"KEEP BUSTIN'."

The Equalizer 2

THE EQUALIZER is not a great movie, but it is part of a great American tradition to allow the finest actors an opportunity once they get older to make movies where they pretend they’re Steven Seagal and break dudes’ arms and drill ’em in the head and stuff. To help people. Very loosely based on the ’80s tv show, Denzel Washington (MALCOLM X, RICOCHET) played Robert McCall, a mild mannered, O.C.D.-having widower with ugly sneakers who works at an off-brand Home Depot and also happens to be an ex-secret-agent badass, so when he sees enough injustice he decides you know what I’m tired of being hoodwinked and bamboozled, I’m gonna vigilante the shit out of these Russian mobsters or whoever.

Had things gone a little differently maybe we’d all be excited for Denzel’s much-hyped return to the popular VIRTUOSITY franchise after sitting out the last three, but we play the cards we’re dealt, so THE EQUALIZER 2 is Denzel’s first ever sequel. Also back are director Antoine Fuqua (BAIT), writer Richard Wenk (VAMP, 16 BLOCKS, THE MECHANIC, THE EXPENDABLES 2, COUNTDOWN, JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK), Academy Award winner Melissa Leo (who played a different character on an episode of the TV show in 1985!) as his old agency boss Susan Plummer, and Bill Pullman (CASPER) as her non-ass-kicking husband.

In the tradition of KICKBOXER: RETALIATION, this is a part 2 that opens with our hero on a train at night and then getting into a big brawl with some bad people. In this case he’s near Istanbul searching for an American girl who was kidnapped by her Turkish father. McCall is dressed appropriately for the region and with a long beard, slightly Malcolm-X-esque glasses and a bald head that I guess must be a bald cap since the next time we see him is at most a couple days later and he has a full head of hair. (I’m not sure why he has this disguise but doesn’t hide that he’s American.)

Back at home he’s working as a Lyft driver, a good way to meet people and also to find random vigilante tasks. The best side mission is when he he drops off a young woman who seems to have been drugged and raped and then he goes back to the place where he picked her up and terrorizes an apartment full of Patrick Bateman bros.

He’s the kind of hero who knows all his neighbors by name and looks out for them, including Fatima (Sakina Jaffrey, THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD), who’s growing a garden in the apartment courtyard, and Miles (Ashton Sanders, Chiron from MOONLIGHT), a very cool and gravelly voiced At Risk Youth who McCall decides to make a special project out of. It’s corny and obvious but I have to admit I enjoyed seeing their friendship blossom. You want to see the kid be inspired by the gruff old man, for the benefit of both.

McCall’s not dressing as dorky as in the first one, and they even manage to find an emotional angle to that when he muses about no longer owning any clothes that he wore when his wife was alive. But I think being a sequel-worthy asskicker has raised his self esteem and his shoe game.

He’s still really into reading books. In the first one he was reading Don Quixote and comparing his place in the world to its themes. In this one we see him reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me on the train, and later he tells Miles to read it, doesn’t explain why. I like this because recommending a pretty recent book seems more like the real world and less like the movie cliche of drawing parallels to famous works. Also it seems possible/likely that Denzel and/or Fuqua chose that book as something they want people to read.

Movies based on TV shows are weird, because the two formats sorta work against each other. The Equalizer premise of an ex-spy using his talents to help people is cool because it’s a jumping off point for potentially endless weekly adventures as different people in different types of trouble answer his classified ad. But when they make it into a movie they always feel the need for his main struggle to be something of great personal consequence. The very thing that’s cool about him is the type of shit he gets into each week, and then for each movie they say “this is a movie, it can’t just be the type of shit he gets into each week.”

This also comes up in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movies and super hero movies. At least here they don’t make him save the whole city, or the country, or the world. But they figure he can help some of his Lyft passengers and he can help Miles, but the main story is about him and his old partner who thought he was dead (Pedro Pascal, THE GREAT WALL) trying to find out who killed (SPOILER) Susan. Kind of a bummer to see Leo (who also stole Fuqua’s OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN, I’m remembering now) have her part cut short, but the scene where she gets attacked is well done to make her vulnerable and not super-powered but also tenacious enough to put up a fight.

