We’ve heard of rock operas, space operas, but have you ever heard of a horse opera? That’s right – a horse opera. As we enter the soft open of blockbuster season in the world of film, Sony Pictures has chosen to bank on a horse opera rehash of (occasionally) epic proportions, The Magnificent Seven. Choosing to take one of the most well-regarded westerns from the past century and trading Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson for Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Ethan Hawke, one can’t help but think The Magnificent Seven may just have what it takes to pull Hollywood out of its damned big budget slump.
Or maybe it won’t; who knows? All we do know is that director Antoine Fuqua’s (Training Day) updated take – there’s Kendrick Lamar on the soundtrack – of the western classic certainly spares no expense in exposing its manly, hairy chest before getting a quick draw shot into the stomach of any detractor that might think the reboot was unnecessary. Or from a not-so-confusing, non-allegorical standpoint, the movie is a mile a minute shoot-em-up entertainment.
When you consider the film was written by True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto, you might jump to the conclusion that this will be the gritty re-imagining for the millennial age – bounties of blood, booze, babes, and what not – but not quite. Instead, it’s a middling homage to the original film and its source material, The Seven Samurai. While the multi-cultural crew of village protectors is a nice update – Denzel Washington as the stoic group leader, and Pizzolatto took the time to add Asian, Native American, and Mexican members to the group – but unfortunately it seems that outside of making the magnificent seven a magnificent melting p0t, Pizzolatto didn’t give their characters much thought.
Their roles are to fill the village protector dynamics – a stoic and excellent bowman in Martin Sensmier’s Red Harvest character, a stoic and precise knives expert in Byung-hun Lee’s Billy Rocks, and a stoic Mexican bandit in Manuel Garcia-Rulfo’s Vasquez. That being said, they all more than rise to the occasion, so much so that you begin to wonder how much even the slightest increase in their character development would have helped an otherwise predictable storyline. But when it comes to the other “minor” members of the “seven,” Vincent D’Onofrio’s scripture spewing brute of a tracker and Ethan Hawke’s tempermental gentleman outlaw get more than their fair share of development.
Then there are the film’s stars. Washington is excellent in the lead role as bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (helps that his former Training Day director Fuqua is leading the show), but as you might imagine, Chris Pratt ends up getting the majority of the “moments” in the film. Pratt plays the reboot’s equivalent of Steve McQueen’s original character, but with a few more tricks up his sleeve and a lot more snark.
Granted, none of the characters really ever truly get fleshed out, as Haley Bennett’s character hires the band of outlaws to protect her town from dastardly oil tycoon Bartholomew Bogue (played by the perpetually bored Peter Sarsgaard). Where the storyline tends to fall short, Antoine Fuqua’s proclivity for balls to the wall action picks up the slack, ultimately making the gunfight and battle sequences the one true reason to see the film. It will literally blow your mind.
While the film may not be at the same level of excellence as its predecessor, its group dynamics, writing, and action sequences are certainly a cut above the summer’s other shoot-em-up group film, Suicide Squad. So while it may not be the answer that Hollywood’s been clamoring for in terms of box office excellence and critical acclaim this year, but the film will undoubtedly be the best horse opera you see all year.