Antoine Fuqua’s films seem purpose-built to catch your eye while flipping channels on Saturday afternoon. He makes kinetic action movies with attractive actors who do cool-looking things. Keira Knightley, in Celtic war paint, shooting arrows at Vikings. Denzel Washington killing Russian mercenaries with power tools. Kate Mara, breathless, with shotgun. A fresh-faced Ethan Hawke, high on PCP.
Fuqua’s palette is totally familiar — he’s this generation’s John McTiernan — but his films are sprinkled with weird choices. King Arthur positions organized Christianity as the enemy — a semi-revolutionary take for a mainstream action movie; Mark Wahlberg’s character in Shooter is named Bob Lee Swagger (which is the character’s name in the novel the movie adapts, but, come on); Bob McCall, the retired special forces operative hero of The Equalizer, works at a Home Depot; Dylan McDermott’s cartoonishly Trump-ian turncoat Secret Service agent along with everything else that happens in Olympus Has Fallen.
In 1998, Fuqua made his feature debut with The Replacement Killers. Since then, he’s put out a movie almost every other year. He’s made a John Woo–style pistol ballet, a medieval hack-and-slash in the Braveheart mold, two naturalistic cop-on-the-edge pictures, a straight-up boxing movie, and a war flick. Now, with The Magnificent Seven, Fuqua has his Western.
Fuqua’s movies seem topically disparate, but there are thematic similarities. His stories are often about marginalized characters, from diverse backgrounds, fighting to defend communities that don’t value them against vastly powerful foes. My theory, which I call “The Fuqua Cinematic Universe,” is that many of Fuqua’s movies take place in the same fictional world, and are about characters who are related to each other. The FCU canon movies are: King Arthur, The Magnificent Seven, Training Day, Brooklyn’s Finest, Tears of the Sun, Shooter, Olympus Has Fallen, and The Equalizer.
‘King Arthur’ (2004)
Time period: 451 A.D.
King Arthur is the Big Bang of the Fuqua Cinematic Universe.
In the middle of the fifth century, a weakened Roman Empire is retreating from the island of Britain, leaving the Romano-British citizens to fend for themselves. A force of Saxons, led by Cerdic (Stellan Skarsgård), roams the land, leaving ruined villages in its wake. Among the troops remaining behind to protect Hadrian’s Wall against the barbarian incursion is a band of foreign cavalry — Sarmatians from Eastern Europe — led by Artorius Castus, better known to history as Arthur. His companions are Lancelot, Gawain, Galahad, Tristan, Bors, and Dagonet, the Dark Ages version of the magnificent seven. Years before, the Sarmatians were conquered in battle. In exchange for their survival, they agreed to serve Rome for 15 years, as soldiers.
On the eve of their release from Roman service, Arthur and his knights are tasked with rescuing a Roman family whose villa lies in the path of the marauding Saxons. It’s a suicide mission, but they succeed, rescuing a pagan prisoner named Guinevere (Keira Knightley) in the process. The Sarmatians are given their walking papers by the remaining Roman commander, Bishop Germanus.
Arthur decides to stay, to defend the now helpless British people against the bloodthirsty Saxon threat. Arthur, his knights, and the native Woads, led by Guinevere and the mage Merlin, defeat the Saxon threat. The battle is costly, though — Tristan and Lancelot fall in the battle. Arthur and Guinevere marry and pass into legend, though their bloodlines go on.
Their descendents, often played by Ethan Hawke, display similar character traits, despite wildly divergent moral compasses. Some of them are uncanny marksmen, a trait they inherit from Guinevere, and are fond of hopeless missions, a trait they inherit from Arthur.
Mid-fifth century to 19th century A.D.
After the Norman French invasion of Britain in 1066, some of the descendents of Arthur and Guinevere are absorbed into the new continental ruling class. Some settled in Brittany, some in Northern France, others went farther east to Italy, and some remained in Britain.
Over the decades and centuries, the Arthurians gradually lost touch with their history. They did, however, largely hold on to the Sarmatian equestrian traditions that made them so valuable to the Romans all those years ago. Their children began riding at an early age, using wooden horses. The Arthurians who settled in France became locally famous for the practice. In French, “wooden horse” is chevaux de bois. Over the years, this morphed into the family name Robicheaux.