I’ve noticed a contradiction in this genre’s world view. These movies wants us to believe that

1) the world is a complicated place with government operatives doing secretive shit that we never know about, the black work and the dirty ops, the keepin it realpolitik, double and triple and quadruple double backflip agents backstabbing each other in the front as a distraction so they can frontstab each other in the back, and definitely for sure there’s gonna be some blowback and some people gone rogue and I guarantee you that someone you trusted is gonna get cynical and lose all morals and honor and ethics because don’t be naive it’s all about the money what have they ever done for us have you ever asked yourself that, we lost so many of our brothers and sisters and this is how they repay us no man I’m cashing my check I work for Darkwater Mercenary Security Systems now is that so wrong you can join us I’ll double whatever the other guy that doubled is paying

and yet…

2) the world is a simple place if you have the super secret agent training because you can solve any problem in a short burst of fast, blunt moves that knock guns out of hands and break wrists and necks and then no one will mess with you

So, when McCall notices his pal Miles going somewhere with older, scarier drug dealer guys, he follows them, disables all the security guys at the apartment and takes Miles from them at machine-gun-point. It’s really funny to see him leave and then see all those tough guys take a moment and then ask “Yo – who the FUCK was that!?” like they just got jumped by The Batman for the first time. And then it’s oddly satisfying and comforting later in the movie when you realize that this subplot is over with and somehow there are no consequences. It really worked. They’re just gonna leave Miles alone I guess. It was more about a personal intervention with Miles than about the threat of gangsters.

Denzel is real good at being an intense tough love personal responsibility type father figure dude. And of course it’s good for him to encourage Miles to stay in school and stay away from drug dealers and use his talents to get paid. But I wish just one time there was a vigilante who could figure out how to make systematic changes. Maybe if we changed the circumstances we wouldn’t have to keep rescuing kids with machine guns. But I guess they don’t teach that trick in Pulling a Gun Out of a Hand and Twisting the Arm in a Painful Way training camp.

Anyway, the larger murder conspiracy mystery obviously ends up colliding with these other things on McCall’s plate. In honor of Liam Neeson, the father of the modern old man action movement, Denzel gets to do a little TAKEN. Some assassins come to the apartment when McCall isn’t home, but Miles is there painting a wall for him, so McCall gives him instructions over the phone to find a secret door and hide in his panic room. Or whatever a guy who does not panic calls his secret hiding place. Maybe it’s a guest panic room, come to think of it.

As expected with this genre it’s not like Denzel is going Yuen Woo Ping on us. But as far as that sort of quick blocky violence style it’s decent. The second unit director and stunt coordinator is Jeffrey J. Dashnaw (ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO, WHIP IT, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN). I was surprised to see Andrei Arlovski, the MMA fighter and great villain of UNIVERSAL SOLDIERs REGENERATION and DAY OF RECKONING credited for doing stunts – I guess he’s some thug in there somewhere.

My favorite action moment is a cool FX shot where the camera rotates around McCall but inside a car as it spins out and as he turns a guy’s gun around and uses it to shoot him 3 times.

I’m not sure but I think I kinda like this one better than the first one, partly because he’s already kicking ass when it opens and partly because of the fanciful way they build to the final showdown. There’s a scene in the middle where he figures out who the murderers are and he tells them to their faces that he’s going to kill them. He’s outnumbered and outgunned but they’re standing in broad daylight in the suburbs in front of one guy’s family, so no one can make a move. During the confrontation the wind is stirring up leaves – both a literal and figurative storm is brewing. The weather gets so bad it causes the evacuation of an island that happens to be the location of McCall’s old home which he has just decided to return to. So the climax is a big shootout in a tropical storm in an abandoned town. If you can’t just make an episode you might as well make it mythic.

I didn’t mean to miss this one in theaters and I am hereby announcing my intention to not miss any potential part 3 in theaters either. I won’t let you down again McCall.

p.s.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 15th, 2019 at 12:26 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

22 Responses to “The Equalizer 2”

  1. These movies feel sleazy in the same way Law Abiding Citizen or Man on Fire did, but I enjoyed them both at least a little. Part of the reason what Batman does is so defensible is that he does fight the system, and he doesn’t kill people. When McCall goes fully automatic on waves of bad guys, it diminishes his hero capacity.

