Of the many issues present in Antoine Fuqua’s 2016 remake of The Magnificent Seven, one of the most prevalent and persistent ones is the weakness of the villain. That is not to say that the film believes its villain to be weak. The opposite is in fact true, as the film goes well out of its way to prove to the audience that Peter Sarsgaard’s Bartholomew Bogue is indeed a force to be feared and reckoned with, and herein lies the problem. While the film is so concerned with making Bogue a formidable villain for the all-star cast of heroes he must take on, it is less concerned with making sure that its own efforts are not taking things too far. A formidable and serious villain is one thing, but it is very easy to overdo the concept and then the villain becomes something of a joke, too evil for the audience of the film to take seriously even though the film continues to do so.
Bogue’s entrance into The Magnificent Seven is intended to do nothing less than prove him to be an evil force that needs to be eradicated. And while the film achieves this, it does so in such an over-the-top fashion that the audience cannot take Bogue seriously. Within mere moments of appearing on the screen, Bogue is already burning down the town’s church and also mercilessly gunning down defenseless men and women. And while this is an effective tactic at proving Bogue to be a villain, it does not do much to establish him as anything better than what would be seen on a Saturday morning cartoon. Bogue’s goal is for the townsfolk to leave their town so he can have the land. And while he is offering to buy them out, he is also readily willing to kill them for any reason or whim at all, and so he becomes less and less complex and more of a joke. Why offer to buy someone out when you are fine with murdering them?
Compare Bogue to Calvera, the villain of the 1960 iteration of The Magnificent Seven. While both men are willing to bring violence against the defenseless, Calvera is not nearly as interested in money or power as Bogue. For Calvera, survival matters more than anything else. Convincingly embodied by Eli Wallach, Calvera is aware that the world that he has thrived in is disappearing, and now he is concerned with transitioning to the next phase while continuing to stay alive and well. This is why he shows so much interest in the small Mexican town that will hire gunfighters to defend themselves against him: he needs them to survive. Bogue is never shown to need the town of Rose Creek, but rather, he simply wants it. His motivation is greed, not hunger or fear, or even compassion. Calvera is concerned not only for himself, but also for the men that follow him. It can never be said that Bogue adequately cares at all for the men that follow him. Most of the men in the final confrontation are simply guns hired by Bogue to effectively wipe Rose Creek off the map, and the villain of the 2016 film is shown to not be above killing those who work for him. When informed of the Seven’s arrival and takeover of Rose Creek, Bogue casually blows away the messenger for simply delivering bad news and failing to fight off seven men himself.
It is perhaps a poor comparison to place Bogue against Calvera. A more appropriate one would be to compare Bogue to Henry Fonda’s Frank in Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968). While Frank is a hired gun and Bogue is not, their primary motivations, money and power, are the same. And Frank does not stay hired for long. Once he gets wind of a big idea, he is soon attempting to make his own plans and gain his own power by way of the dollar and not the gun. Both men are equally ruthless as well. But for Frank, there is a reason to each of the atrocities that he commits. Like Bogue, Frank is introduced in his respective film by way of murdering the defenseless. But in this case, a motivation to these acts becomes apparent. Frank has been hired to eradicate a family by the railroad company for the sake of the railroad. Even when there is a lone survivor, the youngest child of the family, Frank does not initially intend to murder him, but he does with a smile once he realizes the child has heard his name. Later, when Frank kills Wobbles, a man whom has worked for him, he does so not only because Wobbles has done something he was told never to do by seeking Frank out, but also because Frank realizes that Wobbles has inadvertently led men to him whom want to kill him.
Even when compared to someone that has raised a similar body count, Bogue still continues to be a weak villain. Bogue’s principle issue is a lack of adequately provided motivation, which causes all of his actions to simply come off as evil for the sake of evil. Because of this, Bogue cannot be taken seriously. Whereas Calvera is established as aware of the ending of his world, and Frank as lusting for money and power, Bogue is simply labeled as evil, and that is expected to be good enough. But in the case of this film, it is not. Take another villain that was simply labeled evil for comparison: Darth Vader. In Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977) Darth Vader is provided relatively little motivation or reason for his actions other than that he a member of the evil side and therefore he does evil things. While Ben Kenobi provides some insight into his background, this mainly serves only to further the image that Vader is not a good person. Vader reinforces this by choking one of coworkers, but he never goes so far as to kill any of his own men, not is the first film at least. When he eventually does, in the later films, he has been given adequate motivation a history so that these actions to not make Vader someone that the audience takes less seriously as a result of these actions. But in the first film, Darth Vader establishes himself as a dangerous force to be reckoned with by way of violence against his enemies, but also restraint, partly on the part of Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin, but also on his own accord. Vader may kill Ben Kenobi when given the chance, but he is calculated enough to allow Han, Luke, and Leia to escape for the sake of a greater plan.
Overall, Bogue embodies a case of chronic underdevelopment, one that is common in many villains in many current films. But The Magnificent Seven does not seem to want Bogue to be anything other than the cartoon character than he is. He is evil, and that is all that he needs to be for the film’s purposes. But this does not mean that he is convincing or effective. Bogue’s lack of characterization and motivation make him someone that the audience cannot ever effectively gauge. He is not shown to have any limits, but because his motivations are never established, this does not make him fearsome. Calvera had motivation, Frank had motivation, and so did Darth Vader. Bogue does not, and he also does not have the restraint or calculation of any of the aforementioned antagonists. Without any of these, Bogue is simply a mad dog. But while a mad dog can be fearsome or convincing, a poorly developed one is not, and this is precisely what Bogue is.