Monday, July 30, 2018

Film Review: Equalizer 2

Sexuality/Nudity Mature
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Mature
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." Matthew 5:9

Perhaps this is an odd way to begin a film review for a bloody, violent action film.  But this passage kept coming back to me as I watched Equalizer 2.

This film takes place some time after the first Equalizer.  Most of the supporting cast has been jettisoned, and that is a good thing.  We follow the life of our seemingly meek hero Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) as he drives around in his Lyft car, having gentle conversations with his passengers.  But when he sees an injustice, he kicks into high gear using his deadly set of skills.  This becomes pushed to the limit when one of his only real friends Susan (Melissa Leo) is murdered.  Robert, who has been presumed dead, must go to his old partner and mutual friend Dave (Pedro Pascal) and enter a deadly world of assassination.

Washington is 64, but I would not believe it.  It isn't that he shows off his physique the way Tom Cruise does in order to show his vigor.  But Washington still commands all of the power and strength of his younger days, but now with a judgmental eye of experience.  When he looks at a situation, you can see the balance of thought in his look and the unmovable sense of right.  There was a moment in the film where I turned to my wife and said, "I would never want Denzel to ever look at me like THAT!"  It was a look of barely contained rage mixed with disappointment and sadness.

But above all what Washington brought to the role is meekness.  I learned recently that "meekness" does not mean simple shyness or cowardice.  Instead, "meekness" is when you have the power to act violently and decisively, but instead restrain yourself and act with gentleness.  There is a lurking tiger in every scene with Denzel.  Sometimes he lets that tiger loose to ferocious effect.  Sometimes the tiger is caged.  But that tiger is always present in Washington's performance.  The other cast members do a fine job keeping up, though Bill Pullman is horribly underused.  But make no mistake, this is Washington's film.

Director Antoine Fuqua teams up with Washington for the fourth time and their chemistry works.  Fuqua knows just how to film Washington in his wildly disparate scenes.  He knows how to ratchet up the tension before the action scenes begin so that we are on the edge of our seats prior to the bullets flying.  And his prolonged use of tension draws you in.  This film feels more confident than the last one, allowing for more visual storytelling without as much exposition.  This works so well because not only does it reduce clunky dialogue, but Fuqua gets us into Robert's head and we see the world through his eyes.  However, the final act action sequence goes on a bit too long.

The movie is incredibly violent, but all of the violence is earned.  When Robert picks up young lady who he figures out has been horribly sexually assaulted, you burn with a desire for justice that is satisfyied by the subsequent violence.  When Susan is killed, it isn't a simple moment.  It is a brutal fight where she gives everything she has to bloody up her attackers.  You want Robert to come and set things right.

And yet the movie wants to say that violence is something to be glorified while glorifying it.  When asked if he deserves to die for his sins, Robert says, "A hundred times over."  Here, I assume, he is speaking about his life as a government assassin before he became "The Equalizer."  But there is a mark of pain on his soul.  In the movie there is a subplot where Robert is trying to mentor a teenage boy named Miles (Ashton Sanders) who is being recruited by the drug gangs.  Robert yells at the teenager and says "Man isn't spelled G-U-N."  A movie like Logan did a better job of slowly making the audience weary of the violence.  Equalizer 2, being primarily and action film, cannot afford to do that.

The biggest downside to the film are all of the subplots.  This is odd since they also have some of the movie's best moments.  There is an incredibly emotion story about a holocaust survivor (Orson Bean) trying to find a lost painting.  There are even smaller scenes where an alcoholic (Gerry Pucci) prays the serenity prayer and Robert silently removes his hat in respect or soldier (Miguel Nascimento) is being deployed to Iraq and Robert tells him he'll be there to pick him up when he returns.  But the best subplot is the one with Miles.  You can see how Robert, who has cut himself off from the world after his wife's death, is trying to reconnect.  The scene where he confronts Miles in the drug den is the best in the movie.

But the problem is, as great as these moments are, they diverge too much from the overall plot.  If the movie was simply Robert moving into different vignettes of action, this wouldn't be an issue.  But there is through-line to this story and as well-done as these scenes are, they feel like the movie is putting on brakes until it gets back on the main road.  The Miles story is integrated a little better in the third act, but it is a little late by then.

That critique aside, this series feels as though it is picking up steam, unlike Liam Neeson's Taken trilogy which petered out in the second film.

Equalizer 2 has me excited to see Equalizer 3.

image by Yasir72.multan

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