Darke Reviews | The Equalizer 2 (2018)

First thing out  of the gate, there is absolutely no reason to see The Equalizer before seeing this. I had to go deep into the tomb to find that review, it’s one of my earlier ones. That aside, the first film is ultimately still very watchable and my feelings for Mr. Washington really haven’t changed in the four years since. The first movie introduces us to the character, his ticks, and his friends; yet you do not need it for this one. It trusts the audience from the cold open to follow along and be smart enough to figure out between the trailers and the opening that he is a former assassin turned maker of wrong things right – an Equalizer.  Shocking I know.

Did we really need the sequel though?

Richard Wenk, who in the years since the first provided us the screenplay for The Magnificent Seven and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, returns to his script duties. At this point, I have literally seen almost every movie he has ever written. I still love Vamp despite the hardcore 80’s cheese, I found 16 Blocks boring, the 2011 remake of the Mechanic was uninspired, The Expendables 2 was…a movie that can’t be argued. The Equalizer has been covered, as have the other two films mentioned. Suffice to say I can see his style now, understand his writing to a point, and know his quirks. He really is just an OK writer that Antoine Fuqua likes working with. Wenk has both pacing issues and a sense of being overwrought in every single script. He wants to be writing deep, cerebral, emotionally centered movies with men beyond their prime going for one last job, regardless of the job; but then he also likes damn near schlocky action against it. He is trying but he never quite rings the bell and the scripts fall apart with any real scrutiny. If you don’t think too hard here, it all works; there is a combination of intelligence to the story, but it then requires the dumbest of actions from some characters to survive. It doesn’t follow through on some components that you realize (again if you think) should have impact.

Wenk is saved though by Fuqua at the helm. In his first feature film since 2016 Fuqua remains true to form in providing us clean action beats along with knowing how to film the more emotional and tense beats provided by the script elevating them as much as they can be in the process. The problem I think here is that he was not as thoroughly invested as he was in other projects. The first movie was just shy of doubling it’s estimated $55 million production budget barely topping over $100 at the domestic box office. While this sequel feels like something Wenk, Fuqua, and Washington wanted to do, I keep thinking (dangerous here) that they also wanted to do something else. There’s an attention to detail strangely missing from multiple components of the movie and an emotional weight that is never fully realized.

Washington is actually better in this film than he was the first; giving a far more nuanced performance with the slower pace of the film and less action beats to break up those cerebral moments I mentioned before. He avoids many of his usual ticks in acting which certainly improve the movie; but it is still Denzel.  Game of Thrones Pedro Pascal is nearly unrecognizable without a facial hair and serves up a solid character for the movie. The rest of the cast is sufficient but not worth calling out.

On the technical side of things, the movie is paced slowly and methodically allowing the momentum of events to build along with the backdrop. I liked that the pacing was slower and the action beats less frequent here as it let us get to understand McCall as a character more. Act I is entirely set establishing his routine and world; while still advancing the plot because the world moves with or without you. I’ve criminalized movies for doing this poorly before, but even if Fuqua was asleep at the wheel it still is better than some directors fully coherent.

What I can’t forgive though is bad effects and a lack of attention to detail from someone like Fuqua. The digital effects in the third act of the film are nothing short of awful; while many of the practical ones stand out because of how bad the digital touch ups are. It is impossible to NOT notice. My partner tonight noticed and they don’t hyper analyze films like I do – so it’s kinda obvious. That makes this even more sinful as the movie has $7 million more to the budget than the first; yet feels as if it was made for half that. If Blumhouse productions look better, you are in trouble guys. Do better next time.

TL;DR

The Equalizer 2 was the sequel no one really was clamoring for, but is utterly harmless in its final execution. I may have beaten it up a bit in the top half of the review, but that is strictly because I expect better of the cast and crew of this movie. It was overall a fun little film, even got me emotional a few times; and wincing a few others. Running just over the two hour mark it just barely keeps you from checking your watch while sitting in the theatre. Had it been too much longer with it’s pace then it would have been more problematic.