    The big action sequence in the middle of the hurricane was definitely my favorite part of the movie. Huge, complex, epic. It felt a little bit like Denzel Washington’s HOME ALONE in that he’s setting up all these booby traps that improbably maim the mercenaries. And like Seagal he’s pretty much an unstoppable Jason-like force.

    I preferred Marton Csokas as the villain in the first movie to SPOILER Pascal in this one. How much more fun would it have been to let Pascal play a more colorful cartel bad guy or something and have him bring back his Oberyn Martell accent?

  2. Agree with your overall consensus of the film, while this review also reminds me of the “Skyscraper” discussion and the argument that even if The Rock wanted to make the kind of old-school-type action flicks that we’d prefer to see him in (vs., for instance, “Disney’s Jungle Cruise”), Hollywood just doesn’t make those anymore. Well the “Equalizer” flicks are two of Denzel’s biggest hits, while Keanu, Cruise, Butler, Neeson, and Stallone have gotten multiple films out of the “John Wick,” “Jack Reacher,” “Olympus Has Fallen,” “Taken” and “Expendables” franchises, respectively. Obviously there is still an audience for these movies, and at the right budget a star can still get them made.

  3. I liked this one more than most others it seems but I still liked the first one way more. Can’t mount much of a defense for this one other than there were a few moments I liked.

  4. I liked this movie and agree about the “weekly adventures” angle. The problem is, TV shows don’t do that anymore either! All of those Marvel shows could greatly benefit from one-off adventures, but it pretty much never happens.

    I think the movies could have their cake and eat it too – Have McCall take on a case, but one that gets “big enough for a movie,” even though all we really need is “good enough for a movie.”

  5. Equalizer 1 and 2 follow the same path as Jack Reacher 1 and 2, which made for bad part 2’s for both.
    Eq1 and JR1 both dropped stone-cold uncompromising deadly badasses into situations where powerful organizations were preying on innocents, and in each case the stone-cold bad-ass hero proves to be more than a match for said organization. In both cases the badass is unencumbered, unsentimental, and purely focused, making for streamlined and relentless story pacing.
    EQ2, like JR2, both got into the weeds of the characters’ pasts and relationships, which slowed the stories down to a crawl and added lots of lonely-horn filler.
    John Wick 1 and 2 avoided this trap nicely.

  6. I loved this film. Denzel Washington kicking ass, nuff said. But I’m sure I will be back to throw down more…

  7. I thought the subplot about the old man and the painting, which got about 2 minutes on screen, was much more interesting than the main melissa leo plot. I’d rather have seen that movie.

  8. thomas caniglia, Jack Reacher 2 was doomed as soon as it saddled him with a sarcastic and precocious teenage girl sidekick. At that point it might as well have been a “Spencer for Hire” TV movie.

  9. Mostly I’m in it for Denzel’s gravitas and tough-love. Even more so than Liam Neeson, Denzel just oozes charisma. I like the way he chews the scenery and his little gimmick of setting his stopwatch is a fun signature.

    I agree that we could have done without all the backstory, black ops, old friends stuff, but I like the way the film humanizes McCall and the weaving back and forth between his protective relationship to his neighborhood and this broader world of badassery and intrigue. All the supporting performances are first-rate. In terms of the action and suspense, there’s a nice mix of one-off, short-work action set pieces to keep things interesting as we work through the broader international crime operation/conspiracy plot. I think the action is frequent, varied, and pretty satisfying.*** I also thought his main antagonist was surprisingly good for someone who initially seemed deceptively bland.

    One thing that was interesting is how much they jettisoned from the original one. Like his hair, and his baggier dress (covering up for the fact that he was just a little paunchier coming off that ROMAN ESQUIRE joint), and his new job, new apartment, doesn’t go to that diner from part 1 anymore, and his local social circle being all new people. I guess you could chalk this up to him needing to make a clean start after the events of part 1, but they clearly weren’t too concerned about establishing much continuity with part 1 (save for Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman coming back). I wonder if next one he’ll have a whole new apartment and job and wear skinny jeans and have a mullet or something.

