Movies

Movie Review

‘Magnificent Seven’ is an acceptable remake of an acceptable remake

From left: Vincent D’Onofrio, Martin Sensmeier, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ethan Hawke, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Byung Hun Lee in “The Magnificent Seven.”
Scott Garfield/MGM and Columbia Pictures
From left: Vincent D’Onofrio, Martin Sensmeier, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ethan Hawke, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Byung Hun Lee in “The Magnificent Seven.”

The recyclings of art and entertainment follow mysterious paths. In 1954, Akira Kurosawa made “The Seven Samurai,” an epic action drama and international hit that was influenced by equal parts Shakespeare, Japanese swordfight flicks, and John Ford’s western classic “Stagecoach.” Six years later, the plot was re-imported and re-Westernized as “The Magnificent Seven” (1960), starring Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen and directed by John Sturges. The concept was then reworked for countless tough-guy ensembles like “The Dirty Dozen” (1967) and still serves as DNA for our modern superhero flash-mob movies.

Now, in 2016, we have a new “Magnificent Seven,” courtesy of director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”). It ain’t Shakespeare, or even Kurosawa. But it’s an acceptable remake of a western that itself was an acceptable remake of one of the greatest movies ever made. Enjoyable, even, until the last act proves how dull an overextended gun battle can get.

With Brynner, McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, and Robert Vaughn in the cast, the 1960 “Seven” was a star vehicle, and so, in its way, is this one. As bounty hunter Sam Chisholm, leader of the gunslingers who band together to protect a threatened farming community in the post-Civil War West, Denzel Washington owns the movie, carrying himself with an authority worthy of John Wayne in his prime. Chisholm speaks little and shoots fast, and so what if the early scene where he brings down a quarry is overly reminiscent of a similar bit in “Django Unchained”?

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A very bad industrialist named Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard, diminutive and hissable) wants to turn the pioneer hamlet of Rose Krick into a ghost town, the better to mine it for gold. Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), the widow of one of Bogue’s victims, seeks an avenger or seven, and she hires Chisholm, who quickly brings in Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt), a gambler with a fondness for the bottle. Pratt (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) comes across here as less of a cowboy and more of a cow-bro. He’s no McQueen, but he’s a sight more charismatic than the other actor from the first “Seven” his character is modeled on, the inexplicable Brad Dexter.

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Fuqua keeps the remake moving by alternating action and gruff banter, introducing the rest of the crew as a rowdy, multicultural atonement for westerns past. There’s a mini-buddy movie going on between Ethan Hawke’s Goodnight Robicheaux, a Southern-fried sharpshooter with hidden traumas — a tip of the hat to John Carradine in “Stagecoach” — and knife expert Billy Rocks, played with minimal dialogue by South Korean matinee idol Byung Hun Lee in the role that made Coburn a star.

Manuel Garcia-Rulfo plays Vasquez, a handsome Mexican outlaw who joins up, and, in what feels like the movie’s most ahistorical stretch, Martin Sensmeier is cast as a Comanche warrior named Red Harvest, who can leap saloon rooftops at a single bound and has a supply of arrows almost as inexhaustible as Hawkeye’s in the “Avenger” movies.

Also: Vincent D’Onofrio as grizzled mountain man Jack Home, plumb out of his mind but a dab hand with a hatchet. (If this were “The Magnificent Eight,” they’d have to get a guy with a wood saw.) The one character type missing is the one that raised “The Seven Samurai” above the pack: the tragicomic warrior clown played by Toshiro Mifune.

The new movie will be a hit, and that’s fine, even if it’s essentially boilerplate genre fare, lacking the depth of characterization or spark of originality to make it special. The people responsible for “The Magnificent Seven” have an awareness of and reverence for the Kurosawa film and its Hollywood remake, but they’re beholden to the beats and clichés of modern studio storytelling, and while there’s enjoyment to be had, there’s not a whit of surprise. You come to an Antoine Fuqua movie not to be taken somewhere new but to tour an old neighborhood with tough-guy professionalism.

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That becomes a liability only in the climax of “The Magnificent Seven,” an orgy of gunfire that goes on for so many minutes, with so little variation, that it turns actively tedious. (Fuqua’s idea of variation is to bring out a Gatling gun — i.e., more bullets.) It’s not the length of the sequence that palls but the notion that firearms blazing away are drama in and of themselves. The battle scenes in “Seven Samurai” go on forever, too, but they’re so well-choreographed you never want them to end. By contrast, the strengths of this “Seven” — Washington’s quiet power, Pratt’s glib charms — are all but drowned out in the din.

In a final irony, the film’s score contains the last work of composer James Horner, who died in a 2015 plane crash and whose work was completed by Simon Franglen. It’s very good movie music, yet it’s only when the strains of Elmer Bernstein’s Oscar-nominated theme for the 1960 “Magnificent Seven” come up over the end credits that this remake at last feels as big as it wants to be.

½
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN

Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Written by Nick Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk. Starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs, Jordan’s IMAX in Reading and Natick. 133 minutes. PG-13 (extended and intense scenes of western violence, some language and suggestive material, “historical smoking”)

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.