This is a harmless, good ride of an action film. Take that for what you will.

Should I see it?

Well if you like the first one; sure. If you were curious or like Denzel, you will have a good time. As I said before you don’t need to see the first to watch and understand this, which is interesting. I do not think you need DBox, XD, or anything fancy. I wouldn’t go above matinee pricing unless you are a die hard Denzel or Fuqua fan.

Would you see it again?

In theatre’s its highly unlikely. It’s an Ok action film; but it lacks the fun of last weeks Skyscraper or the rawness of something like Sicario.

How about buying it?

I won’t mind owning it. It was passable. It wasn’t a “Meh”. I had reactions and did enjoy it. I just shouldn’t think too hard on it.

Any final thoughts on the movie?

It does hit a point where I think it is too smart for it’s own good. I just shy of accused the movie of being kind of basic before with aspirations to be more. During one of those reaching for the gold ring moments it could fail for, again, anyone who pauses a moment to think about it. It isn’t *bad* per se, but it might leave some heads scratching. The bad guys of the movie make some terrible decisions as well that in combination with the reach which leaves you asking questions that the answer is not kind to.

I’m torn on how much to penalize the movie for it though. I often write about how movies tell more than show or how they dumb down and explain everything to the audience. This doesn’t quite do that, but it also kind of goes the other way and doesn’t make sense as a result. So yay for not dumbing down, but boo for trying to be too clever.

Next week?

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE FALL OUT!!! Yes, I am an unapologetic fan of everything in the Mission Impossible franchise, except the second one. The last films have been amazing and I look forward to seeing how this literal sequel to the Rogue Nation goes.

Also, I will be posting an Event on the Facebook page for my local readers to come see The Meg with me on August 9th!

 

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Darke Reviews | Skyscraper (2018)

So I kinda had to talk myself into seeing this one. I had a few of my readers on Facebook support my decision and thus we have a review. You need to understand though I missed part of a monsoon here in Arizona to do this; and if you know anything about me that usually wins out. Being in a storm is one of the few times most people see me actually relax and be at peace. The other time is the ocean. So against instinct and what looked to be a mediocre Die Hard rip off with Captain Charisma at the helm I saw Skyscraper tonight.

The first and most important question everyone is asking is:

Is this a Die Hard rip off; and by how much?

A lot; yet not. So what does it have in common? Well you have a man trying to get to his wife (and kids this time) in a building taken over by terrorists who have the apparent aim to get something only a ridiculously wealthy man has hidden in a secure room. There are action set pieces with him going through windows. There are exploding helicopters. There’s the media. There’s “one good cop”. All of this is in the trailers and it is all there but that is mostly where the similarities end between this and Die Hard.  Oh…there is one other similarity only geeks, movie nerds, and semi obsessive movie reviewers will notice. (I kinda hope I am the first one to point it out to be honest). This is coming out literally on the 30th anniversary of Die Hards release, July 12, 1988. So…points to the filmmakers and whoever made that decision. I tip my hat to you

What’s kind of interesting is that the current millennial and younger generation of movie goers by and large don’t know about a movie that predates Die Hard by 14 years and this one by 44. It also starred someone who was probably the most charismatic action star of his generation. It also has something in common with this one. At it was one of the highest grossing movies of 1974 as well; behind only Blazing Saddles $119 million, with its $116 million box office haul. This is equivalent to roughly $564 million in 2018. Of course some of you are already looking this up so I will stop teasing, but the movie is the three Oscar winning pictured called The Towering Inferno and starred Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. This movie is about a fire in the worlds tallest building that continues to go up and has people trapped; while someone tries to get in and save them from the fire.