Many members of the Robicheaux clan would eventually settle in Canada in the 17th century. In the mid-1800s, the Robicheaux family settled in Louisiana, along with all the other French Canadians, after the expulsion of the Acadians by British forces between 1755 and 1764. One of their descendants is Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), an ex-Confederate sharpshooter.
‘The Magnificent Seven’ (2016)
Time period: 1870s
In The Magnificent Seven, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) hires bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) to defend the town of Rose Creek from an evil industrialist. To do this, Chisolm recruits a band of rascals, gamblers, foreigners, and ne’er-do-wells, one of whom is Goodnight Robicheaux, distant relative of King Arthur and Guinevere.
The industrialist’s name is Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). He is, even by 1870s industrialist standards, cartoonishly evil and bent on conquest. “If I want something,” Bogue says, prior to senselessly gunning down Emma’s husband, “I take it.” It’s a strangely Viking-like mindset. That’s because Bogue — the surname comes from the language of the Vikings who settled Scotland — is one of the descendents of the Saxon leader Cerdic, the antagonist of King Arthur, who was also fond of executing civilians for no apparent reason and saying stuff like “Burn it all.”
Besides the similar personality traits, Bogue bears an obvious resemblance to Cerdic and his son Cynric.
(Mild spoiler) After defeating Bogue’s army, Sam Chisolm continued west, and settled in California, where he took up work as a rancher. He married an unknown woman and passed down his genetic predisposition for badassery and gunplay to his children. Over a century later, Sam’s great-great grandson, Alonzo Harris, joins the LAPD, where he quickly rises in the ranks.
‘Training Day’ (2001)
Time period: 2000–01
Back in the mid-fifth century A.D., the Arthurian kin who stayed in England became known for their thin, waif-like physiques, a trait passed down from Guinevere’s side of the family. The Middle English word for a stick is hoit, which became Hoyt. Training Day tells the story of a day in the life of rookie Los Angeles cop Jake Hoyt, a distant descendent of Arthur, and a cousin several times removed from Goodnight Robicheaux, who looks exactly like him. Harris, Chisolm’s descendent, is Hoyt’s training officer, tasked with showing him the ways of L.A.’s meanest streets — something he does with unexpected alacrity.
Alonzo also inherited Sam’s predilection for shiny guns.
‘Brooklyn’s Finest’ (2009)
Time period: 2002
In roughly the same time period, on the other side of the country, Jake Hoyt’s cousin, Sal Procida, another spitting image of Robicheaux, is working as a cop in the Brooklyn neighborhood of East New York. The Procidas are the part of the Arthurian clan who migrated into Italy in the Middle Ages. Though Brooklyn’s Finest and Training Day are nearly contemporaneous — Finest was released in 2009 but takes place in 2002; you can tell because all the characters use flip phones and, in one scene, some drug dealers are playing SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs on a PlayStation 2 — Procida is actually between five and seven years older than his cousin Jack Hoyt.
Like his ancestor Arthur, Procida is a fervent Christian, though this doesn’t stop him from ripping off drug houses and killing people in order to fund the purchase of a new home for his family. The film opens with Sal shooting his friend, Bobby Powers, in the face. Powers is possibly a descendent of the tracker Jack Horne, one of the magnificent seven, but there’s not enough evidence to support it, other than the fact that both characters are played by Vincent D’Onofrio.
Brooklyn’s Finest is Fuqua’s second-best movie.
‘Tears of the Sun’ (2003)
Time period: 2003
After a military coup overthrows the sitting president of Nigeria, a Navy SEAL team led by Lt. A.K. Waters (Bruce Willis) is sent in to rescue Dr. Lena Fiore Kendricks (Monica Bellucci) (2003 was the year of Belucci), an American citizen. Dr. Fiore Kendricks refuses to leave her patients behind, so Waters begrudgingly agrees to lead the entire group to safety, through the jungles of Nigeria. Things go haywire. Waters succeeds, but most of his outfit gets killed.
Among the handful of survivors is James “Red” Atkins (Cole Hauser). After the mission, Red leaves the SEALs and joins the Secret Service. Ten years later, during the events of Olympus Has Fallen (more on this later), he is killed.
Waters, psychologically damaged after his squad is near-totally wiped out, eventually takes part in a massacre of a village in Eritrea.
Time period: 2007
The Swagger family descends from the female line of the Robicheaux family. Like Guinevere and Robicheaux before him, Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg), has supernatural accuracy with ranged weapons.
