Look, if you're not stirred by the sight of Denzel Washington, clad in head-to-toe black, riding a black stallion over dunes and bluffs and right up to the saloon of some two-bit frontier town -- well, maybe the movies just aren't for you. For about 30 seconds, characters in this brutal, occasionally stirring Magnificent Seven remake squawk about its central badass being black. Then out come the guns, and they don't squawk no more. It's Denzel's movie.
Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Southpaw) has always favored a bummed-out loner's masculinity, while John Sturges' original film -- like Seven Samurai before it -- is a team-building adventure. Fuqua's Seven eventually gets around to the bonding, although it opens with the kind of grim scene he has long specialized in: Robber-baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) seizes a town, kills some innocents and torches a church. It's scary and effective but trumped immediately by Washington's entrance.
The first half is a series of tense introductions and showdowns, as Washington's Chisolm gathers his men. Chris Pratt plays a quick-draw cardsharp who gets the best lines and hammers each square on the nail. The rest are one-note characters, but stick a couple together and you get something like a chord: a Comanche brave (Martin Sensmeier), a knife-expert assassin (Byung-hun Lee), a Santa-stocky Indian hunter (Vincent D'Onofrio), a laconic outlaw (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and a Confederate sharpshooter (Ethan Hawke). Against the history of film, their scenes of friendship are merely good, but against the chaotic banalities of recent studio fare they play like Turner Classic Movies. Too bad the extended action finale is unmistakably 2016.