So plot wise writer and director Rawson Marshall Thurber; director of…We’re the Millers and Dodgeball?…..decided to try an action set piece and merged two amazing movies into one. Did he do it successfully? Mostly. Anyone watching this will see echoes of Die Hard in it. It’s impossible not to as it is one of the most recognizable, well crafted, and widely loved action films in the past thirty years. It is impossible to make a Person in Danger in a skyscraper movie without being compared to Die Hard since 1988. That being said, this is also the best Die Hard movie SINCE 1988.

The story is as you see it. The Rock is a former FBI agent, Will Sawyer, who is now working as part of his own private security firm. He is invited to review the security of the “tallest building in the world” and assess it so that the insurance company will underwrite it. During his review at an external location, the building is taken by a group with intent to obtain something held by its owner; and to add to their desired effect they set fire to the middle of the building trapping them, the owner, and The Rock’s family above the fire line. The Rock must now find a way to get  back into the building and rescue his family.

It’s basic, but it works. There are plenty of action set pieces, but much like the two films clearly influencing this one they rely more on the tension of the moment than the big hero moments we’ve gotten used to with action movies. This is very similar to its predecessors in that the physicality of its star and the action around him is one of vulnerability and drive rather than what we received in say Rampage or a Fast and the Furious movie. This feels closer to the under appreciated San Andreas in Mr. Johnsons performance and that’s a good thing. Also much like San Andreas, he continues to have his big action star character already have a family rather than be flirting with the damsel and get the girl. The family this time comes in the form of Neve Campbell, who is used very well here, as his Navy Doctor wife and the two children played rather well by McKenna Roberts and Noah Cottrell. They work, they felt right. That’s all I needed there. The director didn’t forget Ms Campbell is a survivor of the Scream franchise and not helpless.

The supporting cast holds their own with Atomic Blonde’s Roland Moller being our big bad and continuing to impress. I’d love to see him get more meaty roles in this vein, but while lacking in the raw Rickman charm, he does have a certain something to him that makes him engaging. Altered Carbon’s  Byron Mann (he was Kovac’s first sleeve you meet) is almost under used, but due to script, directing, and ability is able to avoid being a a stereotype. They let him be smart and cunning and still professional and follow the rules. Imagine that?! Hannah Quinlivan, plays a  member of the bad guy crew and is absolutely a heavy despite her normally sweet look.  I feel like I need to see her and Ruby Rose square off in a movie. Maybe it was the hair cut. Regardless, the cast was fine and so was the acting.

Yes, some of the plot points are absolutely Chekovs’ Guns and quite honestly. I don’t care. They worked. I saw the set up and recognized the pay off and was not displeased with it.

TL:DR?

Skyscraper was a far better time than I was expecting. It will never quite be the classic that Die Hard is. Sometimes you need to be first to the gate to do that. It was a solid little movie with good acting, good tension, and solid characters that made logical decisions. This was proof to me that you can make a “basic summer action film” and not have to make people turn their brains off. I suppose if I hyper analyze it I may come across a few fallacies in logic or plotholes, but it didn’t deserve that. It never once annoyed me with a character or decision made.

Dwayne Johnson retains his title, though maybe it should be Major Charisma. He is as always absolutely charming, but in this one he lets it come through in the interactions with the family rather than being an over the top action star.

Should I see it?

Honestly, yeah. It’s kinda good. It’s pop corn fare without a doubt, but I don’t regret the 95 minutes I spent with it.

Would you see it again?

Probably? I dunno. If someone asked, I would probably go with them and try to look for actual flaws, but more than likely would just be content to enjoy myself again.

Buying it?

The odds are in it’s favour.

Anything else to share?

This may be a bit spoilerish, so forgive me. I don’t think it is as the trailers show quite a bit of what I am talking about. The film has one other comparison with Die Hard and comes as a counter to the usual performances we see from an action star of this caliber. He gets hurt. It adds up. Sure there’s some level of hero immunity shown, but not like we’ve gotten used to. It’s very John McClane in this aspect and I was really happy to see that.

So…the leg?