Shooter isn’t Fuqua’s best movie — that’s Training Day, by a wide margin — but it is the purest manifestation of his Saturday afternoon basic-cable aesthetic. A highly-skilled loner, weary from a life of pushing back wigs with god-like efficiency, gets dragooned into a complex assassination scheme by shadowy powers-that-be. All he wants to do is chill in the mountains with his dog (of course) and his ponytail. Unfortunately, Shadowy Conspiracy Dudes think he’s the ideal patsy for their plan to assassinate an Ethiopian bishop. The bishop knows too much about a certain massacre that happened in Eritrea. Swagger fits the frame perfectly because he had formerly served as a sniper in eastern Africa, probably under the command of Lt. Waters from Tears of the Sun. Swagger left the service after the death of his spotter.
The powers that be underestimate Swagger, of course. But, you know that before you see the movie. None of the plot details matter, though. This is a movie in which stuff blows up real good and for extended periods of time. Like John Wick, Jack Reacher, the Taken trilogy, The Equalizer (see below), Commando, and A Walk Among the Tombstones, Shooter is designed to be watched 10 times in a row, out of order, because you happened across it on TBS/USA/TNT.
‘Olympus Has Fallen’ (2013)
Time period: 2013
If you haven’t seen this movie, it’s Die Hard in the White House — you need know nothing else. North Korean paramilitary squads standing in for European bank robbers. It is pure poppycock, even for a Gerard Butler movie.
I thought I’d list the most insane things that happen in this movie:
- The film opens with President Asher (peak-virile Aaron Eckhart) sparring (sure) with the leader of his Secret Service detail, Mike Banning (Gerard Butler).
- Several dozen crack North Korean commandos infiltrate the U.S. (no way), acquire heavy weaponry (maybe), including rocket-propelled grenades (ehhh), and arrive en masse at the White House, armed, and dressed as tourists (not a chance).
- The Secret Service takes no notice of the dude in the South Korean ambassador’s delegation who looks like a Die Hard villain.
- The hero of Olympus Has Fallen is Banning. After a car accident causes the death of the first lady, President Asher has Mike banished to a boring office detail, away from the White House. Not because Banning did anything wrong — he chose to save the president’s life first, which is his sworn duty — but because the sight of him brings bad memories. Banning isn’t at the White House when the North Koreans attack, which probably saves his life.
- Early in the attack, as the North Koreans complete their assault on the White House, Secret Service agent “Roma,” formerly known as by his NAVY SEALs code name, Red, is slain while defending the building.
The name Banning is of Anglo-Saxon extraction, raising the possibility that Mike is a long-lost relation of Cerdic. That would explain dialogue like this: “There is no again. You’re gonna die down there. Alone. Cut off from the rest of the world. My advice: save the last bullet for yourself. Because if you don’t, I’m gonna stick my knife through your brain. But don’t worry. I’m going to leak the photos of your body to the press. You know, because I know you like that kind of shit.”
Whatever the case, the importance of of Olympus Has Fallen to the FCU theory is the way it ties into The Equalizer.
‘The Equalizer’ (2014)
Time Period: 2014
Former assassin Bob McCall (Denzel Washington), another descendant of Sam Chisolm, is living undercover after faking his death in a car bomb. He’s posing as an everyday guy, just a normal retiree making extra scratch by working at Home Depot, spending his day hours making copies of house keys and delivering bags of cement.
At night, he hangs out at a neighborhood diner, talking books with Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), a local teen prostitute who’s being sex-trafficked by the Russian mob. They talk about his wife, a book lover, who died recently. He’s taken up the reading habit in her memory. How did she die? We never find out. But, according to the theory of the Fuqua Cinematic Universe, she could only have died during the North Korean attack on Washington depicted in Olympus Has Fallen. Bob rushed to save her but couldn’t get there in time, thus his obsession with constantly timing himself.
When Bob needs information on the Russian Ukrainian gangster Teddy (Marton Csokas), he visits his friends Susan and Brian Plummer (Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman). They’re deeply embedded in Washington’s intelligence networks but appear to be retired and living under assumed names. My theory is “Susan” is really Ruth McMillan (also Melissa Leo), the Secretary of Defense under President Asher in Olympus Has Fallen, who was nearly executed during the North Korean takeover of the White House.
After the attacks, she went underground, living somewhere in Virginia under an assumed name with her husband. That explains how she has the pull to land a helicopter on her lawn after acquiring the information Bob asked about.