The Equalizer 2 (Full Review)

So what, if Denzel Washington is 63-years-old? He could be an 80-year-old, blind, paraplegic and he’d still be able to sell himself as an action star. Few actors can command a scene like Washington. So even though he’s getting up there in age, it’s still exciting to see him reunite with Director Antoine Fuqua and reprise his role as Robert McCall for The Equalizer 2.

The_Equalizer_2_posterWhen Robert McCall isn’t spending time exacting vigilante justice on bullies and gangsters who prey on the little guy, he’s ferrying people around as a Lyft driver and mentoring a young artist (Ashton Sanders) who lives in his apartment building. But that all changes when McCall learns that his closest friend and former colleague (Melissa Leo) has been murdered. With only the help of another former partner (Pedro Pascal), McCall begins a violent mission to avenge his friend.

It should be no surprise that Washington is once again magnetic as McCall. The wholesome charm and calculated intelligence he brings to the character reminds you of a guardian angel or the father figure everyone would want. The action sequences also don’t disappoint… unless you’re actually looking for the hero to be challenged (Hint: It’s not that type of movie). Like John Wick or Liam Neeson in Taken, Denzel moves throughout this film punishing his enemies with inventive fight choreography and some keen camera work to highlight each move.

But there is one massive problem with The Equalizer 2. It barely has a story. The first third of the movie feels like snippets of a T.V. show with McCall playing nice with uninteresting side characters and beating up random bad guys. Sure, it’s important to show audience members who skipped the first Equalizer that McCall is a badass, but one scene of this nature would suffice. We also don’t need to have a bunch of minor characters for McCall to connect to when one (Sanders) is clearly established as the most integral to the plot.

While the first film didn’t have an intricate plot by any stretch, it still maintained a focus around Chloe Graze-Moretz’s character. Yes, Denzel Washington is fun to watch in his return to the role, but it appears as if his character doesn’t actually have anything interesting to do this time around. It shouldn’t take an hour for a film to find its focal point, and when it does, it’s hard for anyone to stay interested regardless of who is in front of the camera. Equalizer 2 has some exciting moments, but it’ll be one of the last movies you’ll remember from 2018.

FINAL GRADE: C

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Moonlight (Full Review)

It’s always nice when a film explores seldom acknowledged and often completely untouched subject matters. The best films and the best actors aren’t afraid to enlighten. Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins, is as unique a coming of age story that can be found in cinema. Exploring themes such as homophobia, bullying, and existentialism, it is undoubtedly a story that has power and value.

moonlight_2016_filmThe film tells the story of a boy, who becomes a teen, and then a man. The boy (Alex R. Hibbert) is a quiet child who is struggling with being bullied and whose mother (Naomie Harris) is a drug addict. He is eventually taken in by a caring drug dealer (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend (Janelle Monae) who become his mentors. By the time he becomes a teen (Ashton Sanders), his social issues have only compounded as he continues to battle with his sexuality and his relationship to his more popular best friend, Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). By the time he has reconnected with Kevin as a man (Trevante Rhodes), he has become a drug dealer himself and is still attempting to come to terms with his own identity.

Every performance in Moonlight is transcendent. The three actors who portray  the lead character, Chiron, do so with poetic, yet gut wrenching depth that makes the character both endearing and heroic. Mahershala Ali brings soul and a calming, nuanced wisdom as Chiron’s young mentor, Juan. Naomi Harris is equally brilliant as Chiron’s emotionally abusive mother although the character does feel a bit like a drama film cliche.

But Moonlight is not without its flaws. As a narrative, it never quite flows. The film is constructed into segments centered on each stage in Chiron’s life, but in doing so, a lot gets left off the table in its overall presentation. The segment about his childhood feels like it ends too soon, while the climactic scenes about his adulthood feel like an overall footnote. As a result, sensational characters like Mahershala Ali’s Juan are underutilized and many experiences that could help shape the character once we’ve seen him mold into an adult are left to quick exposition or mere speculation.

The performances allow us to see where Chrion’s journey takes him, but because of the abrupt shifts in narrative, we never truly experience it. The exception is the middle segment which easily feels like a story which has a beginning middle and end, but the rest feels like a television season where we’re missing episodes. It doesn’t take much away from an overall splendid film with wonderful acting and beautiful cinematography, but it did leave me wanting just a little more from its compelling story.

FINAL GRADE: B