Alright, so there’s an elephant in the room and you may want to stop here, but I can’t ignore it consider how I have been dragging someone for the past week.

I am not the right person to address this one and will take correction justifiably if required. Yes, Sawyer has a prosthetic leg below the knee. A phrase that was introduced to me on my FB wall  recently was “Not about me without me”. This is used by disability activists to express you can’t make a piece of media (movie, tv, etc) about us without including us. So knowing Dwayne Johnsons reputation for charity and consideration I did a bit of research and was able to find this little gem of an article: (source: http://989theanswer.com/news/entertainment/dwayne-johnson-honors-amputee-community-with-skyscraper )

“I was honored to play an amputee, and to make sure that I did right by them,” Johnson said on the red carpet for the film’s US premiere Tuesday night. “The research was very extensive. I spent a lot of time with amputees.”

One of those he consulted joined Johnson at the premiere: Jeff Glasbrenner, a Paralympian who became the first American amputee to successfully climb Mount Everest in 2016. Johnson called him “an amazing man.”

Of the film, he added: “There’s two sides to this. One is a big spectacle, big summer fun. The other side is making sure that we paid homage and respect to amputees around the world.”

The film’s writer and director Rawson Marshall Thurber called it “incredibly important” to represent the amputee community.

“There hasn’t been an amputee as the lead of an action film, ever, as far as I know. And I thought it was high time and I hope we’re not the last. I think Dwayne worked really, really hard to represent that community and honor that community. And I think he did a fantastic job,” Thurber said.

I cannot say if this is right, if this is enough. I can say I believe they made every intent to do right. This isn’t erasure as it appears to be the first real attempt I’ve seen at a hero in a live action movie who is an amputee. Technically Hiccup from How to Train your Dragon beats this by a few years, so I clarified with live action. This however is again, up to the community to decide if it was done well. Not me; but I do have a responsibility to address it in the best way I can.

The other debacle..well that is my community and the dragging will continue.

 

Alright folks that concludes this review. Sorry for getting so heavy at the end there, but it was needed.

Next week should be Equalizer 2.

Darke Reviews | Ant-Man and The Wasp

I was not a fan of the first Ant-Man film when it came out almost 3 years ago to the day. Largely this comes from the epic battle between comedy and my sensibilities. Many co-workers and friends still ply me with things they think I believe will be funny. Few succeed. It’s a tragic tale of woe, but yet some do succeed. There’s a narrow margin where it can just work. Not everything will be The Cornetto Trilogy, early Mel Brooks, or Twilight. Sorry. I have just been informed Twilight was not intentionally funny. Also cheap shot its an easy target I plan to look at later critically. In the meanwhile we’re here for the update on what I thought about Ant-Man and Wasp.

Does it work better than Ant-Man did?

Well… short answer is yes. I know I am not waiting for the TL;DR, but I’ve been breaking the habit on that where appropriate. As my partner tonight noted during our credits conversation she saw me laughing quite a bit. She was very correct in her perception. I did laugh quite a bit and while all the jokes didn’t land perfectly, enough of them did. More than a few went too long, but they more often than not did work and I was really able to enjoy the film. After the too much comedy of Ragnarok, the sociopolitical weight of Black Panther, and whatever Avengers left me feeling (it wasn’t much but even I admit it was a dark film) – this is cotton candy a summers fair. It’s light. It’s fluffy. It’s sweet. It reminds you of simpler times.

That isn’t bad. Movies can be escapism as much as anything else in their art form. Ant-Man and The Wasp threads a difficult needle in storytelling where the movie has weight, but isn’t too heavy for audiences who need a brain break from a world that really could use some balance right now.

