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.
When 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
Denzel Washington. There are very few people in existence who can give a monologue like him. But he might have met his match, at least for this film, in the form of fellow Oscar winning actress Viola Davis. Like Denzel, Viola can shine even in mediocre films. The two sensational performers join forces as Denzel steps behind the director’s chair to adapt August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning play.
Fences stars Denzel as Troy, a 53 year old former Negro League baseball player struggling to make ends meet as a garbage man with his wife, Rose (Davis), in 1950’s Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Together, they navigate Troy’s struggles with his mentally handicapped brother (Mykelti Williamson) and his rocky relationship with their teenage, athlete son (Jovan Adepo) and Troy’s illegitimate, musician oldest son (Russell Hornsby). As an original play, the film is low on thrills, but heavy on drama and emotion. The movie itself feels very much like a play and with that comes the pros and cons of most stage play to movie adaptations. The movie is long and very slow, but dragging moments are lifted by the sheer power of the two leads.
To no surprise, Washington and Davis are both brilliant in their performances. Washington is both charismatic and emotionally jarring. His scenes with Jovan Adepo provide some of the best dialogue on film. But when the real drama sets in toward the end of the film, Viola Davis takes the lead as the most magnetic person on screen. Her portrayal is filled with the soulfully endearing passion that makes her the hero of the entire narrative.
If you go in knowing that the film will be methodical then the sluggish pacing won’t be nearly as off-putting. Filled with magnetic monologues from not just Davis and Washington, but every major player, Fences is a movingly poignant story of African American culture in the 1950’s that is beautiful to witness. And I can die happy knowing that two of the best in the business were able to bring it to life.
FINAL GRADE: A-
The western, or “Shoot ‘em ups” as my grandfather calls them, was once America’s most popular and profitable movie genre. But after the days of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, America moved on to science fiction and buddy cop movies, leaving the old west behind. Now, even the best westerns get little love. So, here comes Denzel Washington to the rescue along with Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer) to try and revitalize the genre with a remake of The Magnificent Seven.
The original Magnificent Seven (1960) is itself an old west retelling of a (superior) Japanese film called The Seven Samurai. Both tell the story of a group of seven outlaws who band together to defend a small town from bandits. This new film carries the same premise with Denzel stepping into the lead role as a bounty hunter recruited by a widow (Haley Bennett) to save her town from a wealthy land thief (Peter Sarsgard). Rounding out the seven cowboys are a snarky gambler (Chris Pratt), a former soldier (Ethan Hawke) and his assassin friend (Byung-Hun Lee), a Mexican fugitive (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a Comanche warrior (Martin Sensmeier), and a comedic old timer with a proclivity for chucking axes (Vincent D’Onofrio).
The premise was fresh to audiences in the 1960’s, but here it feels cliché from the pacing to the characters. The dialogue, the camera work, and even the gunslinging all ends up feeling like a generic western. The often cartoonish nature of a few scenes make the overall product seem like a summer blockbuster version of something meant to be a little bit more thought provoking (see the Japanese original).
But there is certainly some enjoyment to be had. As always, Denzel Washington commands every scene he’s in. Chris Pratt, through a relatively weak cowboy accent, does provide a few laughs even though his character is just an 1800’s version of Star Lord. And overall the camaraderie of the seven men is felt even if it is rushed through. As for the loud, often over the top and formulaic action, it’s hard to not find it entertaining. So even if Magnificent Seven isn’t fresh or memorable like Quentin Tarentino’s Hateful Eight, it is a relatively fun two hour romp filled with the guns, explosions and bravado that make the genre worth watching.
FINAL GRADE: C+
The Equalizer was a television show about a retired black ops agent who volunteers to help people in trouble. It ran in the late 80’s. But you don’t care… nor should you. Because, as I made evident in the title of this post, it doesn’t matter what the name of this movie is or what the plot is. You watched, or will watch, for one reason and one reason only.
Denzel Washington is arguably at the top of the list of actors we’ll watch in anything (and justifiably so). Here, he takes on the role of Robert McCall, a former intelligence agent who, in this film, lives a peaceful life working at a hardware store in Boston (the most heinous, corrupt Boston imaginable). His happily meticulous life is interrupted after a teenage prostitute (Chloe Grace-Moretz) he befriends, is brutally beaten by her Russian boss. Avenging her sets off a wave of violence as the Russian Mob comes after him.
Denzel Washington has played some badass roles in his long career: American Gangster, Training Day, The Book of Eli are just some off the top of my head. But this role? It’s on a whole different level. Imagine Liam Neeson’s character in the Taken films, but even more skilled. I’m seriously not joking. Washington’s character leaves an even larger body count and rarely picks up a gun throughout the entire film. And he’s more likable too. He’s the perfect person; reading books in honor of his deceased wife, voluntarily helping coworkers better their lives, sticking up for the little guy… hell, I kept expecting him to help an old lady across the street.
But it isn’t just the charming likability and the humble toughness of Washington’s character that makes the movie a worthwhile outing. There are several nice little undertones and dramatic moments wedged in there to keep it from being as dumbed down as something Jason Statham would make. The supporting cast is also solid, highlighted most notably by Marton Csokas as Washington’s equally brooding adversary.
There may not be an intricate plot or even an adequate amount of worthy challenges for the hero. But, what The Equalizer does give you is a solid superhero, creepy villain-like story with the backdrop of a crime thriller. You’ll have to excuse some action movie clichés, like walking away from a massive explosion in slow motion or the villain methodically walking after prey instead of sprinting. Little moments like that threaten to turn this into a ‘B’ movie, but overall, it’s undoubtedly ‘A’ movie fun to watch.
FINAL GRADE: A-