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 | The Equalizer (2014)

Let’s see. The A-Team, check. The Muppets, check. Addams Family, Munsters, 21 Jump Street, and the list goes on.  TV shows are being adapted almost as much as books and comic books. Some better than others from the ability to watch and enjoy them. Some better than others in the box office. Some are even mutilated in their big screen transitions. Hollywood continues to mine the past for future generations, this time going back to the mid 80s.

The original TV series, which ran from 1985 to 1989 starring british born actor Edward Woodward as the title character. It’s the story of a retired intelligence agent of scary abilities who goes into the private sector to help those who need it. So you can imagine my surprise when I see they’ve cast Denzel Washington in the same role. Considering my soon to be coming rant on Hollywood White Washing, I can’t be too annoyed at the casting. I think I am just annoyed it was Denzel.

Before we get any further, let me be clear. I am not a fan of his.  I do not deny that he makes good movies – I just don’t enjoy him in them. Inside Man and Man on Fire being two of my favorite films of his. Though in his years since leaving St. Elsewhere he has countless films that are both critically and box office acclaimed. I find his performances largely one dimensional. I see so many of the same behaviors, mannerisms, and ticks in each performance that I could do an entire cinema sins on his personal tropes. I find him flat but that allows the others and the stories he picks to shine.

This is one of those situations. The film has a two and a half hour run time and it doesn’t need it; but at the same time doesn’t hurt too badly for it. I do long for the time of shorter films that we once had that were still entertaining. This film is bloated with multiple character stories that have Washington’s character, Robert McCall as the eye of the proverbial hurricane.

The movie carries a cast of extras you will know from other work but barely get to see in this, which is a bit of a shame. Chloë Grace Moretz, as a  call girl has one of the more humanizing and less tropish stories. Bill Pulman (Go get em President Whitmore!) and Melissa Leo (Oblivion, Flight) are used to give us more insight into what McCall used to be. Leo’s last line in the film brought a smile to my face.  New comer Johnny Skourtis is used well as a fellow employee of Home Depo…er Home Mart with McCall who wants to do better and finds help from McCall in multiple ways. He, like Moretz, brings much needed heart to the film as McCall is rather bland, but intentionally so.

The films Heavy is given to Martin Csokas, who you may (or may not) recognize from one of his three other films this year, Noah, Amazing Spiderman 2 or Sin City a Dame to Kill For. Prior to this, you were able to enjoy him in Kingdom of Heaven and xXx. I think he watched Javier Bardem on repeat from Skyfall as inspiration to this role. He carries the elegance of Christoph Waltz’s Col. Landa with him as well. He considers himself a force of nature who is then confronted with another one. It plays better than I expected it to.

This might be due to the writer, Richard Wenk (yay single writer credit). He previously had provided us films, such as Vamp (which I clearly need to review this October), 16 Blocks, and The Expendables 2. This tells me he is responsible for the pacing issues as much as he is for understanding how to write decent tension with minimal gimmicks in the script.

Of course, the Director gets some blame and praise as well. Probably one of my favorite action directors ever Antoine Fuqua once again delivers what I need from him. This of course isn’t Fuqua’s first time with Denzel either; having worked with him 13 years ago on Training Day. Fuqua also has directed such films as King Arthur, Shooter, and Olympus has Fallen. He has an eye for good , watchable action that is near unmatched. He is also one of a handful of successful directors who aren’t white. This is a very good thing. We need more like him. His sins, however, in this film are the pacing. There were too many stories. Too many moments that didn’t really add anything on the surface.

Now, between Washington, Fuqua, and Wenk they did something special in the film. They acknowledged mental illness without letting it be something apparent, spoken, or even really ‘acknowledged’ on screen. Yet, it was front and center almost the entire time. You can see by the trailers, and this is not spoiler territory folks, that McCall times things. This isn’t just professionalism or precision at work – it’s a disease. He is exhibiting through the film various stages of uncontrollable obsessive compulsive disorder. Some might say I am reading into it, but I don’t think so. It was too perfect each time it happened. I applaud them for doing it. They took a character like this and broke him in a very real, very tangible, and identifiable way. He isn’t just another Bourne, Bond, or Batman. He’s human and I like the movie for it.

