There 'aint a whole lot new about Antoine Fuqua's The Magnificent Seven. The iconic Western was previously an American TV series running from 1998-2000, which itself was based on the 1960 movie of the same name, which in turn was based on Akira Kurosawa's 1954 epic The Seven Samurai. The story, of course, is always the same: when a big bad man runs riot through a small, peace loving town of good and decent god-fearing folk, the survivors turn to a lone vigilante and offer their every last possession in the hope of driving the evil away.
In Fuqua's version, that vigilante is Denzel Washington's Sam Chisolm. As seen in recent Tarantino fare Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight, the African-American lead cowboy has become a popular choice for the 'neo western', and Washington, as always, is outstanding. His silky-soft voice, penetrating stare and wily smile are so perfectly suited to the genre, it's extraordinary to think it hasn't happened sooner.
Washington is joined in this adventure by a motley crew of historical and cultural juxtapositions: the exiled Comanche and the Scalper, the Confederate and the Yankee, the Mexican outlaw and the Irish gambler (whose grandpappy died at the Alamo). They should all hate each other, but they don't, and while it's a fun crew to camp with, the total absence of tension between them is as baffling as it is clearly a missed opportunity. All the same, the ensemble cast – Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Martin Sensmeier – play nicely off each other, and support Washington as best they can.
On the direction front, Fuqua is no fool when it comes to high-end action, having helmed previous heart-thumpers such as Southpaw, Shooter, Training Day and The Equalizer (the latter two both with Washington in the lead). Here in The Magnificent Seven the gunplay feels impressively fast and frantic, if also wildly generous in the range and accuracy of the old-time six-shooters. It's also surprisingly gore-free despite the extreme body count, which makes for a welcome change and contributes to the old-school western vibe.
In all, while The Magnificent Seven is far from perfect, it's undeniably fun, and that has to count for something. It's a western, with good guys, bad guys, gunplay and grit, and thanks to Fuqua and Washington, you get more than enough bang for your buck.