This isn’t to say there isn’t good plot here. Oh no. There is. Set two years and change after the events of Civil War (and two years and change after the movie release so there’s that) it picks up with Scott Lang under house arrest for his ‘crimes’ in Germany. He has completely reconnected with his daughter (played adorably by Abby Ryder Fortson) who despite her age really seems to get it with her Dad and loves him unequivocally. He and his ex and her new husband have found their middle ground and feel more like a functional family than anyone else shown in the MCU to date. He’s trying to put what he can of his life back together with his friends who are trying to start up a security system business when he gets a flash of the Quantum Realm; which gives him visions of a long since lost Janet Van Dyne, the original Wasp. This causes Hank and Hope to seek him out to help find their missing family member, while trying to stay a few steps ahead of black marketeers who want Hanks tech, a mysterious new villain appropriately named “Ghost” for her ability to walk through solid objects at will, and the FBI who want to arrest Hank and Hope and will throw Scott in Jail for 20 years if he’s caught outside his house.

Wow. There’s a lot going on in this movie. It works. Despite violating my three writer rule by having five on the written by credit, it doesn’t feel like it was written by that many people. The stories, tone, and everything else carries through the movie nearly seamlessly. Peyton Reed back in the directors chair really does have a grasp now of what to do, how to frame, and how to get the right performances out of his actors. This doesn’t feel like the same director, yet it is. What also works is the aforementioned weight in the movie. Germany (Civil War) had consequences that carry over through the entirety of the movie. Consequences. In a comic book movie. I never thought I’d see it (in a way that logically makes sense) and it works. On top of that the primary villain Ghost (played expertly by Hannah John-Kamen (Ready Player One, Kill Joys) was masterful.  I never thought I would say this but Ant-Man and The Wasp gave us our first female POC villain in a modern comic movie. On top of that, its a GOOD Villain too. I won’t go into details because spoilers, but I really liked her character and its motivations. The movie also provided stakes if our heroes lost. Lots of them and truth be told I wasn’t sure what they were going to do with those stakes until the final credits rolled. That is very rare. Please give me some more

I could talk about the effects, but overall they are superior to the first film and its just a better movie. Also the effects team and director like Tardigrades, which is kinda awesome.  The fight sequences are really good. easy to follow and come in both large and small scales, but work within the movie so well.

I should probably talk about Evangeline Lilly here. She’s awesome. Thank you. She is bad ass. She has her own agency and goals. While the movie doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test, I think it passes the Mako Mori one.

TL:DR

This is a well paced, light, enjoyable superhero film. It has a lot going on so you don’t feel its two hour run time in the least. I had a good time and I think you will too. Also cheating here, but copying from above for more of the TL:DR

As my partner tonight noted during our credits conversation she saw me laughing quite a bit. She was very correct in her perception. I did laugh quite a bit and while all the jokes didn’t land perfectly, enough of them did. More than a few went too long, but they more often than not did work and I was really able to enjoy the film. After the too much comedy of Ragnarok, the sociopolitical weight of Black Panther, and whatever Avengers left me feeling (it wasn’t much but even I admit it was a dark film) – this is cotton candy a summers fair. It’s light. It’s fluffy. It’s sweet. It reminds you of simpler times.

Should I see it?

I think so. If you were remotely interested it is going to be a good time. If you weren’t you won’t miss much, but I gotta tell you the rest of July isn’t looking like a major movie going month for most folks.

Would you see it again?

Yeah. The D-Box seats I bought for my partner and I tonight really did add something, but standard or XD is good for this one.

Going to buy it?

The odds are in its favour.

So what about Avengers Infinity War and this one’s continuity?

They line up without flaw. Thats all I will say.

Alright, so what’s wrong with the rest of July?

I have zero interest in Hotel Transylvannia 3. I refuse to give Adam Sandler money. I don’t care if it has Vampires in it. I have a line I draw.

Skyscraper is still on my maybe pile.

Equalizer 2 I’ll see, but the first had a small audience and I don’t think this one will fare better. I haven’t seen a lot of marketing for it.

At the end of the month we get Mission Impossible: Fallout, which based on conversations I’ve had; I am the only one excited for.

 

Final Note: Special thanks to my movie going partner. It’s nice to chat with someone immediately after the movie.