From a technical standpoint. I LOVE being able to see fights. I hate shaky cam. The movie does not disappoint in this way. Yes, they use the slow walk trope a few times, but at least one of them is done to fantastic effect. Editing is good. Music is nice as a largely somber classical or jazz vibe with an electric guitar throne in from time to time putting an edge to it.

TL;DR?

The Equalizer is very watchable. It is also very noticeable how long it runs.

It feels its length which isn’t all that good and some of the story elements largely feel unnecessary. I wish they had focused just a bit more and cut some of the fat from the finished work. A good 30 minutes less would have done this movie proud.  The action beats are spread just a little too far apart, but when they do show up they deliver nicely.

I also feel like I’ve seen this character from Washington before, especially in Man on Fire. There’s little different about Creasy and McCall.

All in all – if you were in any way interested expect a slow burn, but you’ll be rewarded for it.

If you were curious Matinee it at best. Wait for Redbox or Netflix at worst.

If you weren’t curious before and are now, the same applies. Otherwise you can give this a pass.

If nothing else it was nice to see another film worth seeing in September.

 

 

PS, I won’t be reviewing Box Trolls also out this weekend. One of the perks of being totally freelance is I can review what interests me and that one doesn’t.

Darke Reviews | 2 Guns (2013)

I find myself often amazed by the number of movies coming out based on graphic novels these days. Now for those who are not as well versed in the comic industry there is a bit of a difference between a graphic novel and a comic book. Some years ago it was the level of writing, where these prints would have an amazingly well developed arc that no comic book would dare print. V for Vendetta and Watchmen are two of the most prominent, with Dark Knight Returns being one of the ones to cross, perhaps blur the line between the two. These days the primary difference between a Graphic Novel and a Comic Book is Rating and that graphic novels are a closed arc where comics are continual arcs.

I bring this up because I was surprised to learn that 2 Guns had it’s basis in the graphic novel industry. This puts it in the same league as The Losers, 30 Days of Night, Road to Perdition and A History of Violence. Did that conjure some images for you? If no, it’s ok barely anyone saw the movies I mentioned and for the most part they missed out. 2 GUns is in the right company with this material and comparison. Ultimately it is a filler movie that *may* have far more interesting source material than the movie was able to deliver.

I did laugh more than a few times and the action scenes when they happened were well executed and shot well enough that I could follow it. Icelandic Director Baltasar Kormákur (Contraband with Mark Wahlberg is his only US theatrical release) manages to eek out just above average performances from what is otherwise a cast of actors that are familiar to most. I think that Blake Masters screenplay (one writer!!) may be largely at fault, though I am unfamiliar with the source, the writing is overall cliche and uninspired.

The saving grace of course is when Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington are on screen together. While I am deeply concerned that Marky Mark is teaching Denzel how to be charming and charismatic, the two do have chemistry. The movie suffers when others are on screen or at times when the two are not together which happens too often. Together however, the pair is charming, engaging and downright funny. Mark brings his usual brand of earnest goofy humor that has served him well. Denzel is playing Denzel, sadly, while he is more charming than the wooden prop named Bruce Willis these days, it’s really feeling like the same character.

The side actors are numerous with Edward James Olmos (so say we all!), Bill Paxton, a surprise cameo by Fred Ward, James Marsden, and Paula Patton (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol). Each delivers a performance of their own and for the most part seem to be there to chew up scenery; which is done in abundance. I am disappointed from a storytelling perspective that they saw fit to have Patton topless for two scenes, but so be it, the guys will like it.

TL;DR?

From a cinematic point of view, I compared the movie to cotton candy. It’s sweet, fun and ultimately hollow and forgettable once you are done. It just didn’t know what it wanted to be and didn’t go far enough in any direction to truly embrace it’s multiple facets.

It’s a matinee at best folks.

Not the worst thing this summer by far. I laughed more in this and was entertained more than in many of the other summer releases.

If you are a Denzel completist or just can’t get enough of the Funky Bunch give it a go; I don’t think you will be disappointed. The movie lives and breathes on the chemistry and charisma of the main actors. Get what I am saying?