven - and for good reason. As with any ensemble, some characters get more to do than others but Fuqua ensures that each of the heroes matters in some way - and is afforded a role to play in defending Rose Creek. Denzel Washington turns in a solid performance as Chisolm; though, the character leaves less space for the veteran performer to experiment and play. Chisolm is, in many ways, the straight man of the film and is most memorable and impactful when activated by members of his supporting cast. Throughout the movie Washington brings gravity to his squad and the larger story but, more than anything else, it's just enjoyable to witness the actor chew scenery as a snappy gunslinger. Meanwhile, Peter Sarsgaard is a vicious and unnerving presence whose singleminded motivations make Bogue all the more scary - while Haley Bennett is a sincere as well as badass counterpoint to Bogue, ensuring that Emma Cullen is just as important as the men she hires to help defend her town.
Pratt is similarly fun as Josh Faraday and the actor is representative of Magnificent Seven's greatest strength: the enthusiasm of its cast. No doubt, that's not the most insightful or artistic observation that can be made but Fuqua's movie offers non-stop entertainment - thanks to well-written characters played by actors who cannot hide the fun they're having in their respective roles. In some films that enthusiasm might be a distraction or break the immersion but, in a tale of lovable outlaws coming together to save the day, enthusiastic performances actually imbue the characters with an added layer of eccentric energy. Adding to that, Fuqua's Magnificent Seven also features a diverse roster that provides a host of different perspectives on the world of post-Civil War America, motivations for defending Rose Creek (some more virtuous than others), and slick combat set pieces in which each member of the Seven gets to take out bad guys in signature style - especially Byung-hun Lee's Billy Rocks and Martin Sensmeier's Red Harvest.
Magnificent Seven is also playing as a limited IMAX event (for one week) and the premium viewing experience is a worthy upgrade - but not essential. Robust sound and a bigger screen definitely enhance all of the qualities that make Magnificent Seven work but moviegoers who can only see the film in a standard showing shouldn't worry about missing out.
Fuqua has succeeded in crafting a fun throwback to both of Magnificent Seven's inspirations: a western cowboy film with the heart of a Japanese warrior tale - all augmented by big picture spectacle and sharp gunslinging choreography that ensures the latest iteration is a fresh entry, not an opportunistic retread. Certain characters and storylines are less defined than others but any shortcomings do not detract from the overarching experience. Fuqua has crafted a solid film all around - one that will hopefully inspire fans to revisit the Akira Kurosawa and John Sturges versions. In the end, The Magnificent Seven (2016) isn't going to eclipse its predecessors but it is, nonetheless, an immensely entertaining and heartfelt action-western experience.