    ***I’m not so much of a high-ACR purist. I like the Bourne-style quick dispatch just fine. I thought the various fights and action scenes were all very solid and involving. I especially like the scene with the Lyft fare assassin dude trying to kill him in the car and how McCall handled that.

  10. In the interest of striving for excellence, I’m pretty sure that Denzel was reading THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, Not DON QUIXOTE.

    but maybe I’m tilting at windmills.

  11. According to my review he explicitly compares himself to Don Quixote. Maybe he reads both or maybe he references the book but is not seen reading it (I seem to remember it being the kind of movie where they would INSIST on showing him reading a book that he mentions, but I haven’t seen it since the theater).

  12. I didn’t like this one nearly as much as the first, which I did enjoy. Implausibility/straining credibility even within the universe’s rules was the big thing I remembered (i.e. Denzel put into lots of compromising positions, but he doesn’t have to fight out from under them, instead his allegedly elite opponents are just incompetent), along with not liking Denzel’s conservative laying down the law/lessons schtick as much as in other movies, where he’s positioned less clearly as a hero/role model. On top of that, the whole pacing felt by the numbers to me, especially for the hurricane climax. That secret room bit was good though.

  13. He might’ve read DON QUIXOTE too in the first one. (That rings right to me from memory.) But the one I clearly recalled from the first movie was the OLD MAN AND THE SEA, which Denzel’s character memorably summed up as “old man gotta be the old man, fish gotta be the fish. You gotta be who you are in this world, no matter what.”

  14. grimgrinningchris

    January 16th, 2019 at 8:23 am

    I went to see something else while this was playing… A mid50s-ish woman and her man were in front of me in line and asked for “two tickets for Denzel Washington”.

    That was funny to me.

  15. For what it’s worth, I just rewatched the first one, and Denzel reads DON QUIXOTE *and* THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA (as well as Ralph Ellison’s INVISIBLE MAN, for an extra dose of thematic significance) during the movie, so everyone is right. The conceit is that he’s trying to read all of some “100 best books of all time” list in order to feel closer to his dead wife.

    Anyway, I’m sure I’ll catch this one on HBO eventually, but I just didn’t enjoy the first one enough to seek it out in theaters. It just didn’t have the goofy kind of sense of fun that I need out of a dumb vigilante movie. Like, by contrast I just saw that nearly decade-old A-Team movie for the first time this week and LOVED it, so I guess that’s more where my head is at right now.

  16. I think he might be finishing up Don Quixote at the start of the film, but he definitely spends most of it reading Old Man and the Sea. I didn’t recall the Invisible Man reference, however. It’d be cool if he read both books with that title.

    My issue with part 1 was that it felt like the first 90 minutes were one giant Tony Scott homage/eulogy, but then Fuqua came back and decided to add all his shitty directorial signatures in the last 30 minutes, including he #1 auteur shot of poorly-composited hero walks away from explosion image. Seriously, that shot is done (poorly) in ALL of his movies, except Bait.

  17. ‘the OLD MAN AND THE SEA, which Denzel’s character memorably summed up as “old man gotta be the old man, fish gotta be the fish. You gotta be who you are in this world, no matter what.”’

    So, OLD MAN AND THE SEA == scorpion and the frog?

  18. Tawdry – I don’t think there’s a walk-away-from-explosion shot in Training Day? On the topic of Training Day: As someone who considers himself something of a Fuqua fan, Training Day still stands out in his filmography as just having no business being as good as it is.

  19. I don’t think there’d be an explosion shot in BROOKLYN’S FINEST either, but it’s been a long time. I have not seen KING ARTHUR but if there is one I will watch it.

  20. I think you’re right about Training Day, but I’m 73% sure King Arthur does, in fact, have a poorly composited slow-mo walking-away-from-an-explosion shot.

  21. Renfield: Not quite. Old man and fish is about two opposing forces being true to their natures, whereas scorpion and frog is about taking a dangerous risk when you know better. Yes, it is in the scorpion’s nature to sting the frog, but the frog helps the scorpion out of choice rather than natural tendency.

  22. I doubt that Fuqua will ever top Training Day

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